Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Ghost Of Henry James

There are times when I can see the value of Twitter. Little things pop up all the time, none of them worth a long discussion but all too weird, worrying or just plain funny to leave alone. A quick couple of sentences, a picture, a link would do it. Just what Twitter was made for.

Things like this, for example. I mean, it's not something I'd normally get into. I'm not a big Final Fantasy fan. I've played three titles in the series: VII, XI and XIV. There's no chance I'm going to play the upcoming XVI so why would I mention it at all?

Well, because these days, when Naoki "Yoshi-P" Yakuda makes a pronouncement, it has the potential to unbalance equilibrium across the entire mmorpg gamespace. He's not just the producer of the latest instalment of the long-running franchise, he's also the much-revered savior and showrunner of Final Fantasy XIV, arguably now the pre-eminent mmorpg in the West and certainly one of the most influential. People listen when he speaks and not just fans.

I'm already on record as not being a Yoshi-P cultist. I've always found him to be a difficult figure, my wariness going all the way back to the FFXIV: A Realm Reborn relaunch, when he consistently made statements I found to be uncomfortably paternalistic and patronising. 

I still have issues with a good deal of what he says although I am now willing to ascribe some of that to cultural and language differences, some to issues of my own. I broadly approve of much of what he's actually done with FFXIV. It tends to be more the way he talks about it that sets my teeth on edge.

In this case, though, my reaction was more a dumbfounded "Wha...?" Judge for yourself:

"Yoshida stated that the motion capture and voice acting are all done by Europeans. He went on to say that they purposely did not include any American accents in the game. “However, even though the script is written in English, we made sure not to include any American accents. We decided to do this to prevent Americans from playing the game and getting mad by saying something like, “I was looking forward to playing a game set in fantasy medieval Europe, but why are they speaking American English?” To prevent this, we made sure all dialogue was recorded using British English.” "

Unpack that, if you can. 

Maybe some American of my readers can add a gloss. Do people in the States really find hearing an accent similar to their own in a video game set somewhere other than the USA disappointing or confusing? I would have thought it was so universal an experience as to be entirely unremarkable. And even if it's true, is a British accent somehow more acceptable, even when it's no more appropriate to the setting?

Seriously, there's so much going on here it's hard to get your head around it. At the most basic level, none of the characters in the proposed setting are going to be speaking any kind of recognizeable English to begin with so why are we even giving the accent consideration? 

You might want to argue that, as is routinely the case in movies,various moderrn accents could stand in for contemorary ones but this is "medieval Europe" we're talking about, a place and time where people would have been speaking in dozens, scores, maybe hundreds of languages and dialects, almost all incoprehensible nowadays to anyone other than a scholar of the period. How can it possibly add authenticity, even spurious, fictional authenticity, to have every one of them speaking "British English", whatever that even is?

What's more, it's not even the historical Europe. It's "fantasy Medieval Europe". There will, one imagines, be magic and non-human races at the very least. Even if anyone was worried about linguistic authenticity in the first place, something that seems exceedingly unlikely, those concerns are going to crumble into irrelevance the first time an elf or a goblin opens their mouth.

My strong feeling is that it's a made-up problem to begin with but even if Yoshi-P has demographic research or metrics from previous Final Fantasy games to back up his belief that Americans get mad if they hear their own accents in medieval fantasy games, it's really the assumption that using "British English" is somehow going to fix all this that floors me. 

I'm going to take it that a century of jobbing British actors prostituting their accents in Hollywood, aided and abetted by a seemingly endless stream of artistically dubious but commercially successful television series exploiting the supposed nostalgic charm of a rigid and hierarchical class structure have somehow conspired to imprint a particular set of aural tropes, now conveniently labelled "British English" on the rest of the world.

I can understand, albeit with some embarassment, how such expedient choices have led the world to believe Britain is nothing more than a Victorian\Edwardian theme park, held in perpetual temporal stasis for their entertainment, but how and when did the elongated dipthongs of a public school educated, drama school trained, upper-middle class voice or the dropped consonants and glottal stops that pass for working-class diction come to represent the authentic sound of "medieval Europe?"

All I can say is that I hope Yoshi-P has thought this through. Even if he's right about American sensitivities, something I very much doubt, has he given due consideration to the sensibilities of his European customers? How do they feel about British accents? Do they prefer them to American ones? Are they "looking forward to a game set in medieval Europe" where every cut-scene sounds like an out-take from Downton Abbey?

