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Women and Localization

March 21, 2008

I had reason to think about the topic of women in games recently, and the periodic complaint that there aren’t a lot of choices for female characters in some games that do have a choice of male characters. This also extends to NPCs or purely AI characters that don’t really have a full walk on part in the game. In fact, sometimes, all the characters are male. Here’s an interesting reason why: localization (the industry term for the process of “localizing” your product for an international, non-English speaking audience).

In many languages, the words take different forms depending on whether the person being discussed is male or female. This may seem like a small detail at first glance, but in today’s games, it may involve two completely separate and interchangeable scripts, double the translation budget, new recorded dialog, and some spaghetti-esque code for detecting the gender of the person being talked about, etc.

It still might seem small. Imagine yourself on the receiving end of a ship date, though. You’re looking for stuff to cut to save time.  Each round of localization – each minor change in anything – requires a complete resubmission to first party (Microsoft, Sony or Nintendo).  So, it’s worth the cut, particularly given the other things that might be facing the same axe. When you have to choose between your programmer fixing a pri 1 but or this? It’s not a choice.

Just another random take on the women-quite-literally-in-games issue. The gender’s exclusion is not always because people just don’t like women or don’t realize we like to play games. Sometimes, it just good ol’ fashioned economics and survival of the fittest feature (or pri 1 bug).

8 Comments leave one →
  1. March 21, 2008 11:47 am

    By that logic, why not make every character in the game female instead of male?

  2. March 21, 2008 11:53 am

    @ Ian Schreiber
    Would make equal economic sense, but doesn’t change the fact that there ARE more male gamers then female gamers and they have to choose one…

  3. March 21, 2008 1:10 pm

    @thk: so you’re saying that males wouldn’t buy a game where every character was female? (I’d think that living in a world full of women would be a common male fantasy. But what do I know.)

  4. March 21, 2008 1:58 pm

    @Ian – Yes, it would.

  5. danwilkins permalink
    March 22, 2008 1:21 pm

    Not to mention the cultural implications of a woman’s actions in some countries.

    Not every country is as accepting in women’s equality and representation as others, but games are still sent there for the end user; hard to sell more games if it gets outlawed.

  6. March 23, 2008 8:08 am

    Reinforcing sexism in games because it is “practical” or “makes good economic sense” is still operating under the influence of certain cultural biases that are sexist–whether conciously or not. It would be ridiculous for any of us to think that the decisions we make on a daily basis are not informed on some level by deeply entrenched social beliefs that are sexist, racist, and generally intolerant. This is not to say that we are all hopeless, intolerant jerks. It just means that in order to overcome these issues and work toward a more inclusive social structure, we must be aware of how practical decisions made every day lead to the exclusion of people of one gender, race, sexual identity, religion, political group, etc.

    So, language issues aside, changing the way games deal with women (i.e. making them a part of the world), even if it means extra time, money, and other resources, is one way that ideas about women in the world begin to change. And I personally happen to believe that creative professionals have the power to effect tremendous change, and historically have done so in books, on television, through film, etc. We need games to begin doing the same thing. I realize that it is starry-eyed and idealistic of me to think that there are people in the industry who will say, “Yeah, that is bad. Ship-date be damned, we’re going to make women a real part of this world!” So, think of it this way, what if you could double your market? What if a few simple changes made consistently over time would double or even triple your profits? That’s what taking the time to actively create a game that appeals to both men and women can do for the designer. Change the world and make more money doing it. Nintendo got this idea, and they are laughing all the way to the bank. People need to get out of their narrow preconceptions of who gamers are and take a more realistic look at what the future of gaming is. Hint: women are a huge part of this. Stop alienating us and we’ll buy your damn games.

  7. March 25, 2008 9:58 pm

    “pri 1 but” <- think you have a typo there.

    Interesting read, passed it on to a couple of friends of mine in loc and they said it was a good point.

  8. March 26, 2008 10:28 pm

    “Not to mention the cultural implications of a woman’s actions in some countries.”

    Like Rachel, I have to wonder if the extra sales in some countries by not alienating a strongly patriarchal culture are outweighed by the loss of sales to women in more egalitarian cultures.

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