A Thought On Localization and Censorship

現地語化と検閲の一言

Funny how my last post was about inaction. And here I am, a week late. But at last some action came together, for this collection of words is now a thing!

Regardless of what circles you happen to be in, most people agree that censorship is a bad thing. The idea that conversation can be halted because some party doesn’t like what the other is saying. And for those involved in video games, the topic of censorship seems to come up every day.

But I’m going to make a simple point that is worth thinking about:

All localization is censorship.

It can’t be helped. This isn’t just about how some words and phrases can’t be translated directly. It’s about how the act of localization is entirely about making sure something from a different culture and cultural biases fits into your culture and cultural biases.

People say things like, “but they’re removing something from the original,” even when the original creator approved the change. And yet, that statement will always be true. Once you take out all of the original language, the game is no longer going to bring the exact same message.

Ironically, for those who don’t speak Japanese and don’t deeply understand Japanese culture, playing a game in Japanese without some of these understandings can lead to a experience the developer didn’t intend. The developer wants you to play and understand the game. By going through with a localization, you’re getting closer to the heart of the experience than by playing the original. Even if you don’t pick up all the references and allusions in Okami or Persona.

You might say: I’m fine with the localization if they’re just changing the words. I don’t want them to change the images. I don’t want them to remove features and activities and scenes altogether. And that’s fair, in a sense. I would love to have the option to buy the game legitimately outside Japan with as few changes as possible. But in most cases, it doesn’t make business sense.

So, my recommendation: come to Japan, learn Japanese, delve into Japanese culture, and play the game as it was intended to be played. It’s a little legwork, but if you really care about experiencing the original, that’s what it takes. Otherwise, are you really respecting the original?