In this series, I am going to discuss my contributions to the translation of Deep Rock Galactic, a cooperative FPS developed by Ghost Ship Games, and available on Windows, Xbox One, and PlayStation. Similar to my other writings, this series is not meant to be in the style of an academic publication. Instead, it is an informal discussion that aims to show the reasons behind some of the decisions I took and what parts of the translation process were interesting or challenging. Since I am not going to explain the game mechanics in detail, a limited familiarity with the game is required to be able to keep up with the examples.

About crowdsourcing

DRG is unique in that it follows the model of crowdsourced translation,
that is, most of its translations are done by the community through
Crowdin. Although in theory, this should make the process a collaborative effort, I happened to be the only contributing Arabic translator, which allowed me, for the time being, to exercise full control over the whole process.

Just to be clear: I have mixed feelings about crowdsourcing, and in no way endorsing it. In my opinion, it is a handy tool for free and/or open source projects, but it is hard to make out a case for its use in commercial projects. On the one hand, many companies have used it unethically improve their bottom line and save a few hundred dollars by exploiting their dedicated fans. But on the other hand, we have to keep in mind that the practice of fan translation of video games is as old as game consoles, and that crowdsourcing should, in some cases, be viewed as an evolution of fan translation. For this reason, it pays to ask why fan translations do exist in the first place.

Like it or not, when it comes to choosing which languages to localize a game into, the selection process is based primarily on expected profits, and does not take into account factors such as number of speakers or whether the fan base in a certain country really like the game. If this was not the case, fan translations would not exist, and it would be easy find games localized into Turkish (80 million speakers), Vietnamese (75 million), or Arabic (300 million). Instead, the standard was, and still is, to mainly target FIGS, and maybe Japanese, because these markets were the ones generating the bulk of the profits. And this is not limited to small developers, where you could argue that the costs of localization into a dozen of languages might too high for them. Take-Two Interactive (owner of Rockstar), made over half a billion dollar in net income in 2021, so it is definitely not “small”, and in spite of this, it has never offered any of its major games in Arabic, despite the fact that GTA and Red Dead are two of the most popular game series in the middle east.

This is the question that we should be asking: Had I not translated DRG into Arabic voluntarily, what was the probability of it being translated into Arabic, say, in the next five years? How should Ghost Ship Games be viewed: a developer taking advantage of DRG fans, or simply making the job of fan translators of not-so-profitable languages a bit easier.

For me, the answers were clear. I really enjoyed the game, and thought that it would enrich the library of video games available in Arabic. What’s more, and I think that many translators feels this way, while playing the game, I started translating certain pieces in my head. And after a while, an image of the localized version has been formed in my mind. How could I resist this urge?

Nevertheless, if I were a German or French for instance, or if there were several contributers working simultaneously, I would have never done it. Despite what the developers might claim, crwodsourcing is never the best tool to go about translating a
video game, for a variety of reasons. Not everyone writes in the same style, and by having multiple translators (or worse, contributers who never translated before) is a recipe for major and grave inconsistencies. Besides, the fact that anyone can contribute, kills any sense of ownership of the translation, in contrast to a software patch that only contains your contributions. However, one cannot deny the fact that a majority of end users do not like, or know how, to apply search for and apply patches to their games, so having the fan translation included in the base game on all platforms is surely a plus for many.

Approaching the game


Game localization is hard, but some games are more challenging than others, and DRG is one of them, due to a combination of factors. First, the setting is fictional, and in my opinion, the translation of realistic games is far more straightforward (but not necessarily easier) than fantasy games. This setting allowed the game to feature numerous fictional creatures, weapons, and items, each with its own unique, and often, creative name. Further, DRG includes plenty of cultural references, many of them are not familiar to the Arabic gamer. Finally, and on top all of this, the dwarves have a rather deadpan sense of humor, so expect a steady stream of jokes and puns. Let’s look at these challenges in some more detail and outline some of the techniques and strategies that they call for.

