Marriage Interfaces

November 2nd, 2013 by Stephen Mandiberg

Dissertation brain is a nasty thing. It’s like culture goggles, or other loss of vision, but you also forget to do all the things that you like. While I still have dissertation brain, and will likely have it for another year (plus or minus 6 months), I was happen when something translation related popped up in my life and I was aware enough to think it cool, worthy of note, and not something that i needed to somehow put into the dissertation. Merry days!

I went to a wedding today. A wedding of an old friend and his (now) wife. He is American (Hawaii/California/Oregon); she is Japanese (Osaka). He speaks English and Japanese; she speaks Japanese, and the smidgen of English glommed through Middle/High School education, but repeatedly denied in practice. Certainly the combination is hardly unusual given the second half of the 20th century and Western colonial practices. Their daily language mediation (speaking in Japanese) is not what interested me. Rather, what interested me was the 3-way that occurred during the wedding ceremony.

Picture, if you will, a bride on one side, a groom on the other, and a pastor in the middle (I’m not sure what denomination, but the other half of his work is as a surf instructor, if that helps). It’s not an unusual picture: it’s the heteronormative one, in fact. However, what is interesting is that I have become used to thinking about that positioning and relationship in a slightly different manner.

In the course of the past weddings I’ve attended (particularly of same-sex couples), the relationship is of a triangle with the (possibly) the officiator in a position of power, but the couple in a position of equality. Each side goes into the ceremony (and marriage) with equal power. Of course, such is not necessarily true, nor has it tended to be true historically. That said, the typical marriage oaths that Hollywood has spread include ideals of equality: each side says the same thing, each side talks about loving and cherishing, sickness and health, good times and bad, etc. Each side is an equal partner.

Unsurprisingly, this wasn’t always the case (surprise surprise). For example, the 1549 Church of England’s Booke of Common Prayer ceremony required the bride to say “to love, cherish, and to obey” to the groom. And of course, when it’s simply a matter of trading horses for women equality goes right out the window. However, that’s not my point here. Rather…

What interested me about the wedding ceremony today is that, due to the bride’s (and her family’s) inability to speak English fluently, the groom translated. Yes, there were other people who spoke Japanese at the ceremony, quite a few, in fact, but not the pastor, and anybody else speaking in that position would have broken the important triangular relationship. So, re-picture, if you will, the bride on one side, the groom on the other, and the pastor in the middle, but now, every time the pastor speaks an utterance, he must stop and the groom must translate.

It’s a part of their daily life, yes, however, given the marriage ceremony it does other, interesting things. The constant effort of the groom to properly translate, even when struck with more difficult phrasing and terminology, is admirable. This is particularly true given that he is an English teacher, not a Japanese-English translator, let alone an English-Japanese translator. Thus, there are two interesting points that I wish to describe and then show why I find them interesting.

First/Second/Third Person
The groom first had trouble when the pastor stated, “I’m honored that you chose me to be your pastor.” It’s not a difficult phrase, and the groom had already translated both honored and pastor, the only real vocabulary of the phrase. And yet, the groom stuttered over the phrase because of a difficulty in roles and position.

At that point the groom was unable to be ‘himself,’ the groom that was translating the pastor for his bride-to-be. Instead, he was suddenly the translator mediating the pastor. And as a tangled subject, he had difficulty with his phrasing. Was he to say “the pastor says, ‘I’m honored that you chose me to be your pastor’”, or was he to say “I’m honored that you chose me to be your pastor.” The groom ended with “と言う” but did not start with “牧師,” a cop-out of sorts. So, he says the “said”, but not who said it.

The first issue was interesting as shows the troubles of mediation when you are within the situation yourself. Essentially, that there was a double mediation.

Repeating Vows
The second problem moment came during the home stretch, when the pastor went into the marriage vow section. What is the groom to do when told to “repeat after me. I, Bryan…”? Obviously, to repeat the sentences that begin with I and include the various honoring, cherishing and loving. To repeat word-for-word the ‘legally’ binding phrasing. But what is the translator to do when told to “repeat after me”? Obviously, to translate the phrase ‘repeat after me’ and anything that comes after it.

At this point, the groom did not “repeat” the binding vows, but translated them (with some trouble, I might add). Interestingly, he was at this point not only translating, but talking to his bride who does not speak English enough to understand the vow in English. As such, the vow was less about the legally/religiously binding phrasing than it was telling the bride how he (as the groom) would treat her, honor her, etc, etc.

