Games consoles haven’t always had it good in the Chinese-speaking world. They’ve either struggled against the overwhelming popularity of PC gaming, or been banned by law. That’s changed a bit over the last few years – at least in Taiwan, where Nintendo released a Traditional Chinese Wii, and the popularity of Microsoft’s X-Box 360 and Sony’s PS3 are growing. In this post, though, we’ll be looking at some of the more popular games consoles of the past, learning how to identify them in Chinese, and also finding out some of the more interesting facts surrounding retro console gaming in the 兩岸三地 Chinese-speaking world.
(Also, don’t forget to check out our post on Retro Games to learn the names of classic game titles in Chinese)
First off, here’s the Chinese for some basic console hardware:
Due to the distinctive colour scheme of the Japanese Famicom system, in the Chinese-speaking world it came to be known as the 紅白機 （红白机 Hóng bái jī）which literally means “red and white console”.
While China and Taiwan never saw an official release of the Famicom, the name 紅白機 could have originated from Hong Kong, where a special localised version of the system was released:
A nice and easy direct translation into Chinese for the Super Nintendo, known as the 超级任天堂 or just 超任. 超級 meaning super, and 任天堂 Nintendo.
From this point on the Nintendo consoles don’t have any special names and are referred to by an abbreviation. GC or NGC for Gamecube, NDS, NDSL etc, and then the Wii is just the Wii, sometimes preceded by 「任天堂」.
One of the most interesting things about Nintendo in China is that they chose not to use any Nintendo branding on their hardware or games, instead partnering with a local firm and releasing consoles under the iQue brand. Since 2002 Nintendo has released mostly handheld consoles under the iQue brand, including iQue DS and iQue 3DS, in additional the home console iQue Player, or 神遊機（神游机 shén yóu jī）which translates as ‘divine gaming machine’ and is a redesigned version of the N64, with the console contained inside the controller.
The iQue devices play completely localised games that include Chinese text and voice overs, and even though the number of available games is extremely low, there’s only 14 games available for the iQue Player, it gives you a chance to play an official Chinese version of Ocarina of Time!
According to Nintendo iQue Player: A Beginner’s Guide (well worth a read), Nintendo opted to partner with a local business to avoid regulation, and the strange design of the iQue Player (the whole console is contained in the controller) can be attributed to Chinese law banning the sale of game consoles – maybe the handheld design avoids classification as a home console?
Find a full list of iQue consoles on Wikipedia.
Taiwan’s Mother Nintendo
Until the Wii, Nintendo didn’t have an official presence in Taiwan. Instead, consoles were imported and sold under licence by a distributor who came to be known as 任天堂阿嬤 （rèntiāntáng ā mā）, or ‘Mother Nintendo’. She handled the distribution of Nintendo consoles in Taiwan for around 30 years, until Nintendo ended her licence so they could officially enter the Taiwan market themselves with a localised version of the Wii. Mother Nintendo retaliated by suing Nintendo for compensation:
Similar to Nintendo, Sega’s distribution in ‘Greater China’ is also handled by an agent/distributor, AtGames, who has the rights to sell portable versions of retro Sega consoles. While the Chinese version of their website doesn’t list these consoles, I have seen them for sale in Taiwan.
Master System and Mega Drive/Genesis
Master System and Mega Drive don’t seem to have a particular Chinese name and are simply refered to as SMS and MD respectively, though the Wikipedia page for the Mega Drive does list 世嘉五代 （shì jiā wǔ dài）”Sega 5th Generation” as an alternative name.
A straight-forward translation for the name of the Saturn, 土星 being the Chinese name for the planet.
The first (and only?) Sega console to have Chinese pet name, the Dreamcast is also known as the Mosquito Coil, due to the shape of the logo.
索尼 Sony and 微軟 Microsoft
All of Sony’s consoles are refered to by there English names or more commonly the abbreviations PS, PS2, PS3, PSP.
XBox also does not have a Chinese name, though interestingly in Taiwan, Windows XP, another Microsoft product, is pronounced as 叉P. Instead of pronouncing the ‘X’ how it sounds in English, the Chinese for X is used, the character 叉. Though this isn’t the case for XBox.
It’s disappointing that not all consoles are localised and have Chinese names, though it’s to be expected in an international market. Also, while the consoles do have Japanese names, these are mostly just phonetic translations of the English names, just listen to the pronunciation of Megadrive and Playstation on Google Translate.
I’ve had a lot of fun researching for this post and I really had to reign myself in before I ended up writing a complete ‘History of Console Gaming in the Chinese Speaking World’ article! I’ll be on the look out for more books and information on the topic so I’ll be sure to post anything interesting that I find.