The Cultural Aspect

One of the challenges of translating DRG into Arabic is the fact that it the main playable characters are “dwarves” (the plural used in the game and popularized by J.R.R. Tolkein ), a popular element of Western mythology. Historically, dwarves inhabit the earth and mountains, and are often described as old men with long beards and axes, in addition to being associated with
mining, crafting, might, alcohol, gold-love, hard work,
and bluntness. All these characteristics feature prominently in the game, but
unfortunately, most of these associations, and even the creature themselves are unknown to Arabs. What’s more, in the Arabic culture, the term
“dwarf”, translated as “
is associated mainly with people of short stature. Therefore, the first challenge is how to introduce the Arabic player to this lore surrounding the dwarves.

Another related challenge is the numerous cultural references that appears in several places inside the game. This is partially connected to the previous point because the game alludes to several novels and games that features dwarves too. But in addition to those, it references lines from popular movies and songs, and occasionally, real-life characters. These references are deeply rooted in the Western culture, and keeping them understandable for Arabic gamers takes a lot of research and translation work

How then should we deal with these cultural elements? Usually, when facing a deeply cultural work, translators start thinking in terms of “domestication” (or “culturalization”) and “foreignization”. The goal of “domestication” is usually to make the game more “accessible” to the target player, by replacing elements from the source culture with equivalent elements from the target culture, and by removing any content that might be considered obscure or offensive by the target audience. However, and as far as I am concerned, this domestication/foreignization is largely irrelevant.

From a technical viewpoint, domestication takes place after lengthy discussions between the translator and the developers / publisher, and might lead to extensive changes to the game characters and mechanics,
including the translation of all graphical assets, and the replacement of all names and cultural references, else
the game could not be considered to be “truly domesticated”. However, translators of DRG have no control of anything beyond the strings inside Crowdin.

Further, from a an artistic viewpoint, “domesticating” Deep Rock Galactic is meaningless, since similar to how you cannot domesticate games such as “God of War” or “Assassin’s Creed”, if you remove the cultural elements of DRG, you will end up with a different game. Furthermore, a domestication approach is not always superior in any way to other approaches, and it all depends on the game at hand. A
case in point is the Persona series. The original Persona was subject to
numerous changes, and upon release, it received too much criticism,
which forced the team to move its strategy towards foreignization.
Starting from Persona 2, visual and textual references to Japanese culture were preserved
in order to share the culture with Western players, and recent titles follows the trend of not just retaining, but also exploring the Japanese culture.

In my opinion, the push towards domestication is usually largely by the preconception that players are uncomfortable by anything that is outside of their culture, when the reality is frequently different. I cannot speak for other cultures, but the feelings of Arabs towards the Western culture, especially the young, is a bit complex and cannot be reduced to a simple love/hate relationship. The popularity of American movies and TV series has played a major role in shaping the mind of Arabs, in addition to the fact that when compared to other regions, subtitling is the predominant mode of AVT in the Arabic world.

With that mind, my overall strategy was focused on preserving the authenticity of game, while keeping it accessible at the same time. Of course authenticity does not mean a blind obedience to a doctrine of  “foreignization”, leaving every image, reference, or allusion untouched. Instead, the priority should goes to explaining and exploring the cultural aspects, in the least obtrusive way, and when this is not appropriate, we can resort adaptation and assimilation, or removal. The goal is not highlighting the cultural differences as much as bridging the cultural gap.

Let’s go back to the point about “dwarves”. One way to provide players with some background information about them is to add a new Miner’s Manual page in the Arabic version. One of the downsides of this method however, is the fact that the manual presents its content from the dwarves’
perspective, so a historical page might seem out
of place. A possible solution is to discuss these points from the company’s point of
view. We could, for instance, explain why the company chose dwarves over
other entities for the task, telling some interesting stories about them in the process. However, this does not go beyond being a suggestion, and I have not contacted the developers about yet, but it serves to show how I would have handled this aspect if I had more control over the game.

Handling references and allusions in other parts of the game could be done in a similar way.

References and allusions

First, what is the difference between a reference and an allusion? There is no universal definition, but for me, the former is explicit, while the latter is implicit. Accordingly, allusions could be missed, but references could not, which means that an unfamiliar reference will confuse the player. An example of a reference would be a mustache named “The
Swanson”, since it bears resemblance to Ron Swanson’s mustache, from Parks and Recreation. By contrast, one of the dwarves might say “I am doing my part!” upon interacting with the environment, alluding to Starship Troopers, and to the meme surrounding this phrase.