Next came the bride’s turn, When told to “repeat after me: I, Yuri…” she did not mimic the groom and translate the phrases into her native Japanese as she did not understand them enough to do so, nor was her memory of the groom’s translation sound enough to reproduce the same phrases (mistakes and all). Instead, she repeated the pastor as best she could: Ai, Yuri, teeku Buraian, tsu bii mai…” Unlike the groom, she did what she was supposed to do and uttered the legally/religiously binding words, but she did so without a full understanding of just what she was saying.

So, in the end you have two people who have given different vows, each mediated in a different way through language, ceremony, bureaucracy, pomp and circumstance. Does this change their marriage in any way? Of course not. That ceremony had nothing to do with the legal binds of marriage that they went through in Osaka, and it likely has nothing to do with the papers they may or may not submit to California. While their differences might not be important to the marriage, they are interesting to the situation. While the pastor is the official mediator in his (in this case it was a he) role as interface between couple and higher powers (church/state), it was the groom that acted as mediator here, and in so doing marked out very interesting power relationships. The mediator/translator is, as I firmly believe, an interface. However, interfaces are not invisible, or just about the user, despite what Norman and others say. In the case of the wedding, who is the ‘user’? Is it the groom? The bride? The pastor? The audience? A user necessitates a particularly stable role that does not exist with translation as interface. As such, both translation and interface must be reinterpreted as unstable qualities and positions.

Playing With Theory: Boundary Objects and (In)visible Work

October 9th, 2012 by Stephen Mandiberg

Leigh Star’s claim that, “Infrastructure becomes visible upon breakdown” strikes me as incredibly related to translation whenever I hear it (Star 2010: 611). Yes, translation, particularly that of games, is marked by its invisibility. One recent poster to the International Game Developers Association Localization Special Interest Group message board wrote “you either get no qualitative feedback when a job is done well or you get negative feedback” (IGDA LocSIG Sep 24, 2012). A second states “As for localization effectiveness, I think it’s similar to good film soundtracks: if you don’t notice it, it’s great” (IGDA LocSIG Sep 24, 2012). For both of these localization specialists their experience is that a good translation is  unremarked upon and invisible.

Such a beginning leads me to two general theories that Star has worked on. The first is that of boundary objects (Star and Griesemer 1989), and the second is visibility and/of work (Star and Strauss 1999).

While I tend to think of translation as an interface that is actively manipulated by translators in order to alter a text so that it works between people and cultures, it would be not too much of a stretch to think about the practice of localization as a “boundary object” (Star and Griesemer 1989). Everybody — programers, translators and players included — works and interacts on the same text even as it is manipulated and used differently. The problem I find with the boundary object methodology (metaphor?) is highlighted in Star’s 2010 reiteration of her and Griesemer’s three part definition. She begins be noting that, “The object… resides between social worlds (or communities of practice) where it is ill structured” (Star 2010: 604). Games, as locally created texts (never universal despite claims to the contrary) are necessarily between worlds/communities of practice be they national or linguistic. So far, so good.

Star continues by saying, “When necessary, the object is worked on by local groups who maintain its vaguer identity as a common object, while making it more specific, more tailored to local use within a social world, and therefore useful for work that is NOT interdisciplinary” (Star 2010: 604-5). Here is where things get very similar, but at the same time very off when thinking about game translation. The idea that “local groups” work on a game doesn’t hold as it is a third party group, the translator/localizer, and not the participant/player. Although the best localizers are also players, they are forcibly removed from their sociality through NDA restrictions of secrecy. There is a break between the social community: essentially, while under translation there is no community, particularly for freelancers who are forbidden to talk to others. However, somebody works to tailor a game to local use — the whole definition of localization is exactly such: to render local for consumption. Finally, we have an incredibly interesting bit: the result of such boundary work is that the object becomes “useful for work that is NOT interdisciplinary.” If we’re going to continue with the localization practice of games, then local play of games is NOT global. Said another way: translators alter the text so that you do not have to deal with the messiness of inter[action] with an Other.

Finally, Star (and Griesemer)’s third definitional clause is that “Groups that are cooperating without consensus tack back-and-forth between both forms of the object” (Star 2010: 605). And here is where the relationship between localization and boundary objects seems to fall apart. The nature of games as global texts is that they are simultaneously consumed in different forms by people in different locations as the same text. Furthermore, access to “both forms of the object” (eg: both translations/localizations) is generally rendered impossible (PS2), expensive (DS), or difficult (iPhone). Granted, sometimes and in particular places, these different versions are rendered visible. The most obvious example of this exists with European developers and for European versions. Because of the reality of living between languages, a typically visible European method of coding different versions is often more structural (you choose the language when you start the game) than infrastructural (matches system language; only one language per disk). In this European situation the translation is still a boundary object as it is visible. However, in both the current trend and (almost) all games between Japan and the United States there is no cooperation, consensus, or back-and-forth. Is this a good or bad “standardization” according to Star? That, I’m not quite sure of, but following with the lack of inter[action], my own feeling is that it is ethically problematic.