I suppose there's a chance French and German speakers may get their own localized versions but there are more than forty countries in Europe and hardly any of them have English as a first language, British or American. As for we Brits, I suspect most would be fine with a mix that included some regional American accents. It would certainlybe preferable to some of the supposed "celtic fringe" tones all too often assigned to the shorter fantasy races.

It's hard to see this idiosyncratic solution suiting anyone other than, perhaps, Yoshi-P's home audience, who might, for all I know, find British accents more authentic to the period and the setting than American. But won't there be a Japanese-voiced version for the home market, anyway?

All of that and I haven't even touched on the even weirder revelation that all the motion capture work has also been assigned to European actors. Americans apparently can't even get the fantasy medieval European moves right.

And... that was eleven hundred words. I guess Twitter wouldn't have helped after all.


  1. The accent issue is just ... weird. I'd expect that comment more from a nerdy person without much real life experience than from the head of a major international MMO.

    I guess if you were an accent connoisseur it might matter, but I suspect most people don't care. I mean, there's a few jokes about dwarves always having a Scottish accent, just like every engineer in science fiction used to seem to be a Scot. But unless someone is really hamming up a regional accent I suspect most people don't notice.

    I'd tend to believe it is more an attempt to pull in Americans. There's a bit of truth about how many Americans gush over an British accent and view certain things British as being of a higher culture. My late wife's English accent would attract a lot of attention, even though she had been here long enough for it to become more of a "mid-Atlantic' accent, as she put it.

    All in all, cultural differences and perceptions are quite interesting.

    1. The whole "Dwarves are all Scottish" thing absolutely mystifies me. How did it even become a trope to begin with? I think it is the same source as the engineers, actually - a lot of famous 19th century engineers were scots and dwarves are good with machinery so they must all sound Scottish too. It sounds really lazy when its used now, though.

  2. Hmmm... since most people who will play the game don't even have English as their first language, it's a weird decission. I mean, English speaking people apparently put a lot of stress on accents, but guys... as long as we can understand you, accents are not a real issue. Probably I could tell Irish accent from Scottish accent on a sunny day, but that's about it.

    Moreso, as English spreads as a foreign language, it gets distorted inevitably by all sorts of foreign, do elves speak a perfect English? Do they speak English with an accent? Wouldn't they have a "elvish" accent, based on however their mouth and tongue struggle with imitating the sounds of English?

    Weird topic, huh.

    1. Accents are one of those things that have more impact the more local the focus. I've lived in cities where sounding like you come from one side of town rather than another could get you beaten up. The further out you push the envelope, though, the less meaningful and idenitifiable accents become., even among the same language groups. For example, two accents that get used quite frequently as the butt of jokes in American TV shows and movies are Canadian and Bostonian.

      It's taken me years and quite a lot of deliberate effort as a viewer to be able to pick out those from any other Northern American voice. I can just about do it now, but only when it's being exaggerated for comic effect. In straight dramas I can't really tell if someone's supposed to be from Canada or Boston unless they say they are.

      And I'm sure Canadians must find it ridiculous that their wide range of regional and local accents can be lumped together as "Canadian" anyway.

  3. It sounds like an extremely sarcastic response to the fan complaints about the dub work in Final Fantasy 12 (largely done overseas), Final Fantasy 13 (several odd accents used for characterization) and of course FF14 has a lot of British accents and yes people DO complain about "why do they all talk like that?".

    I suspect he's just being a smartass.

    1. Ah, that makes a huge amount of sense. If you read the quote in a sarcastic tone it works perfectly. That feeds back into what I said about some of what irks me about things Yoshi-P has been reported as saying in the past possibly being translation issues or tonal misreadings.

      Sarcasm is famously difficult to interpret without tone of voice and translated print sarcasm is always more likely to be misinterpreted than not. As you can see from the article linked in the post, the Western press reports are taking the whole thing quite literally. And even if it is sarcastic, all of the issues over what is or isn't meaningful or appropriate in terms of accent and language remain.

  4. I think that the British English accents --used to denote the Imperials in Star Wars, among other things-- are just a cheesy type of trope. After all, as Pallais put it, the languages spoken in the real Middle Ages didn't resemble British English at all. And in the Enlightenment, you could argue that French was the language of the courts. So I think it's just a weird type of affectation to make a game sound more worldly or sohpisticated.

    Hmm... Maybe Asmongold should try speaking in a British accent to see if his YouTube videos go over better.

    1. Allocating a specific accent to an in-game or in-movie group makes a lot of sense. Which accents get used, though, can be quite controversial. Not to mention offputting.


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