Lost in Translation: Linguistic Barriers in World of Warcraft (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this blog series, I outlined issues that I felt both non-native English speakers and non-English speaking players in WoW face when desiring to directly communicate with developers.
I do acknowledge however, that this is a situation that affects a small number of people relative to the size of the entire playerbase. The number of WoW players that are active in the community, and seek out Dev-Player communication constitute a small percentage of a much larger whole. I don’t deny that the number of players invested in such exchanges has grown since  developers became more easily accessible, but at the end of the day we remain a vocal minority.

Thus, Part 2 will focus on a phenomenon that all players are likely to have a chance at dealing with: Inability to communicate with fellow players due to language barriers.

Player versus Player: Not the fun kind

A central tenant of any MMO’s play experience (and, by extension, the MMO’s success) revolves around the ability to communicate with other players. An MMO is, after all, largely a social venue that connects its participants through various forms of group work, indirect cooperation and even competition. Dungeons, Raids, Battlegrounds, and even parts of the Game Economy all fall under the same umbrella whereby players must work together to some extent.

As such, it should come as little surprise that few things can be more jarring to the gaming experience, than being unable to covey sentiments or instructions to fellow players. The more players that are added to an experience, the more necessary that communication becomes.
Case in point? LFR today- a feature that ends up being a miserable experience for many because it is tuned to be easy enough to the point where minimal communication is required, but frustrating when that communication doesn’t happen (and having tanked LFR this entire expansion on multiple toons, I can attest to how frustrating!).

While it’s true that there also also players who actively choose not to communicate or listen, what happens when a well-meaning player finds themselves unable to progress or even actively hinders group progression due to linguistic barriers?
My own observation is that such situations tend to lead immediately to frustration. Depending on the type of content being attempted, as well as the role of the player in question, a group can be seriously hampered by someone not being able to take cues. This phenomenon ends up manifesting mostly in pug-style content where facilities such as voice communication are already rarely used; thus the only real option is to “type out” to the other player. Combine the use of colloquialisms, slang and good old bad spelling, and it’s likely anyone with a shaky (or nonexistent) foundation of English tend to get baffled fairly quickly.

This in turn results in a snowballing situation- inability to understand what your group is saying leads to one of two things: Inaction, or attempting to complete said content without fully understanding what your group wants of you. In some cases, especially if the player takes on a DPS role, the group is still able to successfully complete the content they are attempting. They might mock an errant DPS player for failing at certain mechanics (and possibly dying), but continue nonetheless.

On the other hand, remember that annoying hunter in last week’s LFR group that sat at the bottom of the meters, couldn’t be kicked from raid for another “X minutes” and didn’t understand why you were so upset Aspect of the Pack was still on?(!) Yeah.
Unsurprisingly, things also get antsy when the unfortunate player takes on the Tanking role, or is the only Healer in group. It also goes without saying that the more inexperienced said player is, the more liable they are to make mistakes.

Such incidents, unfortunately, build up a collective memory in the eyes of some players. On US servers, for instance, it’s not uncommon to hear “Oh God, I’m grouped with someone from Ragnaros/Nemesis/Gallywix! This group is sure to fail!” Trolls in the group (not the Horde race!) also get their jollies by using such opportunities to spew their usual racist/xenophobic rhetoric, and help further deteriorate an already tense atmosphere.
Eventually, the unfortunate offender gets kicked- something that’s quite understandable on the part of an impatient collective of players, who likely just want to get done as fast as possible.
I’m not going to get into how it is inherently unfair and stupid to judge a player’s potential skill or ability due to their chosen server and its allotted language group. What I do think that both the playerbase and developer community need to consider is whether there’s any easy solution to the problem of players not being able to communicate in cooperative play.

Do we simply base battlegroups and random server pairings according to language? That would make for some pretty dull scenery for players restricted to only a few servers, and probably also limit the pool that can be drawn on for “random” (or, no longer random as would be the case) pug content.

Does pug content get tuned to even lower levels, to the point where communication is absolutely not a requirement? I’d argue that to an extent, that’s largely impossible (especially in larger groups), and that it’s also not a good goal to go towards in the first place.

One thing is clear though: As more and more cross-realmable and random pug content is introduced to World of Warcraft (such as, for instance, the first three modes of raid difficulty in Warlords of Draenor), concerns about language barriers will become more of an issue. If the majority of the game’s playerbase continues to experience content via pugging and random groups, then it is an issue that needs addressing.

I also wanted to share an anecdote that (partially) inspired this post: Whilst levelling my Priest to 60 in anticipation of the boost to 90, I found myself in a group attempting to complete the entirety of Blackrock Depths. One player- a Mage from Nemesis, a Brazilian server- made this extremely hard by pulling nearly every mob that they haphazardly ran into. Worse still, said player did nothing but spam Arcane Explosion the moment the tank ran into a large group of mobs, leave alone built any threat on them!

Attempts to explain things in English were simply met with “?”, and another DPS grumpily remarked that they couldn’t even initiate a Vote to Kick due to the player being unable to be kicked for another two hours.
On a whim, I decided to give Google Translate a go. The amazing thing?
It worked!
I continued to intermittently use Google Translate between pulls since, with the Mage behaving, content was nowhere near as threatening. Towards the very end, I gave the Mage a final piece of advice (don’t worry, I replaced the mistranslation of the actual web address).

I’ll conclude with a request: I’ve written a lot of this based on my own experiences on US realms, but I imagine that European players tend to see this happening more due to WoW being highly popular in a large amount of non-English speaking countries. I’d be very interested in hearing about your experiences with language barriers and communication issues in large groups, such as LFR.

Until next time, have a pleasant day.

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