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Written by Steven Bussey
on July 07, 2021

Video games were once considered a pastime for children and, later, young adults. But now, video games are played all over the world by people of all ages, demographics, and interests. From educational games to farming simulations to massive online multiplayer games like World of Warcraft or Fortnite, there’s something for everyone. 

And part of making sure that video games are truly for everyone means adapting them for different kinds of people, including people in other cultures. There are three services that focus on making video games accessible and enjoyable across all demographics: 

  • Translation
  • Transcreation
  • Localization

Translation is just a rendering of the video game’s script into another language. There are usually only slight modifications with translation services. 

Transcreation is a combination of “translation” and “creation”. This is a practice that allows the translation to make significant changes, often rewriting or replacing the content entirely.  

Localization is the adaptation of a video game to a particular culture or language. This may include tweaking the name, the tagline, or certain marketing practices for local preference.

While transcreation and localization are very similar, transcreation goes into the specifics of a language and culture while localization often has a broader, more general focus.  




What Is Transcreation?

As mentioned above, transcreation is a version of translation that allows creative freedom for the full adaptation of a video game into another language or culture. It includes making changes for nuance, cultural preference, and different decency or censorship laws.

When Is Transcreation Most Used in Video Games?

Translating Humor and Conceptual Language

Transcreation is used when simple translation won’t convey the right idea or meaning. Humor, for instance, is so cultural that jokes and puns almost always have to be completely re-written to make sense in another language. 

Idioms (common sayings) often don’t translate well either, so instead of directly translating, the transcreator may choose to use a completely different, but culturally relevant saying that delivers a similar message. 

For instance, “It’s raining cats and dogs,” sounds insane to French people. So that saying may be replaced with “Il pleut des cordes” (which translates to “it rains some ropes”). This is the French way of saying “it’s pouring down rain!” This is a very minor re-write that conveys a similar message.


Names for people and items are another common transcreation opportunity. For instance, in Brazil, you would call a character named Mark, “Marcos” instead. In Japan, that character would be named “Maku”, which is a phonetic translation of the kanji of his name. In France, Mark would be pronounced the same but spelled “Marc”. 

There may also be more major changes. For instance, it is very rude to call people by their first names without permission in Japan. So instead of calling the characters by their first names, they may be called by their last names with appropriate honorifics. This is a slightly bigger re-write that has very specific and nuanced meaning in Japanese culture. The transcreation needs to show an understanding of the different relationships between the characters as well as how honorifics are used in Japan to ensure that different characters refer to one another appropriately. 

Censorship Laws and Cultural Taboos

In some countries, certain types of violence, bodily functions, or taboo relationships are not allowed to be portrayed in mass media. In these cases, a game may need to have entire cut-scenes or characters rewritten to ensure that they pass government regulations and censorship requirements. This can include minor rewrites or major replacements to make the game work for that country or culture. 

One example of this is hand gestures. For instance, in most countries, a “thumbs up” is a sign of approval. But in the Middle East and West Africa, it’s used the same way a middle finger is used in America. This is a very rude connotation that may have to be rewritten, censored, or explained by added sidelines like “Don’t worry! He’s American! That means he approves.”

Character Restriction

Sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with the literal translation of a script or scene as far as meaning, but the words just won’t fit on the screen. Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Russian, and Arabic languages use characters to convey meaning rather than letters. 

In addition to a different character count, they might run right to left rather than left to right or need to be read up and down rather than side to side. 

When games have been designed for western languages and eyes, they may not leave enough room on the screen for the appropriate characters from another language. Buttons, armor descriptions, weapon stats, journals, etc. can all start to look very crowded and messy, which makes for an unappealing user experience. 

Good transcreation can help edit down that text so that it makes sense while conveying similar ideas. They may also suggest slight rearrangements of text orientation or buttons so people used to reading and absorbing information in a certain way have an easier time. 




The Importance of Transcreation for Video Games

The above examples just skim the surface of what transcreation can accomplish. For video games, good transcreation is often the difference between a culturally sensitive, nuanced, and compelling storyline and an unplayable mess. 

When you’re playing a video game, you want to be immersed in the experience. Weird puns and confusing instructions can be jarring and limit your enjoyment of the game. Transcreation can help create a smooth playing experience that entertains and informs seamlessly. The end goal of transcreation should always be the best player experience possible.

Transcreation is both a science and an art. The person or team transcreating the script must have a deep understanding not just of the language, but of the culture as well. Poor translations often lead to confused audiences and poor reviews. But nuanced and thoughtful transcreation can keep your game from being lost in translation. 

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