In this post we briefly explore how we proceeded in translating We Become What We Behold, a game by Nicky Case that we loved so much we had to translate it into Italian, as we wanted to make it even more accessible to the players in our country.
We think this game is utterly important and makes the difference in the post-truth era we are sadly witnessing these days. By removing the language barrier and by spreading and sharing it as much as we can, we hope it will be played by many, especially among the young.
As in all translations, the main goal is to convey the same meaning while maintaining the original mood. This one in particular is more a process of adaptation and localization, which means, in short, that we couldn’t simply change the words from one language into another, but that we had to understand how to adapt each word of the source language (English) to meet the cultural context of the target language (Italian). Bearing this in mind, we also wanted to respect specific aspects of the register adopted by Nicky, since the colloquial, often slanged, tone he used makes the game easily comprehensible and equally appealing for everyone, from kids to adults.
The first problem we encountered concerned how to translate ‘peep’ and ‘peeps’ maintaining both the register and the neutrality of gender, something that is standard in English but not in Italian, a language in which all nouns have a gender. A literal translation may be ‘tizio’ (s.), ‘tizi’ (pl.), two nouns that could express the informal mood chosen by Nicky in the source language, but that would inevitably fail to respect the gender-neutrality of the English language, opting for a masculine gender (singular and plural). After a few tentatives, we managed to reach a compromise and we chose ‘persona’ (s., common gender), ‘gente’ (collective noun). While ‘persona’ is less colloquial, ‘gente’ perfectly conveys the meaning of ‘peeps’; both nouns maintain – within the limits of the target language – an unspecified gender.
While in English this imperative exhortation can refer both to the second person singular and plural, in Italian verbs are conjugated according to number. Hence, the possible literal translations of ‘Be angry. Be scared’ are ‘Sii arrabbiato. Sii spaventato.’ (s.) and ‘Siate arrabbiati. Siate spaventati.’ (pl.). We decided to go for a stronger, more immediate form, that would keep the same tone of the original text: ‘Spaventati. Arrabbiati.’ This translation, however, had another problem. Italian is a complex language, I’ll keep it as simple as I can, but just to give you a quick example, the aforementioned ‘Spaventati. Arrabbiati.’, written as it is, means at the same time ‘Be scared’ (second person singular) and ‘They are scared’ (and I’m not even going to bore you with active, passive, and reflexive forms); without a specific context, the only way to make it clear at a glance that we are referring to the second person singular is to use accents (‘spavéntati’ (s.) vs ‘spaventàti’ (pl.)), something that is far from the colloquial and informal register of the entire game and would definitely strike as odd. For this specific reason, we opted for ‘Spaventatevi. Arrabbiatevi.’ (pl.), unambiguous, self explaining and with no accents. Yay.
Headlines tend to be sensationalist, short and sharp. They must impress and shock the audience, often twisting the truth or ignoring basic grammar rules. While English is a highly pragmatic language perfectly suitable for concise sentences, Italian tends to be more discursive. ‘Crazed square attacks’ presented this kind of problem, and we solved it by adding ‘a passerby’, ‘un passante’, as the victim of the square’s attack: ‘Quadrato impazzito attacca passante’ which in Italian makes more sense than ‘Quadrato impazzito attacca’, a sentence that remained somehow suspended without a direct object, even for a headline.
The video game’s title comes directly from a quote by Father John Culkin, mistakenly attributed to Marshall McLuhan: “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”. This quote is known and used in the Italian context, translated as “Diventiamo ciò che vediamo. Modelliamo i nostri strumenti e poi i nostri strumenti modellano noi.”. Since it already exists, we decided to use it, at first. Nicky asked if we could come up with something catchier for what concerned the title (while the rest of the quote was fine as it was). We were happy to suggest “Siamo ciò che vediamo”, less literal (from ‘diventiamo’ to ‘siamo’) but definitely more memorable.
On Monday Nicky will publicly share the link to Siamo ciò che vediamo. Translating has been fun and challenging at times, but we really do think this game is worth our efforts and your time, so please, come back on Monday and play it. Share it with your friends, ask your teacher to play it, discuss its message, understand the extent of the media’s impact on our lives. Be aware.
We’d like to thank Nicky Case for being the nicest person in all our email exchanges, always helpful, patient and happy to trust us with translating, or rather adapting, We Become What We Behold.