The fragmentary nature of video game texts means that having a mental checklist is vital. The vast majority of texts that come under my scrutiny have been translated from Russian into English, often by non-native speakers; however, most of these points are applicable to editing any type of text.
1. Don’t make any assumptions!
By this I mean: don’t assume that the basic elements of the text are correct, such as character names, location names, or even technical information like what platform the game is on. I once edited a game text where the demonic villain’s name was unexpectedly prosaic, but I ignored my instincts and as I worked through the text, the name “Barry” began to seem quite sinister indeed (“Oh no!” I thought, “Whatever will the evil Barry do next?!”) until I realised that the translator had made a mistake and the Big Bad’s name was actually closer to “Balrog”. Live and learn!
2. On the flipside, give the writer/translator the benefit of the doubt… until you’ve looked over the entire text.
Many times I have immediately plunged into a text, smugly wielding my metaphorical red pen (“No, no, no, wrong, WRONG!”) only to discover 10 minutes later that the translator/writer had actually made a very smart call. Undoing silly edits is chastening, time-wasting and dull, so it’s best to avoid it whenever possible.
The ideal approach is to read through the text before making a single change, but the reality is that we often have to work quite quickly, so we don’t have the luxury of multiple read-throughs. As such, I would recommend that editors hold off on making any changes to the semantics of a text until the end, unless you are 100% sure, focusing instead on syntax and style.
3. Then again, your idea of stylish writing may not be my idea of stylish writing. And therein lies the rub.
In theory, it should be easier to navigate issues of “good” writing when it comes to video games, since video games often have a genre, a theme and a market environment that dictates the writing style. However, in English certainly there is always room for manoeuvre, and it’s pretty important not to get bogged down in nuances. Most of the time, our job is to work with the text as it is and make it as good as it can be, not impose our personal taste and smother any divergent hints of personality. This is one of the great things about editing, the opportunity to take a text to the next level.
4. Be consistent!
This is the big one. The ultimate challenge. The sometime-bane of my working life. Consistency is crucial in video game texts, not only with key elements like items and skills, but with something as simple as how you address the player (whether in the UI or in tutorials, helpdesk requests, etc.). Quite a lot of my day is spent ensuring that the texts I’ve worked on are consistent – internally and with existing texts. This can be made a lot easier with glossaries, termbases and CAT tools, but there’s nothing better than having multiple pairs of eyes on the final product. Of course, when we’re talking about texts that have been translated, consistency in the original may not always require consistency in the English translation.
5. Character limits
Ah, moving away from thorny Consistency and on to lovely, straightforward Character Limits. Are they really all that straightforward? Thankfully, yes. If the developers have taken into account the differences between languages (for example, English texts are typically around 25% longer than Russian texts), then you’re golden. Use your brilliant mind to stick to those limits and you’ll have happy clients. Of course, sometimes the character limits you’re given just aren’t workable, and this is when you need to speak up and be ready to brainstorm lots of alternatives.
Context is something that translators and editors can’t get enough of. We just love it. Our love for context is true and everlasting. Context always makes things better. People who offer context freely are wonderful people. Ask for context. Politely demand context. They’ll (maybe) thank you for it later.
7. Know when to run with the ball, and when to pass it back
As the editor, clients rightly expect you to take ultimate responsibility for the quality of the text. But with great responsibility comes great power (I’ve got that right, haven’t I?), meaning that if the quality of a text is so poor that it is beyond mere editing, you need to speak up. I’m happy to say that I haven’t had much experience with this, but it’s something to keep in mind.
8. Curating clunkers
When you come across a terrible piece of phrasing, a titter-worthy typo, or an error that is unintentionally hilarious, gently pick it up and carry it to your Mind Palace/Room of Hidden Things/Cabinet of Curiosities. This is the place you visit on days when it seems your screen is filled with nothing but “tehs” and you wish everyone would just let YOU do it, for heaven’s sake. This is when you pop off to your mental museum, take out your favourite exhibit and admire it.
To be clear, this isn’t a condescending, mean kind of humour, it’s completely sympathetic and grounded in a love for the spontaneous silliness of language. Anyone who works with words for a living, especially those who operate predominantly in the faster, faster, NOW, NOW, NOW online space, know all too well that it’s a case of “there but for the grace of God go I” when it comes to clangers and guffaw-inducing mistakes. My collection is quite modest, only about five or so real gems, but they never fail to make me smile.