Today in WTF: Minecraft horrible racial slur (TW: racism)

The title screen for Minecraft is shown, with "you are a N**GER" on the top button. (not censored though)

 

File this away in today’s things I wish I didn’t have to write about.  Apparently, changing your language settings in Minecraft to Afrikaans, the language spoken in South Africa and Namibia, causes the top button to tell the player “you are a N**GER”.  The reason for this is crowdsourced translation, in which players help out the community by submitting translations for the game in different languages.

Mojang’s Jens “Jeb” Bergensten tweeted the following today:

A tweet from Mojang's Jens "Jeb" Bergensten says: Sorry about that =( I thought I had banned that user. Please check the translation here: bit.ly/xmSj09

 

There are certain things that are particularly vulnerable to hurting people when done through crowdsourcing.  Translation is definitely one of them, being that a player who is thrilled to find out a game supports their language is unlikely to suspect being called a terrible slur upon loading up the game.  I’m happy that Mojang have banned this user, and I’m not really wanting to tell an indie developer how to spend their limited funding, but I would suggest not crowdsourcing something as important as localization.

About Tami Baribeau

Lead Editor and co-founder of The Border House, feminist, gamer, lover of social media, technology, and virtual worlds. Pansexual, equestrian, dog lover, social game studio director and producer. Email me here and follow me on Twitter!
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11 Responses to Today in WTF: Minecraft horrible racial slur (TW: racism)

  1. Maverynthia says:

    Certainly not crowdsource a translation without lots of other people checking the translation.

    • makomk says:

      Apparently this was from one of the work-in-progress snapshots that most users don’t see, and those presumably don’t get the same level of scrutiny as the official Minecraft updates which are pushed out to everyone.

  2. Localization, of course, is something very tempting to crowdsource, because it’s normally very expensive and it’s hard to get good quality anyway, but it’s quite possible (compared to other game dev tasks) for mostly unqualified people to do, as long as they speak both languages.

    The mistake here seems to be not having any kind of QA/verification process in place. I’m not sure how mojang is handling the crowd-sourcing, but it seems like it’d be quite viable to do public submissions and up/down voting, though it would take some work to set up.

    Of course, it’s not like mojang doesn’t have the money to actually pay for localization.

  3. rho says:

    First off, just to be absolutely clear, I agree that the person who made this “translation” acted in a reprehensible manner (and also a deeply misinformed one, given that Afrikaans has historically been viewed by black South Africans as the language of the white oppressors, but I don’t expect the sort of person who makes that type of racist slur to be well-versed in sociolinguistics).

    That said, I think this is a really tricky one for the Minecraft devs to deal with. If the crowd-sourced translation projects didn’t exist, then I suspect that there wouldn’t be an Afrikaans translation at all. While they might have translated to some of the more widely-spoken languages, I can’t see them having the resources to translate to Welsh, Basque, Galician, Latvian, and so on. (list of languages they have is at http://crowdin.net/project/minecraft)

    Generally speaking, when this sort of topic arises, the conversation goes something like:

    GAME DEVS: We don’t have the resources to do lots of translations.
    COMMUNITY: We’ll do it!
    GAME DEVS: But we’re worried that that way there might be some incomplete or incorrect translations, and that we won’t know enough to correct them.
    COMMUNITY: That’s OK! We understand! If something does go wrong, we won’t hold you responsible!

    I don’t know if any conversation like that happened here, but I have seen that happen with other projects in the past. To then turn around and blame the developers for adding a feature that the community wanted doesn’t seem likely to help anyone.

    Yes, it’s bad that this happened, and yes it would be much better if there could be a professional quality translation for as many languages as possible, but absent the resources to do so, I think that optional crowd-sourced translations are probably a better option than no translations at all.

    • Kat says:

      True. And I would hold the translators responsible rather than the devs.

      However, it seems like an easy fix to have some kind of screening process that automatically checks for slurs like “ni****”, “fa*”, and “bi***” and then block any “helpful” translations from such a user. You don’t need to comb through every submission to screen against the worst offenders.

      • Meg says:

        The problem with automatic filters is that they’re very easy to get around once people learn about them. So instead you get “nagger” and “b*ch” and “ph*g” and the trolls get an extra giggle because not only are they being offensive, but they’ve successfully dodged the filter, clever them. You could have the filter try to catch as many dodges as possible, but people are pretty “creative”, and the broader your filters are, the more likely you are to reject and autoban someone over a legit translation, a clbuttic problem with filters.

        I think this mostly is a case of sometimes crappy things happening despite peoples’ best efforts and intentions. Jeb already knew about this guy so it’s not like Mojang isn’t already paying attention to the translation projects. He was just mistaken about having already banned him, a pretty easy mistake to make when you’re juggling a dozen little admin tasks at once. Once he was told about the problem he apologized and fixed it immediately. There’s no such thing as a system that works 100% of the time, and I think this reaction to this rare failure case is pretty admirable.

  4. Kimiko says:

    Aren’t Google’s translations crowdsourced too? I remember finding a rather incorrect translation there once that only made sense in a very different context (and was inaccurate there too). Babelfish at least attempts some kind of automated translation. True automated translation is really hard (AI complete for the geeks), but crowdsourcing without human checking is not a great alternative either I think.

  5. kdanger13 says:

    I know Facebook crowdsources translations, too (there was that whole debacle recently where switching your account to Leet Speak translated “female” to “sandwich maker”; it now translates to “female” with more numbers in). Obviously smaller companies can’t translate entirely on their own, but would it really be too much for them to have someone making sure offensive garbage like this didn’t make it through? It wouldn’t even require knowing the languages they were checking, since they’d only be looking for slurs etc and not other inaccuracies.

  6. Sif says:

    Professional localization is insanely expensive for most indie devs, as many have noticed.

    The best bet could be to screen volunteers, and then submit their work to peer review before releasing it for some oversight.

  7. Trodamus says:

    Screening aside, you’d think the devs would at least load up a newly submitted translation to see if it pops up in something resembling the comissioned language, to see if it even works, etc.

  8. Nathan of Perth says:

    “and I’m not really wanting to tell an indie developer how to spend their limited funding, but I would suggest not crowdsourcing something as important as localization.”

    I just can’t see indie developers having the funding to spare for something like localisation WITHOUT crowdsourcing it. Given how far money has to stretch to get the game itself up to some sort of commercial standard, its not as if they’ll have a team of translators on retainer like an EA would.

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