Why You Should Hire a Translator Who is Also a Gamer

Blunders such as Final Fantasy 4's "spoony bard" mishap reveal how tricky translation can be. Image: Square Enix

Blunders such as Final Fantasy 4’s “spoony bard” mishap reveal how tricky translation can be. Image: Square Enix

When going through the process of localizing a game, the central and most titular part of the effort is the translation of the product. Even though it is true that there is much more that goes into a localization than just the translation, it can hardly be argued that the project could ever be considered a success without it. It is integral in a way that cannot be stressed adequately enough, so it is of the utmost importance that it be carried out in the correct fashion.

But where should someone begin if they want to make sure that the job gets done the right way on the first go-around? Arguably the first priority one should have is to make sure that the right person (or people) are secured for the role of translator/s. Outside of the obvious qualification of needing to be fluent in the languages that they would be working with, an important aspect that should not be overlooked is how in touch potential candidates are with gaming as a hobby. At first, this may not seem like much of a qualification, but the difference in approach—while subtle—can make for drastic differences down the line.

As anyone who has learned a foreign language can attest, translating from one language to another is a process that is infinitely more complex than it may appear to be on the surface. Because languages vary in their structure to such massive degrees, there is no simple one-to-one table with which to translate any given text. And especially when also factoring in unique aspects of language such as colloquialism and the like, it becomes painfully apparent that translation is a delicate and precise process. Consider the Spanish phrase, “el mundo es un pañuelo,” the literal translation of which is, “the world is a handkerchief.” The literal translation to English would leave people not versed in Spanish scratching their heads, and so it is vital to understand when translating that this phrase is the Spanish analogue of the English phrase, “it’s a small world.”

Now, one may be wondering how this relates to the importance of translators being familiar with gaming. Imagine if the previous mistake—a rather simple one to avoid for any experienced translator—went unnoticed and unresolved. Imagine the literal translation, “the world is a handkerchief,” making it into a finished and published game. Maybe the circumstances would be lucky and the phrase was off-handedly said by one of the characters and given no more heed. But perhaps the circumstances aren’t so fortunate, and a missed error ends up ruining the mood of an entire scene; even worse, maybe the phrase was said in some climactic or resolving moment of the game, leaving a sour taste in the player’s mouth for spoiling a moment that is meant to be fulfilling in one fashion or another. In the worst cases, these scenarios can easily turn into gaffs, endless jokes that people never forget and forever poke fun at. It isn’t a good look for anyone.

This is the reason why someone who is more in touch with gaming is more apt to catch and correct every single error they come across. Because of the fact that they are aware of the experience that video games can provide, they aware of just what is capable of interfering with their enjoyment, and by extension, just what is capable of interfering with the enjoyment of consumers. While hiring a translator with a background in gaming won’t cost a dime more than one without, the public’s worsened impression of the given company over a critical error will surely result in far greater losses.