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

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.

[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.