Translation and Censorship: A Translator’s View

For those of the TL;DR crowd, go to the very bottom for a quick two-line writeup in a nutshell.

“Censorship” in gaming. Yeah, there are quotes around that word, because I think 1) it’s a loaded word, and 2) one man’s censorship, is another man’s localization effort. As Obi-wan said to Luke, it’s all a matter of point of view. In this article, I will not be discussing true censorship (as in banning products because the governement doesn’t want to you read/listen to/play something), but what some gamers (and I’m a gamer myself) consider to be “translation censorship” (my term).

Normally, I don’t jump into the censorship in gaming “wars” on social media, again, for two reasons, 1) I write/translate porn, thus I don’t want to risk alienating clients, and 2) fighting over a subject of endless debate on the Internet is like the Mac vs. “PC,” (or for those of you at home weren’t on the Internet in the 90s, Android vs. iOS), debates, ultimately, it’s all opinion. Like assholes, everyone has one, and what comes out shouldn’t necessarily be paid any attention to.

But I came across this little gem today. (Edited for privacy.)


Okay, first and foremost, and I’m sure many of you have already caught on to what I’m going to say: being a “pro-translator” and censorship are mutually exclusive in most cases of localization. For those of you who do not, or did not, know this, let me tell you how I (and I assume most freelance translators) approach translation jobs by walking you through the process of one. And please, note, this is a very watered-down version of what happens.

First, I am approached by a company to do a translation (or as I like to call it localization) job. Usually this happens through one of a variety of methods, whether I have applied to the company directly, or I have applied to a secondary company who offers to assign me the job, or through friends who put me in contact with the company.

Once I have the job, if there is a great amount of content (and usually there is if it’s a game), then I may be working on a team. Many times, I do not know anyone on the team, or anything about them beyond their names. There is also a “manager,” someone who has to ride lead over all the translators to keep us all on the same page.

I am assigned a portion of the game to translate. If the game is a well-known property, I am given (hopefully — at least by better companies who know what they are doing) a glossary of terms I should follow (character/place/object names/titles, etc.).

Then, depending on whether this kind of thing is covered in the glossary or not, I may ask questions like, “What kind of language do you want used for Japanese terms like 「くそ!」or 「てめぇー!」?,” because depending on the age group this is aimed at, using “Shit!” and “Fucker!” could be frowned upon. And I would agree, I would never use those words in a game aged at younger or more general audiences. I would use something like “Darn!” or “What!?” and “You!” or “You jerk!” Both are correct translations/localizations. Anyone who says otherwise is not familiar enough with the Japanese language to be telling me my job.

I then begin translating. When I come across something I find that might need a level of discretion, again, depending on who the game is aimed at, I bring it up to the “manager”. Now, this MAY sound like censorship on my part, I can assure you, it is not. Frankly, I hate points like this in the game as they waste my time. I would rather just everyone leave the translation to me, so I can finish the job, get paid, and move on to the next one. (Just like you do at work, whether flipping burgers, processing documents or litigating court cases, ultimately we all want everyone out of your way so we can move on without much BS.) But that’s not how it works, I need to discuss things with people. They could be any number of issues, but ultimately they come down to “is this going to work with our target audience”? (It can make or break a game. You think it might not, but let me assure you, it does. Just like in ANY game, translated or local. The last thing a company wants is a game being banned from sale.)

Sometimes, I offer the manager a number of different translations based on what I think might work the best, from straight up following the meaning (not the words!) of the original, to changing things (she’s not a high school student, she’s a college student!). If I have such to offer the manager, I do. The manager then gives me a decision, if that power has been invested in him or her. (If not, s/he takes it to whomever CAN make that decision, including going back to the parent company if the game is being outsourced for translation.) I follow it.

I follow the decision no matter what I think of it. I am NOT paid to think beyond what MIGHT be in the game’s best interest. Again, though, ultimately, as the translator, I have no say, and I am DAMNED lucky if anyone listens to me at all.

Translation has nothing to do with my politics, religion (or lack thereof), or actual feelings on the game material. I walk a fine line. If I want to continue making money as a pro translator, then I follow the rules and guidelines set down before me by my (albeit, mostly temporary) employers. And I do so because I don’t WANT to be temporary; I want the company to say, we like working with you, here’s more work!

So while it might sound callous and like I’m selling out, I say, you are not me, and I am making money doing what I love. And more to the point, if you don’t like the products being put out as they are, start your own translation company (or go freelance) and make your own terms.

As for myself, as a person WORKING as a freelance translator, I follow the guidelines given to me by the people paying me, or I don’t work. If you don’t understand that, you really need to get a better grasp on the working world.


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