Podcast S2 EP17 Culturalization

S2 EP17: Culturalization

MELISA: Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of Open World. I’m Melisa, I’m here with Lara and Ale.


ALEXIS: Hi, everyone!

MELISA: And today we have a little different of an episode. So what we did is ask our community what they wanted to hear, what they wanted us to talk about. And after a few days of voting, the people spoke, and the topic that was chosen is culturalization. So this is what we’re going to talk about today. And it’s a term that we use a lot in the industry and sometimes it’s mixed up with localization. So how would you guys define culturalization?

LARA: For me, culturalization is taking that little step forward from localization because it’s just a little bit more than just localizing our content, because we know that localization, it goes with words, with everything. But culturalization just makes it more of the culture, more of the target culture. You can see things that, yeah, maybe I localized these texts, but this is offensive in my country. You know? That’s just an example. So it has to be rewritten or it has to be rethought or… I don’t know.

ALEXIS: Yeah. I mean, it’s tailored even more to the game, even regarding current events or news that are relevant to when the game takes place. It’s taking a step further.

LARA: Yeah, it’s taking a step further in the meanings of, I don’t know, making something more accurate or something more relatable because maybe, if I have this joke and I localize it, right? Maybe the joke doesn’t have the same punch if I add my culture into that joke, you know what I mean?

MELISA: Absolutely.

LARA: So it’s just like, yeah, it’s taking that step forward from localization and trying to own that content that you’re trying to localize.

MELISA: Absolutely, and it makes me think of our episode about Spanish from Latin America and Spanish from… European. If you haven’t watched it…

LARA: Please, go watch it. We explain a lot about the differences and how to appropriate your own language.

MELISA: Exactly. And how can these cultural differences, in the case of, you add that step of culturalization, how can that change a video game?

LARA: Well, in the case of video games, it changes because sometimes you have this absolute great idea of a video game, but you don’t realize. I don’t know, for example, in Fallout, you don’t realize that cows are sacred in some religions in India. And in the Fallout series, you have a two-headed cow that you can actually shoot and kill. So it’s just like, that had some sort of repercussion over the culturalization part of it, because maybe if the game was culturalized for that specific market, you can remove the cow entirely. I mean, it’s just like you can remove it. Just it won’t be as offensive as it looks like right now. Even though it was not the intention, of course. It is unintentional, right? But because only one person cannot know all the cultures that they have in the entire world. So that’s why I think also it’s so important, because you do your research and you try to make your game for that specific market.

MELISA: Absolutely.

ALEXIS: Yeah, I mean, also it’s taking into account the symbols, body language, gestures… even hands, I mean. In Japan, fictional characters like, I don’t know, Crash Bandicoot has five fingers instead of four, like it has in America. Even Bart Simpson has four.

LARA: Yeah. It’s amazing because I remember seeing pictures of the Simpsons, and in this side of the country… in this side of the world, we have four fingers for all of the characters, but in Japan specifically, they have to have five. And it looks so weird.

MELISA: It’s so interesting. Yeah, definitely.

LARA: And another example talking about Japan is that, in Fallout, you have a gun that is called The Fatman and the name has been changed. This is not like a major change of the entire history of the game, but it has been changed because it was too close, it was too relatable to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so they had to change it for cultural respect and everything. But yeah…

ALEXIS: But it can get extreme, like Far Cry 3. I mean Far Cry 3 was completely banned from Indonesia because the local authorities thought, they weren’t that wrong, but the game makes it as if living in Indonesia was a living hell. So they don’t think that that’s appropriate for their culture, for their people, and they banned the game.

MELISA: Yeah, so I think culturalization must be like really important to avoid these type of things from happening, like when you have your game banned from a country, and you want to reach that audience and, you know, sell your games in those countries. So in that way, would you say that culturalization is a market enabler for video games?

LARA: Yes and, at the same time, I would love to add that culturalization for me is that little step that you’re taking to take care of your community. Because you might find some things offensive. I don’t know, I’m thinking, if you’ve seen the latest episode of European Spanish and LATAM Spanish, I mention this Grim Fandango character that is supposed to be evil, right? And he was Argentinian, and the depiction of the Argentinian character and how… It didn’t sound right. It was just like, “Um…”

MELISA: Yeah, it’s like a stereotype…

LARA: Stereotyping. Yeah, you could’ve done your… I know it’s a really old game, but I think you could’ve done your research. I mean, it’s a matter of researching or having a diverse team on your own team so you can see different perspectives or in which ways this can be offensive. So to open these kinds of discussions between the teams and make the game go into a very much interesting direction, I believe. Another example that comes into my mind regarding culturalization and laws is that, for example, there was a law in Germany that prohibited every single thing that had to do with Nazi propaganda. So when you have, for example, the game Wolfenstein…

ALEXIS: Yeah, you can’t even show Adolf Hitler’s mustache.

