The continent of Video Games is divided into three kingdoms: Japan/Asia, Europe, and North America. Games are translated, localized, packaged, and released according to each kingdom’s differing standards – though that doesn’t mean there is never cross-pollination between the realms (please refer to fig. 1: The intensely cockney Dragon Quest localizations, which have become as inseparable from the series as actual dragons).
Nor does it mean the localization process is rigid in each kingdom. In many cases, laws disallow a “one size fits all” solution. Germany, for instance, has strict rules against video game violence that don’t apply to the rest of Europe. Canada requires French translations for boxes and pack-in literature* like instruction booklets.
Then there’s the matter of advertising. One country may be madly in love with one pastime, whereas fewer people over the border give a toss. Case in point: Canadians and the NFL. While many Canadians do enjoy American football (a surprising number of Torontonians root for the Bills), it still doesn’t amount to pigskin next to hockey’s popularity – at least in the eastern half of the country. Football’s more popular out west, though even that region generally prefers to watch the CFL.
Long story short, the release of a new Madden game in Canada usually isn’t coupled with phone calls into work, release parties, midnight launches, etc. Hockey’s always been a bit different. When the NES was new-ish, the sports game buzz on the playground was all about Ice Hockey and Blades of Steel. Unsurprisingly, this geographical difference in interests translated into a difference in advertising.
First, a revelation: In the ’80s and ’90s, Canada simply did not get as many game commercials as the United States, or at the very least they didn’t air as often up here. For the life of me, I can’t remember seeing or hearing the infamous “Genesis does what Nintendon’t” jingle, and being a vicious little soldier of Nintendo back in the day, the ad would’ve made me furious. I would remember it. But I don’t.
My guess is that since Canada is a tiny market compared to the US, game advertisers were content to let their commercials just bleed occasionally over the border from FOX affiliates located close to the dividing line (which happened less often than you might think, as Canada’s broadcasting standards are infamously draconian. Look up “CanCon” if you ever have a year to spare).
That doesn’t mean game commercials didn’t occasionally spend the cash necessary to cater specifically to a rabid subset of hockey-loving Canadians (and their northeastern American brethren). There is, for example, this commercial for NHL All-Star Hockey ’95 that my husband from North Carolina swears he’s never seen before – and he has a keen interest in all things related to Sega’s “Attitude Era.”
This commercial aired relentlessly on Canadian stations, but you’ll notice it’s not in English. I couldn’t find an English version of the commercial even though it’s not hard to find several uploads of Sega’s commercials from the ’90s (they are, frankly, high art amongst advertisements, if you believe such a thing can exist). That tells me the commercial simply didn’t have as many viewers as a typical Genesis ad.
So, the Kingdom of North America is not as culturally homogenous as it appears at first glance! Now if only game localizers would embrace the deformed bastard child named “Canadian spelling.” Sigh.
*I learned decades later that some NES game manuals, including the beautiful manual for Zelda II: The Adventure of Link was truncated in Canada to make room for the French translation. So many goofy ’80s-style anime drawings of Link lost…