Yes, certain aspects of the boundary object met[thod/aphor] resonate with a study of game translation. However, there are simply too many nitty gritty details that don’t work, particularly the invisibility of the NDA. And here is where I can transition from the front-running popular theory, to the secondary one that seems to be more viable given the translation/localization context: visibility and work.

While unrelated to her work on boundary objects other than through the conceptualization of infrastructure and its invisibility, Star’s writings on work (in)visibility is quite helpful in understanding game localization. Star and Strauss (1999) argue that there are two forms along which work invisibility can be seen, the invisible worker and the invisible work. The first is painfully exemplified in Rollins’ (1985) work on African-American housekeepers where the workers are reduced to the status of invisibility even while their work is valued. A less racially painful, but similar example from early video game history is how programmers’ names (and work) were struck from the games they created. In an attempt to keep programmers from gaining status and therefore the ability to require greater pay, publishers kept programmers anonymous and games were published with only the publishing company’s name. One of the first programmers to gain visibility was Warren Robinett, who inserted his own name into Adventure, the Atari game he was programming. While (many) programmers have since gained authorial/visible status and are now a part of ‘history,’ other workers remain invisible. Translators are my key example, as their work is visible to publishers, but their names are not to be granted visibility. According to one interviewee, translation is a ‘service economy’ — just like housekeeping. Because of translation’s ‘service’ status, the translators themselves become invisible ‘service workers.’ The second form of invisibility is when the work becomes invisible due to its taken for granted status. Because it is taken for granted it begins to be invisible. Star points toward parents, secretaries and call-services, but her primary example is nurses. She notes that, “If one looked, one could literally see the work being done – but the taken for granted status means that it is functionally invisible” (1999: 20). This sort of work is absolutely necessary for standard practices to continue, but its importance and prevalence is generally overlooked. For global media this is translation to a T: media is global thanks to translation, but nobody ever bothers to think about it as it is part of the infrastructure.

So, translation fits with both types of invisibility. However, like with Suchman’s (1995) discussion about rendering visible, translators’ desire to be visible is not a simple issue. Writings on translation theory have discussed the issue of trust, but between the speaker/writer and the translator, and the speaker/writer and audience (as mediated by the translator). Located in a double bind, the translator is ethically required to translate faithfully the words and intentions of the speaker. That both words and intentions cannot both be translated is the first quandary, but the translator must sometimes pick one or the other and jump for that. However, at the same time the translator is ethically tasked to not make the speaker look like a fool in front of his or her audience. Thus, the translator often greases the minds of the audience by making the speaker look better by striking more toward what the speaker meant, and could have said given a better understanding of the contextual audience.

These two binds — faithfulness to the speaker’s words on the one hand (regardless of whether we’re talking about sense/word battles), and attentiveness to the relationship between speaker and listeners on the other — directly contrast with any discussion of the possibility of visibility. To translators (and the above example is most visible with simultaneous translation) being visible is a problem. Naomi Seidman writes explicitly about this using her grandfather as an example of being a “double agent.” As a means of getting things done properly, Seidman’s grandfather intentionally altered his translation when telling French gendarmes what he had explained the Yiddish speaking Jewish refugees: to the Jews he said (in Yiddish) that the local Jews would find them and help them that and that they should not be afraid as the French were not Nazis; in response to the gendarmes query of what he had told the refugees, he falsely responded, “I quoted to them the words of a great Frenchman: ‘Every free man has two homelands — his own, and France” (Seidman 2006: 2). He abandoned faithfulness to both the words and their content in the hopes of helpfully interfacing between the speaker and listeners. According to Seidman, the sole reason that her grandfather was able to help the situation (by unfaithfully translating double agent) was because nobody could check him. He gained autonomy through partial invisibility. Invisibility is a key desire of many translators, both so that they can unfaithfully translate words (as with Seidman’s grandfather), but also so that they can faithfully translate problematic ones. An example that is often used in the dangers of translation is Igarashi Hitoshi, the Japanese translator of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, who was murdered following Khomeini’s fatwa against the book and all involved. In a desire to be able to faithfully translate the unwanted message, the translator often wishes to become invisible so as to avoid being shot as the messenger. While far less of a life and death situation, certain freelance translators I have interviewed have elaborated on their happiness when invisible as it allows them greater freedom to not care about the work they produce. Knowing that they are invisible these translators are able to work faster, and earn enough money to spend more time on the ‘better’ jobs where they are given credit for their work (and can put it in their resume/CV). Given these situations, it makes sense that translators do not want always their work to become visible. Issues of trust enable them to continue about their work in a more satisfactory way.

