Gender-Inclusive Language, Localization and the Gaming Industry

Video games are an important cultural expression that continue to reach an ever-growing audience. Many believe that ‘the industry will reach over $300 billion by 2025’. Localization (and language itself) is a powerful tool when discussing cultural expression. It plays a fundamental role in delivering products that desire to include every player in its stories. 

Language serves as a strong representation of how our society continues to grow, and so it requires constant learning and adaptation to new forms of communication. When we discuss localization in video games, we are talking about connecting a player to their native language, with the goal being to provide content that is meaningful to them. Therefore, as we work towards a more equal society, we also need to know how to represent this value in the language we use in our products.

Over the past year and a half, I have actively worked for the Localization department at Electronic Arts (EA) in Madrid to improve and deliver products that reflect gender inclusiveness for various languages. After being inspired by EA’s Diversity and Inclusion values I felt we could incorporate more action into localization. I then founded the Gender Inclusive Taskforce for Localization, which consists of a dedicated group of employees that attend and generate solutions to any gender matter within localization. As the lead stakeholder of this team, I want to share reflections of my experience and highlight the importance and relevance of inclusiveness when discussing the culturalization of products.

So, what does it mean to work with gender-inclusive language?

A lot of effort is being put into creating more diverse games and bringing down the barriers of an industry that used to be dominated by white men and now is considered to be ‘not so white, male and straight’ anymore. Originally, we see this effort towards diversity more evidently in the English text, but, for localization, we will only see it once we use gender-inclusive language and deliver content that speaks to all players, regardless of their gender identity.

What is being done in localization to pay attention to this subject and how to effectively deliver quality to all users? 

To put it simply, localization has its own challenges in terms of inclusion. There are two main points to this topic: 

1) The impediments of translating content from a language with no gender tags (English) into other languages that carry gender tags in their whole grammar. 

2) The general format of speech that in some languages disregards part of the audience.

The first point is related to the tools and technology available that allow languages to use gender variables in their translations, providing localization with more options. This relies on a broader aspect of inclusion, that demands solutions by necessity from having more diverse characters in games. This path is related to a technical part of the subject. The use of gender variables could have its own article, but it is not the focus of today’s topic.

To my second point, I will shed light on where the core of the gender-inclusive language belongs.

To directly make use of gender-inclusive language in localization, this, above all, means: to make the effort and work to solve the lack of communication with the part of your audience. More specifically ‘it’s a form of language that is not biased toward a particular sex or social representation of gender’. It is to care strategically about how each language is being translated and the impact it has on all players.

For a better understanding of what are the specific issues localization faces regarding gender-inclusive language, below are some key takeaways.

A lot of languages, due to their particular practices, tend to present a speech format that speaks mostly (and sometimes only) to male players. This generates a disconnect between the female audience and the product they are consuming. Which, then, reflects directly in their engagement with the industry as a whole (both as a consumer and also as workforce talent). Like any other player, women want to feel included in the story they are engaging with.

Seeing an audience of ‘one billion female gamers’, the video game industry knows that the numbers of female players are just as critical and relevant to revenue as their male counterparts. Making use of gender-inclusive language leads to better communication with the female players and generates high quality localized products that actively avoid leaving any group of customers as an outsider.

Some believe there is no way out of these language habits, that the language is what it is. But that is not true. Language is a vast world and one that works well with creative solutions and finding new formats of expression. There are rules that can be used in favor of inclusivity but need to be put into practice in the best way. What should be always in question is how to do it and not if it is doable.

The objective of inclusive language is to raise awareness and improve practices of how we communicate to the audience as a whole and not just reproduce a speech that reaches only part of the consumers.

So first and foremost, it is important to do an assessment of how your translations are reflecting an inclusive speech format. Are they able to communicate with more than just the male audience? Additionally, are they reproducing patterns of speech that reflect language-specific stereotypes? This assessment will show how you are promoting diversity and inclusion in all spheres that compose your product.

Every language has its challenges regarding gender inclusivity, even English. While not all face the same difficulties, what most languages have in common is the need to have more awareness and solutions regarding a more inclusive approach.

Assessing your localized content is how you can begin to implement gender-inclusive language into your material. Below are practices that have proven results and can help promote gender inclusion on a larger scale for LOC:

●   Raising awareness for content creators about the differences between English and LOC languages: discuss the best possible practices with content creators when writing for localization and what to have in mind when dealing with languages that carry gender tags. Also, include and promote the use of gender variables when coding, enabling more flexibility when translating content (this addresses my previously mentioned first point).

●   Pre-production discussions regarding the impact on LOC: depending on the content of the game, have in mind that some features (or stories) need pre-production evaluation and preparation due to their impact on LOC languages. For example: if a player can choose their gender identity in-game, is the localized content also able to reflect this choice throughout the whole game? Do you have the necessary tools to support this content for localization?

●   Upgrade language software tools that allow you to work with various gender identities: as previously mentioned in pre-production, it is important that the software tools for localization are able to support solutions for gender issues in localization.

●   Guidelines for LOC translation vendors and testers: this is where you can actively work on the second point. It is of great importance to create and constantly work with guidelines for best practices of inclusive language. These guidelines must be specifically designed for each language and its particular issues. Guidelines will help both translation vendors and localization testers uphold the proper quality standards expected for inclusiveness.

●   Constant feedback to work alongside translation vendors to generate better results: providing frequent feedback to translation vendors in case they do not follow a gender-inclusive approach will help them to visualize solutions and improve their translations.

Working to implement these practices and solve the challenges faced by each language will reflect directly on how your product can be more diverse and inclusive. This means you will be able to attract more customers that will feel represented by what you put in the market. People want to feel included and companies want to retain more customers, therefore investing in a gender-inclusive approach for localization is simply good for business.

Keep in mind that finding solutions for gender inclusion in localization is a constant job. Sometimes it even has its own needs depending on the project. So be ready to be on the constant lookout for what the future holds because as we work towards more diverse and inclusive games, we will also represent more stories and gender identities. And with that will come new challenges to face, such as non-binary language. 

Remember that gender-inclusive language requires that you keep seeking new forms of expression. Auditing your content from time to time will be fundamental to map out the areas that need improvement, including the issues each language faces. Localization serves many purposes, and in today’s age, it also plays a significant role in strengthening diversity and inclusion in the gaming industry.

About the Author
Mariana Dadalto Schettino
Mariana Dadalto Schettino
QA Tester and Gender Inclusive Language Specialist

Mariana Dadalto Schettino is a QA and localization professional with a passion for gender-inclusive language practices in the video game industry. During her time as a localization tester at Electronic Arts (EA), she has built quality on more than 15 different titles, from AAA to mobile games. Mariana was the founder of the Gender Inclusive Taskforce for Localization at EA. Acting as a lead stakeholder for this initiative, she created guidelines for inclusive language for 20 different territories and improved processes regarding gender matters in the department. In addition to researching and implementing guides for a non-binary approach, Mariana shipped the first product from EA localization with applied non-binary language. Currently, she works with quality assurance testing while continuing as a researcher and adviser for diversity and inclusion practices and gender-inclusive language approach.