MMO Games and the Language Barrier

By Kelvin Cheung

It is a known fact that every country or region has its own individual Massively Multiplayer Online Games’ (MMOGs) servers. Usually, these servers block players from outside regions for isolating the players from meeting players from other regions, preventing lag, or stabilizing issues. Given that fact, it is also known that the region also uses its native dialect as the default language for the people of the region.

However, the following lies to be asked, what happens to the foreigners visiting or living in the country? To demonstrate this situation, during July to August 2008, I happened to visit China for family. However, all of my MMOGs that I happened to play were either IP blocked or had terrible ping. In other words, the gameplay online was lagging. Because I was raised in the United States, and had no knowledge in reading the native language, I could not play Chinese MMOGs. During the whole stay, I tried to find an MMOG to play that was in English, but whenever downloading a game, such as Sword of the New World: Granado Espada, the download initially goes fast but then crashes; it has no speed whatsoever after five minutes prior to starting. In some countries, particularly China, some torrent sites are blocked, file-hosting sites do not have the server for the specific country or have their IP blocked, and/or usually a proxy might be required for the download process. The point is, unless the foreigner knows the language, he or she may very well not play MMOGs in the certain country unless a set base knowledge of the native language is learned.

Yet, many would ask the basic question, “Why would you play an MMOG when you should have fun in the country you are in?” From my perspective, what make MMOGs “tick” are the addiction and the fun factor. Granted, everyone that has played MMOGs and enjoyed them has had an addictive feeling towards them. After all, there are many qualities of MMOGs that make them stand out. Is the game action packed, cute, or grindy in a good way? Is the game eye-candy enough to attract the player for a short or long amount of time? Is the skill of the players in the MMOG great enough that they want to stay in the game longer? Or are there many quests that allow the players to fully enrich themselves with the story of the game? These factors show that MMOGs possess many qualities in different genres to allow players have fun and get addicted.

The theme of this topic is rather simple; should a game contain universal languages or a built-in translator for MMOGs, particularly free to play (F2P) MMOGs? What I mean to say as a universal language, what if a game had different language versions of the same game? For example, Maple Story Europe has a built in feature where if you change servers according to the country, you get the language of the mainland. For example, if I were to choose France as the server, the language becomes French, and vice versa with Spain to Spanish and England to English. The other option is adding an automatic translator into the game, where languages can be translated through a built in translator. Using this feature, languages can be translated to certain degrees.

So why do most FP2 MMOGs not have the time to implement these features? To my thoughts about this matter, it could be the lack of support or a miniscule amount of foreigners that need these features. Perhaps the translation of the game was poorly done and probably was scrapped, like in some MMOGs. Or it could be the amount of people that speak the universal language in that country is very few. To my thoughts on this matter, it depends on the effort placed on the company to develop such a tool/feature to allow players from different countries for easier access.

I do have doubts when a company “attempts” to support multilingual features. Usually when rough translation is done, there is usually confusion in which is the correct meaning. For example, when Maple Story had news of the fourth job advancements, there was a divide of rough Japanese fan translations whether or not it was “Night Lord” or “Night Road,” the fourth job advancement of the thief-tier class. The funny portion of the story was that it was either/or due to pronunciation issues. Of course, the Nexon, the official company, used “Night Lord” as the official dub.

Another flaw in destroying the language barrier of MMOGs in foreign countries is the ability to create a working translator. Google and Babelfish, the people use these tools to translate a foreign language to their native language. However, is it often reliable? I do understand that professional translators are hired to translate the game, but what of the chats in game? Translators obviously are not available for use 24/7, but using automated translators pose a gamble of whether they can translate the whole text or utterly fail.

Aside from doubts, I believe convenience is a matter of utmost importance for MMOG players when traveling to foreign countries. To be lost in translation in a video game is to be lost in translation in tourism of the real world. However, I stress that under the company’s firm direction can the language barrier be demolished. Otherwise, it will just be a third rate buggy fan translation of a video game script. After much experience in China’s language barrier firsthand, the language barrier in MMOGs must and should be taken down.

Writer’s Feedback
The writer did regret searching and downloading MMOGs while in China. Although he did feel the addiction, it was rather a waste of time looking for a suitable game to play. The writer strongly suggests that if you are going to a foreign country, you should enjoy the sights, or install the game(s) before you leave the country. That way, you do not feel the agony of searching and downloading while finding a proxy list that does not work.

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