Unfortunately, the translator’s invisibility is only one half of the issue, and putting translators’ desires and well being aside for the moment, the translation’s invisibility is also an issue. Venuti’s (2008) has discussed the discursive invisibility of translation within the United States at length. He has argued that in addition to the above invisibility of the translator there is also a discursive invisibility of the fact of translation within American readers (and by extension, viewers of movies/television and players of games). To Venuti, this is a problem given the United States’ socio-cultural dominance in the late 20th century: the invisibility of translation simply supports an ethnic/cultural chauvinism. For Venuti the answer is to give the translator a partial form of authorship. To acknowledge that the original and translation are (necessarily) different, and to understand the translator as having an equally authorial role. Ironically, one part of Venuti’s claim has come to fruition through the concept of “transcreation.” This is ironic largely because the results of transcreation, as industry tactic, are often far from ethically motivated.

Transcreation is about manipulating a campaign to best sell a product in a local market. The authors of The Little Book of Transcreation compare translation and transcreation by saying, “Translation is about the ability to understand someone else’s language. Transcreation is about the ability to write in your own.” The authors then conclude their small book (about 3 inches tall) by writing, “With literary works, the freer approach of transcreation may not be suitable, out of respect for the original. But where the message is more important than the medium – as in marketing – transcreation ensures that far less is lost along the way. So travel transcreation class, to make sure your message gets there with you.” We can take two important points from transcreation: a) it is not about understanding an other, and b) is is not interested in the original message, but the possibility of making money. So, despite giving authorial authority to the translator (they change the text as they please), both translators and translations remain invisible.

End comments:
translation and (in)visibility are crucially tied
industry secrecy makes this even more prevalent
making money and understanding culture are not the same

References:

  • Humphrey, Louise, Amy Somers, James Bradley, and Guy Gilpin. The Little Book of Transcreation. London: Mother Tongue, 2011.
  • International Game Developers Association Localization Special Interest Group. Mailing List. September 24, 2012.
  • Rollins, Judith. Between Women. Boston: Beacon Press, 1985.
  • Seidman, Naomi. Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.
  • Star, Susan Leigh. “This Is Not a Boundary Object: Reflections on the Origin of a Concept.” Science, Technology & Human Values 35, no. 5 (2010): 601-17.
  • Star, Susan Leigh, and James R. Griesemer. “Institutional Ecology, ‘Translations’ and Boundary Objects: Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39.” Social Studies of Science 19 (1989): 387-420.
  • Star, Susan Leigh, and Anselm Strauss. “Layers of Silence, Arenas of Voice: The Ecology of Visible and Invisible Work.” Computer Supported Cooperative Work 8 (1999): 9-30.
  • Suchman, Lucy. “Making Work Visible.” Communications of the ACM 38, no. 9 (1995): 56-64.
  • Venuti, Lawrence. The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2008 [1994].

Multilingualism and Japan (in translation)

October 1st, 2012 by Stephen Mandiberg

As an American living abroad (again), it continually strikes me that one of the essences of living within this world, and being cosmopolitan in that particular sense that means you don’t run from others or hate them, is that you deal with multilingualism on a daily basis. You might not be multilingual, but you deal with it. You live with it. You do not simply have a “coexist” bumper sticker, but you really do exist in tandem with otherness on a daily basis. Again, as an American who was brought up simultaneously hearing about how multiculturalism is good, but living in one of the whitest cities around (Portland, OR [1]), such linguistic mixture, which seems to be at the heart of living with and between multiple cultures, is both a good and necessary thing. Why is it, then, that this mixture is the first thing to go with adaptation into American contexts? Suddenly, everybody speaks English (albeit with some sort of disparaging accent) and all of the signage is in English. This happens in American remakes of both movies and games, and doesn’t even begin to touch on the oddity of people mysteriously speaking English in books. This mixture might not the be all and end all of existence in the world, but it is certainly important in certain places. And yes, Japan is one of those places.

