Videogame development continues to evolve over time. Where videogames were once simple; they involved beating the top score or getting a character from point A to point B. The videogames of today are less like games and more like modern-day block-buster films. A major emphasis on character and plot development aimed at reaching a desired audience has resulted in more effective writing and storytelling. The video gaming industry continues change how writers and developers collaborate with one another to deliver a successful product. Successful collaboration can be achieved by understanding the cultural differences. It is necessary to examine how localization and globalization affect a culture’s understanding of American grammar. By bringing attention to the importance of these aspects, many common misunderstandings and misinterpretations of different cultural beliefs and practices will be clarified. The goals of this project are to bring awareness to the various cultural differences that many collaborative teams face, and to bring attention to the fact that one must be more aware of the various customs and cultures in order to communicate effectively.
How Communication and Collaboration are affected by Cultural Differences
Communication and collaboration are crucial elements, as they allow a team to produce a successful product. However, this is often times the most challenging aspect of working on a multicultural team project. Cultural differences combined with a lack of understanding of how to communicate effectively with someone from another culture poses a challenge to successful collaboration. The challenges of intercultural communication and collaboration are expressed in our refusal to except cultural differences, as Milton J. Bennett suggests, “We flee to the suburbs or behind walls to avoid cultural differences, and if we are forced to confront it, there is often a fight” (1). Unfortunately, in terms of product production, this refusal to overcome cultural differences makes collaboration extremely difficult, and affects the integrity of the final product. Therefore to circumvent these challenges and move past our cultural difference, it is necessary to consider how American grammar, localization, and globalization separate one culture from another. Understanding how perceptions of grammar vary from culture to culture will clarify many misunderstandings and misinterpretations, ensuring improve collaboration.
Cultural Differences and Localization
To grasp a better appreciation of how misunderstandings, arise from cultural differences, one must examine how a product is impacted by localization. Margaret Rouse defines localization as, “The process of adapting a product or service to a particular language, culture, and desired local ‘look-and-feel’” (searchcio.techtarget.com). Since localization is driven by one’s culture and language, it plays a crucial role in product development. In terms of collaboration, the principles of localization also heavily influence the way a product is developed, designed, and marketed. However, as valuable as localization is in terms of development and marketing, localization has a localized cultural perspective which can be problematic and create misinterpretations of what is being addressed. Ultimately, this localized cultural perspective can confuse or lose the interest of a targeted audience. Although it has its shortcomings, localization is not solely responsible for creating confusion or misunderstandings. Often times, confusion or misunderstandings can be influenced by a lack of cultural knowledge of the targeted audience. Unfortunately, localization inadvertently accentuates these cultural misunderstandings because of its strict localized perspective regarding culture. In videogame developing for example, cultural misunderstandings are often represented in language. For example, when a team of Japanese people made a videogame that was intended to reach an American audience, their verbiage revealed a more localized syntax pattern.
Even though they did not intend to misinform or confuse their audience, their lack of knowledge with regards to American grammar potentially confused their audience. Although a team of Japanese people may have been unfamiliar with the rules of American grammar, it was hard for them to avoid developing a product without a localized perspective. Bennett implied that this perspective stemmed from what he termed as, monocultural communication. Bennett explained, “Monocultural communication is similarity-based” (1). He further suggested, “Common language, behavior patterns, and values form the base upon which members of the culture exchange meaning with one another in conducting their daily affairs” (1). Bennett’s argument suggests that if roles were reversed and a team of developers in United States were tasked with designing a videogame intended for Japanese audience, they too would face the same problem. This implies that as human beings, it is very difficult for us to see beyond our culture.
The goal for a company is to produce a product that can be sold globally, yet the cultural perspectives of localization and monocultural communication ultimately influence how team develops and markets their product. Therefore, regardless of their culture, companies ponder their reputations to coincide with the principles of globalization. Being also referred to as internationalism, globalization is defined as being, “A process of interaction and integration among the people, companies, and governments of different nations, a process driven by international trade and investment and aided by information technology” (globalization101.org). Although videogame developers develop videogame for the global audience in mind, it is impossible for them to develop their product to reach a goal global audience without communicating with someone outside of their culture. Fortunately, in the business world of today, modern-day technology has made it easier for videogame developers to get a broader perspective from someone outside of their culture. For example, through the use of email or videoconferencing software, a team of developers can effectively converse with one another to clear up any misinterpretations of the language, because this form of communication allows developers to obtain a localized perspective on how their product will be interpreted by the targeted audience. Additionally, technology also alleviates many challenges with regards to cultural differences as it allows one culture to become familiar with another culture through joint collaboration. However, as valuable as it is, collaborative technology is still in its infancy.
