Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing… or is it?

Back in April, I decided to partecipate in a very interesting translation contest. It was a “Localization” contest, meaning that we were required to translate a videogame, this game in specific “The Republia Times” by Lucas Pope (if you want to play it you can find it here).

Now, I have always loved videogames, and I am a PhD Student in translation studies … I thought it was a very good chance to test this new field and have some feedback.

Today the results of the contest have been published, and as you might have guessed by the title of this post I didn’t win. Besides feeling a little bitter and disappointed (like any other loser participant), I took some time to explore the translation of the game done by other translators. My observations, from now on, are referring to the Italian translations only, since Italian is my native language and it was the category I entered. If you want to have a look to the work of the winners also for other languages you can find their translated works here, under contest results tab.

After playing the game using the translation of both “pro” and “amateur” winners I noticed that each work is extremely different from one another. More interestingly, I found that the winning translations are extremely distant from my own. It is difficult for me to pinpoint exactly what I did differently, but they seem to come from different planets. No wonder I didn’t qualify.

After trying to understand how I managed to create such a “unique” but unsatisfactory translation, I realised that I underestimated the work ahead.

Firstly, I was startled by the format of the translation. I remember being really worried about having to translate into an Excel data sheet, with little or none formatting and with code bits dispersed in the source text (which were essential to be left untouched otherwise the game dynamics would have been compromised).

My experience in translation is mainly bound to the literary field, where I can manipulate the format of the text, if I feel the need for it. I can move sentences, phrases, words and whole paragraphs if I feel the translation would benefit from it.

Localization makes translators work within strict boundaries. Translating a string of text which is going to be displayed in the game in a tiny box, requires respecting of specific length limits, and therefore it does not allow much freedom. The solution is to find a creative solution which works along with these constraints.

Revising my work now, I can see how I often opted for a literal translation hoping to conform to the original source text, rather than pushing myself trying to find a creative alternative solution.  Shame on me, I should have known better.

In my defense, though, I think that my approach was determined by the attitude I have towards my literary source texts. Being novels, they have to be regarded as something to protect, it is important to preserve their core meaning and transpose their message into another language maintaining the style and the rhythm that the original author casted upon them.

The source text into a videogame is mainly functional to the progress of the game itself, and while it may be entertaining and useful, it is never the main component.

Secondly, I didn’t have the time for what I call “the cool down period” in which I make my translation rest. In all honesty, we were given a whole week to translate the game script and I can understand how someone could raise an eyebrow thinking a week should be more than enough to translate a short game like this. However, in reality, more time you have to disengage from your translation, better are the results you obtain.

In general coming back to a translation after few days allows me to read the translated text with a fresh approach, not conditioned by the English source text I was trying to convey. By doing so I can focus on the features of my translation, understand how well the narrative flows, but more importantly I can spot the flaws in my work, those glitches that might raise question marks in the mind of an Italian reader.

I tried to translate the game and let it rest, but when I came back to it my attention was (*sighs*) once again caught by the code errors I involuntarily created by missing a space or adding an extra one. In one word, my revising scrutiny of the translation was overwhelmed by the form and not by the substance.  It sounds naive, but it is the truth.

What more to add? I most certainly believe it was a good experience, an opportunity to learn more about myself and my attitude towards translation in different fields. I am positive I will try again if I will be given the chance, because even if this time I proved not to be a winner, this contest gave me the unique opportunity to plunge into something new and widen my knowledge about translation.


My first attempt at Flash Writing

This Saturday I was browsing Reddit and a post in the writers’ forum caught my eye.

It was a call for writers, asking to submit a short story in less than 24 hours, with a given prompt.
I had never done anything like this, but at the same time I though it would have been fun to try (the prize would have been an Amazon gift card of unknown value).

As a translator, I consider myself to be a good writer in Italian (afterall it is my native language), but to be honest I am not offered many occasions to write in English – outside my Academic work. This was my opportunity to test my fictional writing in English so I jumped on it.

The prompt for the short story was quite specific:
“Write from the perspective of a bird cage whose last occupant has passed away and is being replaced”

And this is the story I came up with:

I know what it is going on. I can read their emotions like If they were written in capital letters. They are excited. Too excited.

Look at them, the kids are bouncing all over the place and Lea has that expression… how can she. It has just been a few weeks and she already feels like giving her heart away again. I thought Charlie was special? At least for her.

Charlie had been with her for the last eighteen years. He told me everything about her. When there was nobody around, Charlie liked talking with me. I was the only one he could talk to. Really, in the end a bird and its cage…is there any stronger bond?

He told me about the first time he met Lea. She was 10. He knew this because it was her birthday. Her parents had gone to the pet shop and had brought him back for that special occasion. The moment she saw him, her eyes widened with surprise and pure joy. In that moment he knew he was special.

She named him Charlie, and he knew that he was born to be her best friend. He spent hours observing her, trying to understand what that little girl was all about. She kept him in her room; she couldn’t bear to be away from him, not even a second when she was in the house.

She talked with him for hours, what she had done in school, which friends she had met outside, what her dreams were. She was telling him all those secrets that a little girl would only confide to her diary. And she would sing to him. She had the most beautiful voice Charlie had ever heard. He loved to listen her singing, He also learned how to tune her favourite song “What’s Up”. He would whistle the first notes of the song and she would pick up the tune and they would end singing the chorus together. That was their secret code, how they told each other how much they loved one another.

I only heard her sing twice. She surely has a good voice, but nothing exceptional. I guess Charlie’s affection had blurred his hearing.

Charlie and I met after Lea married Michael, seven years ago. Michael bought me as a present for Lea, and I was a good one: a gorgeous Victorian bird cage. My intricate design works its charm, every single time. I remember Lea’s excitement when she placed Charlie within my bars.

We didn’t get along straight away. I was extremely annoyed by his continuous chewing on my sides. When nobody was watching I was rattling as hard as I could, just to frighten him a bit. It didn’t work, but eventually, between a curse and shake I understood that all his destructive behaviour was just his way to show his pain. He missed Lea’s attention, terribly.

There was nothing I could do. I tried to explain to him that Lea had grown into a woman, a wife and a mom, but that she still loved Charlie. He looked broken hearted, because he realised he wasn’t the only love her life, not anymore.

I really felt for Charlie, I could tell how deeply his little parrot heart was trying to make her look at him in the same way she used to do when it was just Lea and Charlie. I could do nothing. Or could I?

I started asking Charlie to talk about Lea. Every day I asked him to tell me a new story about her. Was she a good student? Did she read a lot, what about her favourite books?

Day after day I saw Charlie’s heart grow bright again, as his mind was going back to those happy memories. His Lea, the image of the girl who loved him so much, was once more with him.

I think that, in the end, he wasn’t aware of the adult Lea anymore. He was old and in his head past and present were getting mixed and confused. It was a blessing. In his last days he told me he was happy. I believed him, and I take some comfort knowing that the night he passed away his last whisper were the first notes of “What’s Up”.

I know.. it is nothing special, but I really enjoyed writing it.

In case you were still wondering I didn’t win.

Out of respect I won’t give my own opinion on the winner’s interpretation of the assignment, I will let each one of you enjoy his, and some of the other stories that were submitted. Mine was not on the blog as I had sent it via email (I was over the 500 words).
Here you can read the winning story and the other submissions.

I hope you will enjoy some unusual reading.