Translation

You can’t go very far on the internet without running into some kind of argument or debate.  This is especially true in the video game community which has been fighting over everything since the internet first began (console wars, what games are good, what are bad etc).  Even the Catholic online world isn’t immune, with arguments on traditionalism vs liberalism being fairly common.  What is interesting however, is that there are even some debates that are common between the two groups.  In particular, one of the big debates in both circles is the right way to translate something.  I thought I would discuss and compare this debate today in both communities.

The right way to translate video games has been an issue going all the way back to the NES era when Japanese games became common.  The two extremes in the video game world are known as a heavy localization and a direct translation.  A heavy localization would be when a translator drastically changes what a game actually says but still tries to convey the meaning.  A direct translation tries to be as close to the original as possible even if it means sacrificing readability.  As an example, there is no real equivalent to Japanese honorifics in English (kind of a suffix to add to a name to indicate your relationship with the person).  A localization would completely drop the honorifics and try to convey the meaning (for example, in a game I’m playing right now, Robert-san was translated to Mr. Valetz instead).  A more direct translation would just leave them in and let the player figure out what it means.  Which of these two styles is more popular has changed over the years.  In the early days of video games, localizations were popular because games were seen as for kids, so translators needed to remove anything that might upset their parents (religion, sex and cursing mostly) while still keeping the general meaning.  For example, see this infamous scene from Final Fantasy 6:

Due to the heavy censorship of the era, there was a backlash in the late 90s that led to more direct translations for about a decade.  More recently, however, localizations have come back in style once again for censorship reasons (this time it’s more censoring things that might upset the politically progressive translators rather than conservative parents buying the games) or because the translators want to “spice up” the dialog.  This happened frequently in the controversial localization of Fire Emblem:  Fates.  For example, a discussion between two quiet characters on how many people they have killed was changed to just silence as a joke:

While more popular with the translators themselves, gamers today tend to prefer direct translations because they want the game as the developer originally made it, not the game the translators think they should have made.  It’s become a pretty heated discussion due to the current political landscape and due to the increasing divide between people who translate the games and the people who play them.  I remember a few years ago when this debate picked up again in earnest kind of laughing because the Catholic Church has gone through the exact same debate over the course of history, especially in the past 50 years.


In Catholicism, translation is incredibly important.  Most of the sources of the various texts like the Bible are in Latin or Greek, so translating them into the various languages of the world is especially important (as pointed out in Vatican II’s Dei Verbum).  Instead of localization and direct translation, translators have what is called dynamic equivalence (convey the meaning) and formal equivalence (translate the words directly).  The benefit of dynamic equivalence is that it can make the meaning more clear to the reader, but it risks being flat out wrong if the translator doesn’t understand the text themselves.  The benefit of a formal equivalence is that there is a much lower chance of conveying something incorrectly, but it may be a pain to read.  While in video games this debate ultimately doesn’t make a huge difference (people might just miss out on a small part of the game), in Catholicism it is vastly more important.  If someone makes a mistake while translating, they can convey a completely different meaning than what was originally intended, leading people to error.  The classic example is the origin of the phrase “what a difference an iota makes.”  Back during the Council of Nicea when the Latin and Greek fathers were trying to iron out Arianism, the correct term used was “homoousious” meaning consubstantial, but was sometimes mistranslated as “homoiousious” which had a meaning more in line with the Arian heresy (AKA an ‘i’ was all the difference between the truth and heresy).  In more modern times, you saw this with the English translation of the Mass.  When it was first made back after Vatican II, dynamic equivalence was used.  The result is that there were some parts that didn’t really line up with what was supposed to be said.  This discrepancy is why in 2010 a new English translation was made using formal equivalence so it would be much closer to correct (and why the term “consubstantial” is now part of the Nicene Creed).  From everything I’ve read online, it seems like formal equivalence is significantly more popular in Catholic circles these days and probably will be in the foreseeable future.


So there is a discussion on translation both in video games and in Catholicism.  It’s interesting to me how both circles have basically come to the same conclusion (translating as close to word for word as possible) but for different reasons.  It’ll be worth watching to see if the debate settles down in video games like it mostly has in Catholicism or if it keeps cycling between the two for the foreseeable future.


Song of the Post-

Dusk Falls

Fire Emblem:  Fates

Thankfully Fire Emblem: Fates’ great soundtrack wasnt localized out of the game

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