Translating the fun

Our next immediate task is to reproduce our Second Life quest sessions in Spanish. Yes, we’re going to translate every steampunk utterance and clever turn of phrase from English into Spanish. It will be quite the challenge.

I speak Spanish fluently, and I now have a fabulous research assistant who is a native speaker to take the lead on the process. I’m not too concerned about the words themselves (well, other than realising how much work this is – survey, recruitment website, consent form, every single clue in the game, all the voices, all the scripts for the researchers….). But faithful translation of a steampunk mystery game is a bit more than simply changing “welcome” into “bienvenidos.”

But here’s the rough part: How do we translate the cultural references of Merry Olde England as they’re seen from our rather glorified US perspective? For example, our characters have English or Irish accents right now. What accents should we use in the Spanish version? Perhaps Castillian reflecting upper-class Spain?  Upper-class Mexican (which is famously “pure” Spanish, but also very associated with snobbism)?

Also, what about all those little references to literature, like the clue that says, “Things are getting dangerous in this curiouser and curiouser case”? Sure, we can translate that, sort of, but reproducing Lewis Carroll’s clever mix of made up and real words is rough in another language. And more importantly, will Alice in Wonderland have the same kind of cultural presence among Spanish-speakers as it does among our US players? What about the references to “the cake is a lie”?

Then there’s the challenge of which Spanish to use: Mexican, European, Argentinian, Cuban? Some differences are really all about the accent, but others are about the grammar and phrasing, slang and idioms. Selecting one over the others is a powerful cultural statement, and there are trade-offs in every choice. One approach might allow certain participants to relate better but alienate others.

We’ll be thinking hard about this,  debating just how these references translate (or don’t) across these languages. Translating a steampunk theme is definitely more difficult than the more universal swords and horses fantasy themes, but we’ll find some parallels I’m sure.


2 responses to “Translating the fun

  1. This actually recalls something I’ve been working through in writing up my research on game play in India. I was told, while in India, that there really wasn’t a Hindi word for gaming. There is (khel) but it references competition and sport more than game play in the escapist, imaginative and/or social space. On the one hand this explains why most of the people really into gaming I spoke to there were highly competitive about it; some would even say that was the only reason they played. Yet part of me wonders if the lack of translatability really matters, because most people that played games in the escapist, imaginary, social sense would have just called them games in English. In my research with Finnish and Arab gamers there was a similar sense that “gaming” as a culture was English and global…still, one wonders how and if translation occurs even if the literal process of translation is not being made.

  2. Pingback: How do you say gamer in Hindi? « good on salad

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