Second, where do references and allusions appear in the game, and what function do they serve? Most references appear in the names and descriptions of cosmetic items or bears. Additionally, the dwarves might quotes lines from movies from time to time. To be honest, almost
all these references does not affect the gameplay in any significant way, and won’t cause
the player, for example, to stop playing to go and look it up or do
some research if he does not recognize them. However, it is still my duty to provide players with a
smooth and transparent translation nonetheless.

Most game developers do not design games with other cultures in mind, therefore many references will get into the final product unintentionally. That is, Americans reference American things without much thought. Sometimes, however, a reference is inserted on purpose, usually because it is amusing and funny. The “I am doing my part!” line is a typical example. Analyzing
the role of references is beyond the scope of this article, but this kind of references usually signifies a cultural identity, and establishes a relationship between the writers and those players who recognized them.

Thinking about the function of an allusion or reference is handy, because it allows us to think of the best strategy to handle it. For example, one of the monsters is called the Praetorian, and since this reference serves the first function, then the best way to translate it would be explaining who the Praetorians were. Other strategies include replacing it with a common noun (“The Warriors”), or substituting with a more common reference. However, explanation by far the best because it adds more depth to the game. Nonetheless, this strategy doesn’t suit the Swanson’s reference, because explaining it would simply defeat its purpose. In short, each reference or allusion plays a specific role, and it is useful to think about this role, and how it would change during the translation process.

To sum up: Additional information should be added to the Arabic version to explain the setting and the cultural references that appears in the game, in order to add depth to the game, and preserve the coherence of its setting. With regard to those just for fun category, the majority of allusions will be translated as they are, and hopefully, some culturally-open players might be able to recognize them, while references will be substituted or removed since their function cannot be replicated except by adding similar Arabic references in different locations inside the game. However, I do not approve this, since these Arabic references does not fit well inside the Western setting of the game.

Comparison with other works

When embarking on a new translation project, it is always helpful to study similar or related projects to draw some inspiration. Japanese games are particularly instructive, since the cultural gap between the Japanese and Western culture is relatively large. In fact, the strategies outlined above are used extensively in several popular Japanese series. For example, the strategy of including additional information in the translated version to explain references, is used heavily in both the Ace Attorney series and the Persona series, where cultural references play a far more vital role.

Persona is particularly good since it has a lot of
references and allusions that were not too familiar in the West, and moreover, many of them were kept in the localized version even though the majority of English-speaking players would probably miss them. YouTuber
RyiSnow made a two-part compilation (1 and 2) of the Japanese cultural references that appears in Persona 5.

Another interesting series is the Dragon Ball franchise of manga and anime. It is inspired by the Chinese novel Journey to the West, and many of the allusions have remained in the Western journey. If you are interested in knowing more, Kim Morrissy of Crunchyroll has wrote a good and enjoyable analysis about it in his Found in Translation series.


Another interesting challenge is the humorous nature of DRG. This aspect of the game is much more crucial, since it sets the whole tone of the game, and preserving the original experience in localized version cannot be achieved without recreating it faithfully.

The dwarves deliver the bulk of the jokes, through the one-liners they utter upon interacting with the elements inside their environment. Though it is true that what different cultures find funny is subjective, I found most jokes to be universally accessible to most people, for they do not involve any specific cultural knowledge, and did not have any difficulty in rendering them into Arabic.

However, the one form of humor that was very tricky is wordplay and puns – tools that the writers were committed to and represented a major feature of the game. To produce an engaging translation, it was  necessary recreate most of the puns and insert new one, to compensate for the fact many of them are untranslatable. By no way this an easy task, in fact, but it was nevertheless very rewarding.