LARA: Yeah. Or the Nazi symbols and everything. But then, when the law got removed, because I think they removed that law, the game was patched so that everyone could see how the game was in the rest of the world. So it’s just like, it is a constant thing of changing, of making the game more suitable.

MELISA: And adapt it to different…

ALEXIS: As the world changes, I mean, video games should change as well. I mean, culturalization is a market enable… a market enabler, sorry, if you think about it as a tool, you know, in order to better reach the market that maybe the game that you originally made has things that just don’t see eye to eye with, with an audience, you know? But it’s a tool.

MELISA: Like a tool to avoid disasters.

LARA: Yeah, and as a translator, I believe it’s so important to be, like, the gatekeeper of your own culture and flag the things that you believe are going to be offensive on your culture or on your language. I believe it’s so important because it’s going to deliver a better experience, and maybe the client is going to be thankful for your input.

MELISA: Yeah, so culturalization goes beyond just language, right? It can be a lot of things in your game, so it’s kind of a bit more like a holistic kind of view of your game in general, how it impacts different cultures, different, like, geopolitical situations. And I think our point in this episode is also just to bring awareness again to a topic that is really important in our industry.

LARA: I believe also what is really important in terms of culturalization is context, because, without context, how can you culturalize something, right? And we have, I believe, as translators, we can culturalize things in a way, but sometimes we don’t have the chance to change completely or an entire video game, right? So sometimes we have to adjust things as we can, or maybe the client doesn’t want that, so we have to take also that into account. So, as a translator, we want to be, like, the gatekeepers of our culture and everything, but also taking into account what the client says, the content…

MELISA: Having enough context for sure.

LARA: Enough context is just… Yeah, absolutely.

ALEXIS: I like that expression, the gatekeepers of our culture. I mean, in order to do that, you need a clear communication with your client so that they’re satisfied with what you’re bringing to the table.

MELISA: Yeah, and it shows that you really care, right? About your work.

ALEXIS: “Hey, this is not gonna work.”

MELISA: Yeah, because you want the game to be successful in the market that you want to…

LARA: Absolutely. And talking about context, because imagine what kind of culturalization you could do if you had enough context and if you knew your culture. Then you can maybe transform this into transcreation.

MELISA: Yeah, that’s another term that is quite used in the industry. And, yeah, like transcreation, culturalization, and they all refer to different aspects…

LARA: Transform… Yeah.

ALEXIS: Yeah, not translating, transforming into something that makes sense in the target language.

LARA: Exactly. I’m just thinking, when the first thing that came into my mind is, we all know Pikachu, right? But there are other Pokémons that have changed names in different countries, in different languages. There are a lot of examples of this.

ALEXIS: Well, just to name one, Lickitung, that we all know in Spanish is also Lickitung, in German, he’s called Schlurp, like the onomatopoeia. Or, I don’t know, the first three legendary Pokémon. I’m gonna mention the first era because I lost after Cyndaquil, Totodile and Chikorita.

LARA: We’re too old.

ALEXIS: I’m too old.

LARA: Even though I played Pokémon Scarlet, I don’t know why I’m throwing myself away from…

ALEXIS: But I don’t know where to start if I… It’s fine, let’s talk about it later. For instance, the first legendary birds Moltres, Articuno and Zapdos. That’s clearly, like, one, two, three, you know? But actually, in Japanese, the names are Freezer, Thunder and Fire, straightforward names with the elements with which they attack, right? Like, the legendary bird of thunder, Zapdos.

MELISA: Yeah, and it definitely, of course, has to do with the culture, what they think will impact…

ALEXIS: Be appropriate.

MELISA: Yeah, exactly, like people will, you know, get it a bit more if it’s more straightforward, maybe. Like, you know, all of that has to do with the culture, the country that they’re targeting.

LARA: Yeah, absolutely. And sometimes, not taking these extra steps as a developer, right? Because, as a translator, I believe we all do this, we all try to gatekeep our culture and everything, but sometimes developers don’t take this extra step. And sometimes there is like some bad and negative information or, like, repercussions with that game. Maybe you even kind of have legal problems with this too. And I believe you want to avoid that at all costs. So maybe your game that is doing so well in America will not be properly done if you want to launch it in Japan. I don’t know.

