Translation Error

This month’s Blogs of the Round Table: We’re heading out of the summer movie blockbuster season and into the autumnal video game blockbuster season. What better time to take a look at the transition of intellectual property from the big screen to the little screen? From traditional media to interactive media? Why do so many movie-based video games fail to capture the spirit of their big screen counterparts? Is it because video games can’t tell stories as well? Is it due to budget issues? Scheduling issues? Or something more sinister (Hollywood moles attempting to undermine the rising influence of video games on consumer spending habits, perhaps)? What movie based games have succeeded? Why? How could they be better? This month’s Round Table invites you to explore video games based on Hollywood IP. Focus on a specific game, or a specific franchise, or the idea as a whole. Take a look at the business realities, design constraints, or marketing pressures. As always, your approach is entirely up to you.

Any translator can relate the difficulties of finding the correct way to convey meaning between two languages who have different idioms or nuances in one language that do not exist in another. Two examples that spring to my German/English mind would be: “Ich werde Ihnen die Daumen drücken,” which literally means I’ll press my thumbs for you. It’s not too terribly different than keeping one’s fingers crossed, but a variant. A more odd variant would be: “Du gehst mir auf den Keks,” literally you’re walking on my cookies. I laughed over this phrase with a native German friend recently, as I said the English equivalent and it took her a moment to translate it back into the German idiom. I would actually translate this as, “You’re getting on my nerves.”

Different media have different strengths, as should be quite evident. This should by no means discourage one from actually utilizing a different medium’s tools, but it means one should do so with one’s eye toward the strengths of one’s own medium. Unlike translation from one language to another, the end goal should not be the same. One should not just recreate wholly what was already in existence.

However, there are a number of obstacles I see in the translation of film to videogame. This is in large a part due to being very reliant on the film and a feeling of immediacy concerning release dates.

First we have the issue of time in a schedule. Many videogames for these tie-ins are on a schedule to be released around the appearance of the film itself. Much like the soundtrack, merchandise, and various other accoutrements, the fear is that time will prove the game irrelevant (as we’re seeing with The Dark Knight IP). Yes, this does mean that a videogame translation of a film will never likely see the production schedule of a Spore, for which we may well be thankful.

As my second point, it seems that too often there seems to exist a need to use the same protagonist, plot, and scenes to the point of offering a needless boundary on a project. Hey, rewrite Don Quixote but use the same characters, literary tropes, satire, setting, and provide me something different. Exceptions do occur and seem to enjoy quite a bit of critical success when deviating from this norm. While I am dubious of the upcoming treatment of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen, I am actually relieved they decided to make a game that serves as a prequel to the events in the comic. Otherwise they’d have to make it an adventure game, and that just isn’t going to happen. They’ll be using the same characters, but at least obviate the need to make an action oriented game out of a plot whose primary action occurs in between the pages, not on them.

The final hurdle I see occurring is in regards to pure translation. I watch a film and see two, maybe more, hours of story. It is a party to which I am not invited. To suddenly invite me and extend that experience into many more hours of gameplay, it means there has to be something offered to me, the player, other than fanfare and minigames to extend the plot that’s already being stretched disproportionately. The interactive element means that sometimes certain plot points are left feeling flat (again, aided by pointless minigames and henchmen in between plot points), relegated to living out the movie by mashing buttons along with its progression. Knowing what is going to ultimately occur means there is no sense of wonder about the events unfolding–I know how it ends. What I receive is a glee in moment of recognition, if that.

In fact, to tie in with the second point, this means I am left with having to think in terms of the movie’s protagonist most of the time. I would have to agree with Groping the Elephant in that I become inspired by these protagonists, but don’t necessarily want to be them. It forces me into roleplaying prescripted actions to which I already know how I will react, but does not give me the freedom of interpretation that I would garner from revising my own take on Shakespeare’s King Lear on stage. In essence, I end feeling constrained and cheated by an overbearing director with little room to make the character my own or explore him or her further.

Are there exceptions? Of course (one of which is covered by a fellow Blogger of the Round Table). And this translation error is hardly unique in the movie-to-game direction. Comics, novels, and videogames to films, films into novelizations or comics, and so forth all produce a fair amount of drudge through which I’d rather not wade. I’ll leave you with a phrase I could utter in German if presented with one of these, “Fick dich ins Knie.”

Fuck you in the knee indeed.

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About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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2 Responses to Translation Error

  1. Chris says:

    The scheduling issue is certainly a part of the problem with film-to-game adaptations, as you say here. It may even be the root of the problem. I’m not really certain the situation is going to improve any time soon.Incidentally, “vorpal bunny ranch” – just a delightful blog title. :)Best wishes!

  2. Denis Farr says:

    I too feel it is very at the root of the problem. Time constraints are the one thing that can really break a lot of things if one isn’t careful.Thank you. :)

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