As with most literary works, the
register, style, and tone vary depending on the context, and DRG is no exception. The dwarves, for instance, speak casually
and use colloquial expressions, and their remarks are characterized by
the frequent use of dry humor, in contrast to Mission Control’s guy, who is
more formal and serious.

of the major problems that plagues Arabic (and I am not aware of any other language that suffers a similar problem) is the fact that Arabic speakers do not use Modern
Standard Arabic (MSA) in their daily speech, and it is use is limited to written publications. Instead, each region has its own
local dialect that constitutes the everyday spoken language. This is the first problem with MSA: We Arabs are not used to hearing people speak it, so when someone speaks it they kind of sounds out of place, and we feel disconnected from them.

A second, closely related, problem with MSA, is the fact that it is associated mainly with extremely formal speech. Like most languages, Classical Arabic probably had different levels of formality and politeness, but today and as a result of disuse, the majority of Arabs cannot tell whether a Classical Arabic expression is formal or not. This, consequently, makes people speaking MSA always sound polite and formal, and deprives us of some extra information, such as the
social ranks and personalities of the speakers, their attitude, and the relationship between them, forcing us to come up with new ways to bring these information across.

So we should we ever consider using MSA for spoken language? There are two main reasons: One is intelligibility, and the second has to do with political considerations. The Middle East region encompasses about 20 Arabic speaking territory, each with its own pronounced dialect and sub-dialects, and some of them could be considered different languages of their own. This means that Moroccan Arabic, for instance, is essentially incomprehensible to Syrians or Iraqis. By contrast, all educated Arabs can completely understand MSA with ease, and may even switch to it when they engage with others of different dialect.

This reason, though, does not provide us with the full picture of the situation. It is true that MSA is understood by most Arabs, but the same could be said about Egyptian or Syrian Arabic. This could be attributed to the popularity of Egyptian movies, and to a lesser degree, Syrian drama, and the fact that many of the popular animated movies were dubbed in Egyptian proves this. Choosing a local variant over MSA is, to a degree, a political decision, more than an artistic one.

As you can see, it is a tricky matter, and most companies go for MSA because it tends to be the easier route. There are some exceptions, however. Quentic Dream’s Detroit: Become Human featured Arabic dubbing and subtitles in Egyptian Arabic, and even though I am Syrian, I found to be a very laudable and refreshing move, and I really urge localization studios to explore non-standard dialect options.

So, what did I do? Despite its limitations, I went for MSA for both the written and spoken parts, for the simple fact that I did not have the right to enforce a dialect on all Arabic players, without permission from the publisher and/or developer. However, if I were in charge of selecting a dialect, I would have opted for Egyptian, or maybe Syrian Arabic. For now, however, we have to make the most of MSA, by a variety of techniques. We can, for instance, use more common words and expressions (التالي instead of اللاحق), and avoid complex grammatical structures, in order to render the speech of down-to-earth characters. We look at this in more detail in the upcoming posts, and see what exactly gets lost in the Arabic translation.


As with most fantasy games, each enemy, weapon, region, and item in DRG has a unique and interesting name. Ideally, when translating names, a
“co-creation” approach should be followed, where there is a close
relationship between developers and translators, so that the latter could
propose names, and discuss them with former. However, as of now, the developers
are pretty disengaged from the translation process, giving us, the translators,
absolute freedom.

Each name generally serves a function or two, and these functions will determine the appropriate translation strategy. Some, for instance, are
descriptive and explanatory, while others are evocative, poetic, or humorous.
And of course there are meaningless names, that serves an indicative function.
Preserving the effect that certain names have was my top priority. Recreation from scratch, or “transcreation”, is usually the right option for evocative names,
while transliteration is perfectly suitable for meaningless names. As you can see, all decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis,
after going through several rounds of brainstorming, and the specifics will be discussed in a separate post.

From my observation,
the game leans toward using plain, descriptive names. However, it has a
tendency to use uncommon words to describe things whenever possible, which is
understandable. For instance, it is the “space rig”, instead of
“station”, “terminals” instead of “computers”,
“pod” instead of “shuttle”, and so on. Again, whether this could be replicated in the Arabic version depends on the name at hand.


In this post, I have outlines the general strategies that were employed during the translation of Deep Rock Galactic. The focus in the upcoming posts will be on how these strategies were applied by studying numerous examples from different parts of the game. Stay tuned!

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