ALEXIS: You need to make some changes that are things that don’t actually impact the game, but they’re gonna work best, they’re gonna be better.

MELISA: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s what part of culturalization also, what’s known as, like, the proactive and reactive culturalization, which depends on the moment in the process. And there are certain things that you can think when you’re planning your game, you know, you can think, “Ok, these aspects, I can change them a bit around so that people…” Because you already know you wanna ship your game to different places, so you think, these things can be culturalized and they can connect a bit more with the target audience. What types of things do you guys think can be adapted?

LARA: To me… Yeah, there are some things. For example, there’s no need to adapt everything, because I know you might want to keep the essence of your game.

ALEXIS: Yeah, you’re gonna lose something in the process.

LARA: And you’re gonna lose something. But to me, the things that have to be changed, the things that could be prohibited because of religions or insulting or offensive, or goes against any laws. So to me, those things have to be changed.

MELISA: That is more like the reactive side of…

LARA: Yeah, that’s more the reactive side of things. For example, if you have a game like Far Cry 6, right? And you want to create this cultural immersion into the game and to let you know that you are in Latin America, that it’s today and you are in Latin America, you’re in 2023 in Latin America, the first thing that comes into your mind is the music. Because, for example, for me, that’s the best case, because whenever you get into a car with Dani and she turns on the radio and she starts singing with the radio, all these Spanish songs and all these… I mean, at least for me, that I know, Gente de Zona, all these bands that are so welcoming and from Latin America. The level of culturalization that they have done to make things culturally appropriate for that game is just, to me, amazing. I cannot believe how… how is it possible that you make me feel like I was at home.

ALEXIS: On that same spirit, I think it’s a constant that we mention Ubisoft as doing many, many things right.

LARA: Yeah.

ALEXIS: Like keeping the players in mind first. But I also remember some cultural aspects that were taken care of with absolute love in the latest Assassin’s Creed games. I mean, in Odyssey, they worked with Greek actors with actual insults that they used back then. And even in one game before that, Origins, one of the key elements of the story is Bayek finding some stones in a certain form or shape help him remember things and has some visions that each of these stones represent constellations that were meaningful for the Egyptians, even back then. So all of those things that are from the developers themselves, are so well-thought-out, you know? And that’s what I appreciate as a gamer.

LARA: Yes, absolutely. And sometimes you hear music, for example. I just… When you hear, for example, the radio in GTA 5, you are transported into the place, you know? And… yeah, I love it because they took like normal songs and, for some reason, your brain now is attached to that memory, and you’re like, yeah, I’m driving my car into the highway like… It’s so good. I mean, when the culturalization is taking part in the development of the game, you can really tell.

MELISA: Yeah, exactly, because there’s these, like, tools that you can plan ahead and then connects really well with your audience.

LARA: Absolutely. We had last year Kate Edwards, she worked on Age of Empires. If you haven’t seen that episode, please go check it out, because, when she talks about culturalization, she takes it to the absolute next level because she’s a genius. And when she explains about the maps and how that could be culturally inappropriate, you start thinking, oh, my God, this is not… good. I mean, you have to make it good. That’s what she does for a living, she just goes researching culture everywhere. So yeah, maybe also it would help having a diverse… I know I always say the exact same thing, but for me it’s important to have different perspectives of the world because it will make the game more rich and more beautiful, in general, right? Like, it is going to hit that spot.

ALEXIS: On that same note, one of the things that is important to have culturalized is what gamers see in the stores, right? The message that comes to them before they buy the game. And even the currency that they buy the game in.

MELISA: Yeah, yeah, yeah. The marketing content, I mean, how important it is culturalization, transcreation in marketing. I think that’s already really established, as well.

LARA: To me, it’s just simply, to make like a conclusion of this, it’s just do your research. If you want to get to a specific market and you think that the content that you have is not going to be suitable for that market, please do your research. Have a diverse team. I think everything could be so beautiful like that, it could flow so well. And, yeah, it could avoid disasters, to be honest with you. It could avoid you losing money, too.

ALEXIS: And it can make you earn far more fans.

MELISA: Exactly. I think people will definitely appreciate you going the extra mile, it will have a positive impact, we can assure you. Thank you so much for watching or hearing this episode. And if you wanna know more about culturalization or you have any questions, please let us know. We’re happy to hear… we’re gonna be reading all the comments. And yes, that’s it. Thank you so much. Bye, everyone.

LARA: Bye-bye! Thank you!

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