Japan is a strange place. Not in the “Oh, Japan” sort of dismissal, but in the, wow, almost every sign around is in both English and Japanese, yet the majority of people cannot for the life of them respond to a simple question in English despite national training at (minimum) the middle school level, sort of way. Why is this? Granted, I can’t say that my French would allow me to respond despite 1-11 “training” that I’ve forgotten abysmally, buy then again, I don’t live in Quebec. At various points in Japan’s history English has almost become a national language, and as stated above, the Ministry of Education (MEXT) has made English a mandatory subject in middle school (and recently this has expanded down to 5th graders despite teachers’ inability to properly speak/teach the language) [2]. There is a LOT of English here. As long as they don’t really speak to anybody, most foreigners can get around without any trouble (as long as they speak English, and not, say, Polish). However, I need to iterate that it’s not simply that signs are translated. That’s happened (often with expectedly poor results that end up on webpages thanks to botched machine translations [3]), but such simple sign translation is not the point. The point is actually that signs are mixed. Many businesses and buildings are only in roman characters that often are arranged to make English words. I’m sitting in the basement of OICITY in Ueno. Technically, OICITY is pronounced ‘maruishiti’ [マルイシティ] in the crib underneath the sign in front of me, but EPOS CARD and GAP, both in the nearby visual space, are not given similar translations. The only sign that is only Japanese in front of my is 無地良品 (which, as an aside, is simply localized in the U.S. as MUJI — the brandless company itself becomes a brand). However, the truly common one is not these that politely keep the English and Japanese separate, but ATMコーナー, (ATM Kounaa, which is the loanword for corner) the sign right below the one for the EPOS CARDs. Here we see the mixture that is present and implied with all of the signage. It’s like a bilingually trained child was never told they were actually speaking two different languages when they were grew up code-switching and as an adult they now expect everybody to follow both of their languages.

This is everywhere. I just came from the Ueno Zoo, and all standardized signs were written with katakana (despite the animal’s nativity) with English underneath, then the Latin name, and finally in the standard usage with both kanji and hiragana to describe the animal’s eating habits and place of origin. And any argument that katakana might be easier to read for children does not hold, as the nearby signs saying not to feed the animals (arguably what children must read and understand) is written in hiragana, not katakana. The animal, as an essentially alterier creature, is unknowable/not human, and it is marked as such through katakana. Just like you can never get in the cages, the animals can only be known from afar. Similarly, foreignness is held at bay linguistically through a simultaneous embrace and rejection through the constant utilization, but never full incorporation. Such mixture is a major part of Japan. Not the the most important part, but definitely an important element. So, why then if translation is supposed to bring understanding, does translation never deal with this? And, no, I’m not arguing that Japan is loveydovey, and translations must represent this. Rather, I’m arguing that it is the ethical responsibility of translations not simply to be enjoyable, but to bring understanding of what it is like to consume that text in its place of origin. A text does not travel as some unmarked pleasure, ready for easy consumption, but loaded down with context, necessarily.

Take Murakami Haruki’s (relatively) recent 1Q84. Even the title has wordplay where the pronunciation of 9 and Q is the same, but it goes further than that. Murakami, like many postmodern Japanese writers (including Yoshimoto Banana) deliberately flirts with the West both textually and thematically with resultant negative reviews from the more traditional Japanese literary circle. It is this flirtation, often in the form of mixture, that makes Japanese multilingualism (seen everywhere, including in postmodern Japanese writing)… not unique, but at least interesting. But why does none of this flirtation, this mixture, come across? Obviously, the simple answer is that adaptation to local tastes sells well, but that is neither helpful, nor when you get down to it, a good translation. Adaptation to local tastes is simply translation that sells well.

And the merry-go-round comes back again and I’m on ethics.

References:

  • [1] “Racial/Ethnic Segregation.” Greater Portland Pulse. http://portlandpulse.org/racial_ethnic_segregation
  • [2] “Teachers worried about new English classes.” The Japan Times Online. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20110218f2.html
  • [3] http://www.engrish.com
  • [4] Murakami, Haruki. 1Q84.

Connect-the-dots: Lippit, Bellah, Pollack and Bogost (or, an Ethics of the Trace in Game Translation)

September 26th, 2012 by Stephen Mandiberg

Akira Lippit has written extensively of the trace in Japanese cultural texts, particularly in its relationship to a post atomic residual [1]. Lippit uses Derridian post-structural critical theory to unpack the ethics of this layering, or avisuality. While his analysis of the texts is wonderful, it exists primarily in the original. Since the films he analyzes are global, like many 21st century texts, the question of an ethics of transmission and translation becomes key. Is it the responsibility of the translator to transfer this particular level of reading? Said a slightly different way, would it be necessary for an American remake of any of the films he discusses to include the same avisuality?

From a completely different disciplinary area yet similar focus on Japan, Robert Bellah has noted the Japanese tendency to incorporate oppositional ideologies insofar as they do not upset the overarching Japanese familial structure [2]. It is when the overarching structure is upset (including Christianity popularization and late Meiji westernization) that larger disruptions occur (leading to purges and the 20th century build up to WWII). What Bellah argues as the partial incorporation of the other, which often takes the form of a mixing of English with Japanese in both daily life and popular cultural texts, can be seen as an important historical and cultural part video games. We can see David Pollack’s study on Japan’s synthesis of Chinese culture and linguistics as it transitions to a synthesis of Western culture as a theoretical link to this claim [3].

