Video game characters such as Lara Croft and the Mario Bros. will have to hone theiraccents now that a joint industry-government initiative aims to boost the number of games available in French.


Only about 40 per cent of the most popular video games in Quebec are available in French. ((Nintendo of America Inc./Associated Press))

The Quebec government is close to finalizing a deal with the Entertainment Software Association of Canada to have all games sold in Quebec translated into French, the Canadian Press has learned.

"The deal will be announced very shortly," said Nathalie Gelinas, a spokeswoman for Culture and Communications Minister Christine Saint-Pierre.

Gelinas declined to provide details about the deal, but a source familiar with the negotiations said video-game distributors will assume the responsibility of making games available in French.

"This is a big, big step for distributors because it implies added costs," said the source, who asked not to be identified. "It's a question of goodwill."

The agreement is expected to be formally announced by mid-September.

Quebecers have long complained that many of their favourite games are available only in English.

Their cause has been taken up in recent years by Quebec's language watchdog, which is said to have played a role in the negotiations.

The languageoffice received 262 complaints in 2005-06 about unilingual computer programs, including video games.

Recent figures suggest that less than 40 per cent of the most popular games in Quebec are available in French.

That number is believed to be as high as 80 per cent in European markets, causing many to grumble about the lack of choice in Quebec.

Formatting changes needed

But the source close to the negotiations cautioned that formatting differences mean European copies of games in French can't simply be sold in North America.

"It is a lot harder than is sometimes let on," the source said. "It's not just a question of language, but also of formatting."

Saint-Pierre made it clear shortly after Premier Jean Charest's Liberals were re-elected last spring that finding a solution to the gaming issue would be a priority for her office.

"It was an irritant that people didn't have access to a French version,"Gelinas said. "There was room for improvement."

But some video-game retailers questioned whether the joint initiative will have the desired impact.

"Players are used to playing in English," said Jean-François Patenaude, a manager with a small video-game retail chain in Montreal. "I don't think it will change much for them."

Patenaude even suggested that the deal couldincrease operating costs for smaller retailers, who will be forced to buy copies of games in both English and French.

"For sure you can talk about preserving the language, but you can't hurt business for the sake of a video game," he said.