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The Importance of Culturalization in Video Games: Insights from Kate Edwards

In the evolving world of video games, reaching a global audience is no longer just about translating dialogue and text. It’s about culturalization—adapting a game’s content to resonate with the cultural norms and values of different regions. Kate Edwards, a trailblazer in this field, has been instrumental in highlighting its importance and guiding developers through the intricate process. A trained geographer, Edwards runs 'Geogrify', a culturalization consulting firm, and has worked with the likes of BioWare, Ubisoft, Harmonix, Pokemon, Sony, Lego, Google, Facebook and more. Here, we explore why culturalization is crucial for the success of video games, drawing on Edwards' extensive insights and experiences.

Understanding Culturalization

Culturalization involves tailoring a game’s content to align with the cultural, historical, and social contexts of various markets. Unlike localization, which focuses primarily on translation, culturalization dives deeper, addressing potential cultural sensitivities and ensuring the content is appropriate and engaging for diverse audiences.

Why Culturalization Matters

  1. Respecting Cultural Sensitivities: One of the most critical aspects of culturalization is understanding and respecting cultural sensitivities. For instance, Kate Edwards often cites her work on "Age of Empires," where a scenario depicting Japanese forces invading Korea had to be altered for the Korean market. This adaptation was necessary to avoid offending local sensibilities and to ensure the game's acceptance in Korea​.

  2. Creating Authentic Worlds: Culturalization contributes to building authentic and immersive game worlds. Edwards emphasizes the importance of incorporating cultural evidence, such as specific expressions, dialects, and even fictional languages, to create a sense of belonging and realism in a game's universe. This approach not only enriches the gaming experience but also makes it more relatable to players from different cultural backgrounds​. A notable example is Ubisoft’s "Assassin’s Creed" series. In "Assassin’s Creed: Origins," set in ancient Egypt, the development team consulted with historians and cultural experts to accurately depict Egyptian society, ensuring that the game’s portrayal of historical events, architecture, and cultural practices was respectful and authentic​.

  3. Avoiding Controversies: Historical and cultural inaccuracies can lead to significant backlash. For example, the depiction of sacred sites or religious symbols in a disrespectful manner can offend entire communities. Edwards recalls the controversy surrounding "Hitman 2," where a mission involved violence in the Golden Temple, a sacred site for Sikhs. Such incidents underscore the importance of cultural awareness in game design​.

  4. Enhancing Market Appeal: Adapting games to fit cultural preferences can significantly enhance their appeal in different markets. This includes everything from character design to gameplay mechanics. Edwards points out that understanding local gaming trends and preferences is vital for making games that are not only acceptable but also popular in various regions​. For example, "World of Warcraft," developed by Blizzard Entertainment, adapted its content for the Chinese market by removing or altering skeletons and other imagery that are considered culturally insensitive in China. These changes helped the game gain more widespread acceptance and success in the region​.

  5. Balancing Business and Cultural Integrity: One of the challenges developers face is balancing business interests with cultural integrity. Decisions made for cultural adaptation can lead to ethical dilemmas, such as altering historical facts. Edwards argues that while it is essential to respect cultural sensitivities, developers must also consider the long-term business implications of their decisions. This balance is crucial for the sustainable success of games in global markets​. Edwards worked on Fallout 3, and flagged that the depiction of the mutated Brahmin Bull with two heads would be negatively perceived in India, as Brahman bulls are a breed of cows revered by Hindus. As a solution, Edwards suggested replacing the bulls with a two-headed horse in the Indian release of the game. However, Edwards goes on to say that "unfortunately, because of the schedule and because they felt that frankly the Indian market was not important enough to make this change, they didn't make the change. And so because of that one object in the game, Fallout 3 did not sell in India". The unfortunate reality is that business interests may outweigh cultural integrity in many scenarios, depending on the goals and timeline of the developer.

The Role of Early Integration

Edwards stresses that culturalization should start early in the game development process. This proactive approach allows for seamless integration of cultural elements into the game's narrative and design, avoiding the need for significant changes later. Early involvement of culturalization experts can guide developers in creating content that resonates with global audiences from the outset​.

The Future of Culturalization

As the gaming industry continues to expand globally, the importance of culturalization will only increase. Developers must stay informed about the evolving cultural, ethical, and geopolitical landscapes to navigate these complexities effectively. Culturalization is a vital component of game development that ensures a game's global success by respecting and adapting to the cultural nuances of different markets. By doing so, they can create games that not only entertain but also resonate deeply with players worldwide. Kate Edwards' work highlights the importance of starting this process early and considering the broader implications of cultural decisions. For developers looking to achieve global success, embracing culturalization is not just beneficial but essential.

For more in-depth insights from Kate Edwards, check out the following interviews and articles:


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