Finally, we can mash in Ian Bogost’s claim that games are a mess, and we need to study them as a mess. They’re not simply the code, or the graphics, or the play, or the box, or the advertising, or any other clean ontological state, but everything together in a slutty ontology [4]. The mixture in Bellah and Pollack, which Lippit sees in films that are not subjected to localization, is an important part of the ontological orgy that is video games. With such thinking games are necessarily their cultural connotative meaning as well, and while it may not be in the goals of the industry for localizers to transfer the theoretical and ethical mash that is Japan, it is the ethical responsibility of the translator to do so.

References:
[1] Lippit, Akira Mizuta. Atomic Light (Shadow Optics). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.
[2] Bellah, Robert. Imagining Japan: Japanese Tradition and its Modern Interpretation. University of California Press, 2003.
[3] Pollack, David. The Fracture of Meaning: Japan’s Synthesis of China From the Eighth Through Eighteenth Centuries. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986.
[4] Bogost, Ian. “Video Games Are a Mess.”Keynote at DiGRA 2009: Breaking New Ground: Innovation in Games, Play, Practice and Theory, 2009.

The Future of the (Imperceptible) Humanities

January 12th, 2012 by Stephen Mandiberg

This is an aggregate blog entry for something that I actually believe, which I posted for a different website. Here’s the link again: http://uchumanitiesforum.org/2012/01/02/the-future-of-the-imperceptible-humanities/

The Logics of ‘Rebooting’

November 11th, 2011 by Stephen Mandiberg

In popular gaming press the term ‘rebooting’ has become common. While its popular usage related to restarting a computer after a system crash has been rising since the 1970s (according ngram), it has recently been used to talk about a new iteration of a text or franchise, a ‘remake.’

Going all the way back to the early 2000s shows where Gamasutra shifted to using the term reboot. In August 8, 2003 Simon Carless discusses the “famous ‘reboot’ of the Half-Life project.” Carless puts “reboot” in quotation marks. The The next instance is a half a year later when Quang Hong’s discussion of Warner Interactive reforming its corporate structure, which is called rebooting. The usage has not cemented yet, and it isn’t until 2008 that the term has really focused on the reiteration of games or series. It’s become such a hot topic that Christian Nutt calls “New Retro Games + Retro Franchise Reboots = $$” one of the top trends of the year. From this point until the present reboot becomes the new phrase and is used alongside remake. While the two terms share similarities, they are not used equally. In 2011, Leigh Alexander refers to Naughty Dog rebooting to get Uncharted 3 on track, Jeriaska talks about Square Enix’s recent remakes, and Katie Williams writes about the reboot of a mod.

In 2007 Kotaku’s first uses of reboot are toward both restarting a computer, and the new iteration of the Alone in the Dark franchise. Recent uses include a discussion of remaking Mario 2d games as 3d, and Devil May Cry being rebooted with a new look. However, Sonic Generations is alternately called a remake and a reboot.

Remake and Reboot are not being used equally, but their uses sometimes overlap. They are both being used to describe an idea of repetition. They are being used slightly differently to highlight different things, but both are used to talk about iterations of games that came before.

  • Remake tends to be used in relation to singular texts. A remake is of an earlier iteration. It is a remake of some thing/text. By remaking, the earlier version is often erased from access if not memory, or it is remade precisely because it has become inaccessible due to age.
  • Rebooting indicates a stall of some sort. A stall of the engine that does not, or should not stop. Comic books, which never end in a logical arc, have built up, convoluted plots created by multiple authors. These messes are washed away with a reboot. Just like the rebooting of a computer system, the series/franchise is rebooted. Video games, now, are never ending collections of IP instead of self contained texts.

We are in a state where ‘remake’ is turning into ‘reboot’ as nothing ever ends. We have fewer and fewer self-contained or containable stories. Instead, we are in a world of corporate IP and convergence (Jenkins 2006). There are no longer retellings, but approved (or illegal) branches of the general franchise IP. This process has visible similarities to a linear understanding of cultural ‘progress,’ and if there’s one thing I have been well trained at, it’s to distrust the ideas of singular, linear, modern progress.

Minor Scandal vs. Systemic Sexism

September 17th, 2011 by Stephen Mandiberg

Minor scandal is great for blog entries. It provides a nice easy topic to talk about at a moment when it seems relevant. One interesting scandal of the moment is with Dead Island. A mistakenly released build revealed the original name of a talent. The rename that went uncommented upon was called “Gender Wars.” The talent gives the player character Purna a damage increase against male zombies. The skill was originally called “Feminist Whore.” There was no change of how the skill worked, just the skill’s name. This means that somewhere along the production cycle it was changed to a linguistically more “appropriate” term, but the concept remained in the final build.