Limited Technology and Inadequate Feedback
Shortly after the launch of the Nintendo Entertainment System in the mid-1980’s, videogames being produced began to change in terms of gameplay development, gameplay mechanics, and the intended audience. Nintendo videogames were aimed at a younger audience, ages 5 to 10 years old. Many children in this age range had a limited conception of grammar rules and usage. In a way, appealing to a targeted audience of children was beneficial for Japanese developers who were not entirely familiar with the English language themselves. One must also consider that these developers were also hampered with the limited technology of the time. Unfortunately, open communication between developers was extremely difficult. At the time, Japanese developers did not have the luxury of collaborative technologies, such as, email and videoconferencing software and, therefore could not contact and communicate with developers in the United States. Even though the Japanese developers had the ability to hold telephone conferences with developers in the United States, they were ineffective as they were too costly and the time difference made scheduling telephone conferences extremely difficult. Japanese developers were forced to develop a game using only their localized perspective of the English language. As a result, many Japanese videogames were riddled with grammatical errors and ambiguities. By no fault of their own, these mistakes were due to a lack of familiarity with English grammar. Additionally, having limited technology and targeting a younger audience gave the Japanese developers no chance to obtain proper feedback. The lack of feedback resulted in simple grammatical mistakes found in the final product, such as, a videogame villain stating, “All your base *are* belong to us,” and “Congratulation” instead of [All of your bases belong to us,] and [Congratulations]
The Repercussions of Communication Misunderstandings
With regards to communication, misunderstandings in interpretation can further segregate one culture from another. Even though early videogame developers targeted young audiences, the misuse of syntax, combined with what many parents assumed to be a lack of mental stimulation, gave videogames and videogame developers a poor reputation. Many customers assumed that Japan, as a nation, spoke with the same broken dialect of English that was expressed in their videogames. Unfortunately, the poorly translated games intended for the United States audience was often laughable and confusing. Sadly, common stereotypes emerged of Japanese videogame developers who could not write or speak English correctly. Even though this notion of judgment through stereotyping is deplorable, it shows how profound the aspect of language truly is and how it shapes culture. Although no disrespect was meant, at the time, Japanese videogame developers in the mid-1980’s did their best to translate with the technology of the time. With that being said, many consumers of the intended audience would still criticize the Japanese people for misusing English because it is difficult to see beyond our own culture.
Language and Economics
In essence, language is much more than a form of communication. Not only does language represent one’s culture, it influences several aspects of communication. Language also allows communication to be one of the driving forces behind economics. Just how language influences our economical way of life, can be seen as Helen Kelly-Holmes argues, “…language has become central to the niche marketing and to the localization dimensions of globalization” (108). This relates back to the idea that one keeps their own culture in mind when developing a product that is intended for a global audience. Monica Heller seconds Kelly-Holmes’ argument stating, “…language has become a commodity itself and, therefore, acts as a resource to be produced, controlled, distributed, valued and constrained” (108). Heller’s argument expresses how profound language is to society. Both Kelly-Holmes and Heller’s arguments express how language is more than just words making sentences, for Kelly-Holmes and Heller, language is a valuable ingredient that is responsible for driving the production of global economics. One can note that Bennett’s argument regarding culture and cultural differences also dramatically impacts the global economy. While the processes of localization and globalization are important, they are driven by culture and language where one culture embeds their own cultural and linguistic values while attempting to make a product that is aimed at a global audience. Undoubtedly, the importance that is placed upon language and culture may also explain why it is difficult to accept the norms and custom of other cultures that are unfamiliar or conflict with the acceptable rules of one’s own cultural norms.
Considering a Cultural Perspective
Keeping Bennett, Kelly-Holmes, and Heller’s arguments in mind, one must consider that the Japanese developers who were tasked with developing Nintendo videogames in the 1980’s had these ideas of language and culture in mind. Additionally, one could also argue that the intended targeted audience influenced their decision to focus on fun and enthralling games that would keep a young child entertained instead of concerning themselves with how to correctly translate in-game text. However, once again, the importance placed on language and culture was too obvious for some consumers to ignore.
Video Gaming as an Industry
As an industry, the videogame market has not only changed the way consumers entertain themselves, it has also expanded the aspects of collaboration. Even though videogames are still influenced by the developers’ own cultural values, audiences around the world continue to appreciate the entertainment value of videogames. Even though many early Nintendo video games were riddled with grammatical errors and simple spelling mistakes, they had a powerful impact on a generation of children forcing them to collaborate with one another to accomplish a common goal. Whether they were struggling to make it past a level, or enjoying the pleasures of completing the game, video gaming has positively impacted multiple cultures.
Ultimately, it is culture and language that allows a developer through collaboration with others to make the best product possible. Collaboration and language also gives the consumer the ability to give developers adequate feedback, thereby aiding in the improvement of the product. Currently collaborative technologies, in general, make it easier for various cultures to communicate with one another. Although the processes of localization and globalization have not yet disappeared, the power of modern technology allows language collaboration to be utilized to clarify misinterpretations and misunderstandings. While the various grammatical rules still govern the way in which we communicate with one another, videogames could be one of the technological answers to breaking the separation of cultures – allowing us all to play together as one.
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