Create Anki Sentences from Video Games

Video games are a fantastic medium for language study; they combine skill-building repetition with reading, listening, and playing around. But compared to books and music, video games can be a little more difficult to extract SRS sentences from, due to their wide range of formats and content. Any genre of game can provide you with natural Japanese sentences, but all share some common pitfalls that can mire your sentence grabbing skills. Here are some ways to make the process more efficient and fun.

Pick a game conducive to sentence mining.

Movies can be easily paused and rewound, books can be marked up, but video games can be tricky to pull sentences from, since they are usually non-linear and don’t come equipped with a rewind option. Sometimes, once something has passed from the screen, it’s gone and you won’t have an easy time getting it back. Luckily, many modern games have sound tests, cutscene theaters, and in-game encyclopedias that make accessing old audio, video and text easier. If the game you’re playing has any of these features, take full advantage of them.

In order to minimize your frustration, know whether a game is going to make it easy for you to grab sentences.  Keep your eyes open for large stumbling blocks to sentence gathering like scrolling text; a lack of subtitles, furigana or voiceovers; and the inability to pause the game to jot something down. You can’t remove these faults from the game, but you can counter them with one important tool: a digital camera.

Have a camera handy.

A digital camera can help you capture things that flash by quickly, or can record a video with sound if the game is too intense for you to pay attention to the dialogue. Keeping a camera by your side can also keep the game flowing. Pausing to jot down sentences can slow the game’s pace down and kill the fun, which is the most important part of any game. Don’t kill the fun.

If you hit a wordy part, take five seconds to snap a picture of the screen instead of spending five or ten times that writing it down. When you’re finished playing for the day, transcribe sentences while browsing your pictures, or use a batch photo conversion program like FastStone Photo Resizer to rapidly download, resize and crop your pictures to insert directly into your Anki deck.

If you can’t get good quality from your own camera, and the game you’re playing is popular, you can also search for 実況プレイ videos (live-play, or “Let’s Play ___” in English) on Nico Nico Douga or Youtube. Watching videos of a game you’re already playing is a great study supplement, and videos can be paused freely.

Don’t be afraid to skip things.

Make sure you treat games the same way you might any other medium: if something is boring or dragging you down, don’t hesitate to ignore it! Keep the game as smoothly flowing and fun as possible. Treat playing a game like extensive, rather than intensive, reading. Usually there’s no penalty for not understanding part of a game, and if you do get stuck, that’s just a great excuse to visit a ゲーム攻略(こうりゃく)サイト (walk-through site) and find out what you need to do.

Keep multiple save files.

In games with a linear story, you’ll want to keep as many back-up save files as you think you need, and then some. Having save data from many points in a game makes it easier to jump back into a game the second time around at the place of your choosing, rather than always starting from the beginning. As you play through a game, after a scene that makes you think “Wow, I’d love to come back to that when I understand a little more,” save your data to a new file, so when you load your old file, you’ll be right back at that scene that interested you.

If you want save data that you don’t have, check the game’s listing on GameFAQs to see if any users have shared any Japanese saves. Find one you like, then download, unzip, and upload it to your device.

Hunt for sentences everywhere.

Sentences in games aren’t just found in dialogue boxes or cutscenes. With a little creativity, you can find material for studying almost anywhere: menus, object descriptions, ambient noise, Playstation 3 Trophy Lists, readme files, game manuals and boxes, online play lobbies, and even credit rolls.

Next time…

Setting up video games isn’t as simple as opening a book. If you haven’t had a chance to dive into Japanese video games yet, I’ll show you what you’ll need to play them, and what it might cost you.

Written by: Akebi

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Akebi spends her time playing copious amounts of video games in Japanese, when she's not learning the craft of making delicious noodles at her part-time job.


Create Anki Sentences from Video Games — 4 Comments

  1. Or you could simply take screenshots. Your computer comes equipped with the ability to take pictures of what you see on your screen without the use of a camera. These pictures will also have a higher quality than what you would achieve with a camera, and will save directly to your hard drive. Most game have a preset button you can push to save a screenshot. Then there’s print screen (which is sometimes also the preset button) which saves a screenshot to your clipboard, but that means you’ll have to paste it into paint or something which isn’t very effective, plus something it simply returns a black screen. But for games that don’t have a preset button (or you can’t find it) you can always use an application – such as Fraps – to save screenshots with ease.

    Just a tip. Still, a good idea to save sentences from games in picture format, hadn’t considered that :).

    • Of course you can just save screenshots, if you’re playing on a computer. That’s true. Capturing screens from game consoles or handhelds is much, much trickier, and requires either jailbreaking/custom firmware/enabling functions that also tend to enable piracy, or hardware that most people don’t have laying around their houses, like capture cards. The Playstation Vita, released mere months ago, has a built-in screen capture function, but almost everything else, whether made by Nintendo, Sega, Microsoft or Sony, doesn’t. You can get better quality by doing it the “right” way or by emulating game systems on a computer (not, strictly speaking, legal), but for 99.9% of learners, grabbing a camera[phone?], which most people have laying around nowadays, and snapping a quick shot is far easier and provides quality that’s good enough.

      I’ll be getting more into this type of thing in my next article, which breaks down what hurdles each game system, PC and mobile device has for Japanese study, such as region encoding, presence or absence of certain functions, etc.

  2. I’d also like to add that if you’re playing games on PC (specifically visual novels but there are ways to get this to work with other games), you can use the AGTH (Anime Games Text Hooker) to grab sentences, although I’m not sure if you’d be able to have it automatically dump everything it copied into a file so you WOULD probably have to stop playing real quick to copy it somewhere. Basically what this program does is it snatches the text on screen and is usually parsed through something like ATLAS or Translation Aggregator. People have been using this to get through Japanese games for years, but having the sentence right there already in copiable text format makes turning them into SRS cards all too easy!

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