The minor scandal element of this is hardly unpredictable: Fan delves into code, finds something and posts it online; gamers generally laugh it off or get angry to not invade their somehow post gendered turf with pc crap; news sources picks it up and spreads it around; companies apologize and bad apples get blamed; more fan anger that their games must remain outside of the realm of politics as well as angry responses against the sexist act; and then two final things happen:

1) scholars jump on the band wagon and point it out again and again as to the state of games as sexist.
2) the rest of the world forgets about it.

This blog post is an attempt to follow Suzanne de Castell and Jen Jenson’s recent keynote at DiGRA 2011. In their keynote they mentioned the Dead Island issue as well as a number of other scandals, but they discussed that scholars have been simply pointing out sexism for the past 20 years without going further. The typical “feminist” response to the Dead Island scandal has been a reiteration of the same actions that have happened for the past 20 years. Instead, Jenson and Castells call for action. They call for people to get to the source, and change it.

The source here is not the game; the source is not the developer; the source is not the people who vociferously protest. Rather, the source is the system. The Dead Island scandal (“Feminist Whore”) is not the problem, it’s simply the crack that has mistakenly rendered the giant realm of sexism (of which sexism is equal to racism, homophobia, nationalism, and many others as a unacceptable alterity where the Other is rejected deeply and quietly within the system). The true scandal is that Gender Wars and 15% damage against men is unquestioned, and that people react by missing that it is the culture that allows the sexist event to happen.

It follows that the solution is not an apology, nor is it to only scream that games or the industry are sexist. There is no easy solution to a pervasive (systemic) element of a culture other than to work against it by changing general attitudes, by pushing women to STEM jobs and game jobs, by supporting alternate types of games, and by changing culture. The best way I can think of doing this is teaching against it, so that is what I will do. However, I will not use this to teach about how certain video games are sexist, nor how there is sexism within the industry. These are both true, obvious, and useless to simply point out. Rather, I will use this to teach how the real issues go unremarked upon even when they are rendered visible. How they are systemic.

Musings about Ready Player One

September 7th, 2011 by Stephen Mandiberg

Ready Player One is a recent novel by Ernest Cline. It’s about a contest to find an easter egg in OASIS, the novel’s uber MMO that has absorbed all MMOs, games, shopping, Internet et cetera. Right before dying, the bachelor, shut-in, and stuck in his childhood in the 80s creator of OASIS created a huge easter egg, and made a contest of solving the easter egg. Whoever won got his fortune, which was the largest in the world by far. It takes the world some 7 years to solve it, and the book is about the solving. It gets almost all of its allure, unabashedly, from 80s pop culture (although this extends to 70s and 90s in parts), and the plot itself is basically about how the crazy megabillionaire’s own nostalgia for his past has affected the rest of the world in their search for the easter egg that will grant them his megabillions. So, that’s the plot, but what’s interesting is the nostalgia.

I use the term ‘nostalgia’ here rather loosely though as it isn’t exactly nostalgia. Or rather, it isn’t nostalgia for everybody. For the author it probably is nostalgia, for the reader it might be, for the diegetic creator of the game it was, but for the players it was entirely second hand. As egg hunters (“gunters”) they’re obsessed with 80s pop culture as it is assumed to be (and in fact is) the key to solving the easter egg. It was never their culture, and this is doubly sad as their own culture, as the book is so quick in its distopia to point out, is dead and escaping in virtual worlds that comprise OASIS. The real world sucks, so they get out, but the virtual worlds (at least the ones visited in the book) are completely filled with 80s nostalgia. They’ve lost their past and present and instead live in somebody else’s past. It’s a bit trippy in some ways. It makes me wonder about whose nostalgia it is now. By ‘now’ I mean now now, outside in the real world where remakes and demakes and minecraft and the SC2 lost viking minigame splash screen are all present.

The other thing I can’t help but think about is the large number of environmentally distopian novels I’ve read recently. While Wendy Chun has written about sci-fi as the never coming future I wonder if that holds with the more scientifically frightening science fiction like Oryx and Crake and Ready Player One that are really all based on the belief that we’re screwed because of a built up fucking over of the planet.

A Curious Find

July 28th, 2011 by Stephen Mandiberg

I seem to be scouring the cheap games that I can find, looking for interesting things having to do with localization. I found one in Cogs.

LOLCAT!

