Online gaming and the language barrier

5 min read


Don’t you just hate it when you join a game online and the first thing you see in chat is a language you don’t understand? Yeah, me too. Every Dota 2 player out there see’s this in almost every public match and believe it or not, we still don’t know what the hell they are saying. There’s a growing issue when it comes to playing online and the language barrier on European servers, I think something should be done about that.

Whether you’re playing an MMO or MOBA, you have probably experienced the frustration of people in your party (group) being blatantly rude and having a whole conversation in French, German, Polish or Russian (yes, there are probably some other languages in the mix too). And even if you, as an English speaking South African, American or any other nationality speaking the universal language, ask for these gamers to speak English, they just flat-out ignore you and carry on.

This creates not only a bad atmosphere but obviously a lack of communication and more often than not, causes the group to fail at whatever they are doing. Try getting some boss tactics in order while in an instance (dungeon) or communicating in a Dota 2 game while 3/5 of the party members refuse to speak English, it just doesn’t work. The problem isn’t that people speak different languages, but that this defeats the public match making feature in games when it results in failure and arguments or people just quitting games. It’s not enjoyable and it’s now a part of our everyday lives. The solution is that we need a way to communicate with each other without conflict and only having one option: to only speak English.

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My suggestion to developers is to include an in-game translator to the chat boxes.  Some might argue that this is a violation of privacy, because maybe the people speaking the other language don’t want you to see what they are saying. My response to that is: if you are typing anything into a public party chat, you don’t give a crap since any one can use Google translate to know what you’ve just typed, and you also don’t know enough about the people in the party to know that they don’t understand the language you are typing in.  It would be easy for us to say “if you want to type in your language, use personal messaging”, but we all know that’s not going to happen. It’s a lot easier to say “if you don’t want me to know what you are saying”, don’t type it in public.

Having an in-game translator in my mind cannot be impossible to code into a game. If I can connect to Facebook and Twitter in Rift (the MMO) and have the game automatically tweet and post achievements or upload screenshots, then I’m sure it can be coded to grab text, detect the language and translate it. This means that if I’m for example French and I don’t understand English, I can translate the English text in-game and no one has to sit through the frustrating experience of not understanding each other.

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Bottom line, if you’re giving us the option of public match making, give us the option to understand each other and break that language barrier that makes the whole experience more painful than ripping off that piece of skin right next to your finger nail.

Agree with me? What is your opinion on the matter and do you have any solutions or suggestions to fix this problem?

Last Updated: January 30, 2013

  • Kathy H

    Love this topic, as I am somewhat new to the world of gaming and have found that the language translators that are out there lacking. I am going to college for an applied linguistics degree and see a need that is arising from the lack of good communication.

    • HvR

      Biggest problem with digital translators are that when it comes “everyday spoken” language with time and generational dependent slang, double entendre etc and lack of context your translation possibilities run into the million if not billions.

      As self learning algorithms become more prevalent it is something that might be solved in the future but to implement it on the scale needed (Youtube search AI level) is just not economically viable at the moment.

      • Kathy H

        Wow, I didn’t even realize that this was a major issue and I am sure that this is not the only computer based programs that are effect. I could think of major businesses being stopped due to a lack of how to handle a certain sentence.

  • HvR

    On the nicer side of the same problem, watched my son the other day successfully communicate with 2 french boys his age using nothing more than basic in game character gestures and single english game related keywords.

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