(Title Screen with the LOLspeak language selected)

(Language Selection Screen)

Cogs has the standard language options, but then includes LOLSpeak. A joke? Caturday funz? A hint at available, but (generally) unattempted possibilities?

Language and Locale in Assassin’s Creed 2

July 13th, 2011 by Stephen Mandiberg

Assassin’s Creed 2 (AC2) is a curious monster. I’m sure the first in the franchise was even stranger due to its Oriental(ist) focus, but I haven’t had the chance to play it (although El Nasr et al. 2008 give an interesting take on it). As such, I’ll keep my comments primarily to the second title in the franchise, which focuses on late 15th Century Italy.

AC2 takes place in the present where the player embodies a character, Desmond, who was previously held prisoner by the Templars (an organization trying to take over the world), but is freed in the opening scene by Lucy, and now works alongside the Assassins (who oppose the Templars and supposedly have throughout history). The cities in which this all takes place are not named overtly, but are within Italy according to fan delvers. Regardless of the specifics, a global north location is assumed due to the general skin color if nothing else. However, the majority of play takes place in a VR set up called the Animus 2.0 where Desmond embodies the Italian Ezio Auditore de Firenze, who encounters dozens of historical personages in his journey for familial vengeance.

You (the player) embody Desmond (a roamer from an unknown place called “The Farm”) who embodies Ezio (an Italian from Florence) as well as Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad (who is never given a more exact place of origin other than “The Middle East”). The nationalities are near tripled in the game between Desmond, Ezio and Altaïr, and the locales are multilple between the player’s own locale, 21st century Desmond and 15th century Ezio’s locales in various places in Italy (particularly Florence, Venice, and Rome), and 12th century Altaïr’s locale in various places in the now Syria and Israel area (including Masyaf, Acre, Jerusalem and Damascus). Suffice to say, there is no single locale within the game.

While there is a multiplicity of locales within the game, there is a limitation of localizations. When I started up the application for the first time I registered for a US/English account (and this may have created limitations), and upon launch the game’s graphical user interface (GUI) was English. Again, I will need to check alternate possibilities of switching the basic interface language, but for now I wish to discuss the option that remained despite the original determination. Within the option menu I am given the option of English and Italian spoken dialogue. Choosing one or the other makes all of the spoken dialogue in that language, but the GUI remains in English.

While this seems a simple audio switch so far, there is a crucial difference between the English and Italian language options. The Itlaian makes everything in Italian, but the English actually plays between English and Italian languages: certain elements of the characters’ dialogue remains in Italian, and are given a parenthetical English translation in the subtitles after the standard subtitles. Two examples are below:

The above image has the standard English. The characters words are given subtitles for both ease of understanding and to aid the Deaf player community. This is standard dialogue between the characters and happens often during cutscenes and other interactions.

In contrast, the second image shows Italian, Latin and translated English. In the seecne the player has assassinated a main antagonist character and there is a moment between them (the lack of female targets and main characters encourages a homosocial reading by the by). They converse, and then Ezio gives the target last rites as the target dies. The last rites are always in Italian with the Latin “requiescat in pace” at the end; the foreign enunciation remains foreign. Similarly, curses like ‘bastardi,’ and salutations like ‘a presto’ and ‘salute,’ and other colorful terms are often kept in Italian (shown below).

The English maintains a duality of language that forces the player to engage with a certain (albeit limited) foreign experience. This duality is erased within the Italian audio track as the spoken oscillation between English and Italian is removed and replaced with a constant Italian (granted, this Italian makes sense diegetically, but then what happened with the Arabic of the first title?). As a globalized narrative between Assassins and Templars the story necessitates mixture, and as it was made by Montreal based Ubisoft linguistic mixture is not surprising due to the Quebec French and Canadian English situation. However, the question becomes what happens to it as it travels to other languages and locales? Is the linguistic mixture removed within the other localizations? A quick search on YouTube reveals that the Spanish localization uses a variation of “pujar” in Spanish in the first 10 minute segment where there is a short scene of Ezio being born. The nurse says “spingi” (push) in the North American English version that I played. The mixture has been simplified.

The story is about global machinations and mixture, and one of the ways this is made apparent to the player is through the linguistic mixture. Sadly, this mixture disappears with localization. Is the task of localization to maintain a look and feel including politics and difference, or is it limited to entertainment at any cost? When a text is not limited to a single locale can a localization reduce it to a single locale?

References:

  • El Nasr, Magy, Maha Al-Saati, Simon Niedenthal, and David Milam. “Assassin’s Creed: A Multi-Cultural Read.” Loading 2, no. 3 (2008).
  • Ubisoft Montreal. Assassin’s Creed II [Macintosh]. Ubisoft.