Mistranslations in Practice – A Short Story

This blog post is a little different than the others.  In this entry, you will read the tale of a gamer embarking upon an adventure, an adventure through a game unlike any other…a game riddled with odd happenings and strange occurrences, a game that takes you back to games of ancient times, a game that transforms the gamer’s entire gaming experience, a game that…well, you’ll see…


Soda – check.  Chips – check.  Controller – That’s a given.  Shoot, where are the batteries…“Mom!!!”

Okay, now I’m ready.

The start menu pops up – a fantasy world unfolds before you, complete with elves in a wooded, magical land.  (You know it’s magical because of the fairy dust shimmering through unfurling fog.)  A white, Asian-style dragon soars across the landscape, small in the distance.  The music is a symphonic masterpiece, beautifully constructed to convey a sense of serene majesty, with the rich sound of violins and the lilting melody of flutes resonating together.

Suddenly, the music crackles like an old radio being tuned, and chanting overshadows the tranquility of the scene.  “Cha b’urrainn do bhàrd, thuirt thu, a dhualchas no a thìr a roghainn, air neo a chànain…”  A word appears, blinking on the screen “STRAT.”  The symphony overtakes the chanting for an instant, and then it continues, “…ach du choir gu robh an dìlseachd a b’àirde’s a bu shàir a bh’aige da chogais fhèin a-mhàin …”  The sound cuts out, and the screen goes dark.  The only visible object is the word “STRAT” blinking on the blackened screen.

What the heck was that?  Strat?  Guess I’ll go with the start button…

A small cloaked figure appears on the far left, a twisting dirt path laid before him.  Enemies dart about, sprites and gnomes blocking the figure’s way.  [Presses “X.”]  “Okay, figured out how to jump.  Let’s kill these suckers.”  Navigating through the liberally spruced area is a bit of challenge but not bad once you time your jumps well.

After continuing on for some minutes, it’s just like any other platform game, complete with the little ditty of a tune.  As the character ventures further across the screen, a giant lollipop appears in line with the trees.  That’s weird.  When the character reaches the lollipop, the screen flickers rapidly.  It takes a solid minute for the flickering to subside.  Well that was annoying.

Kill some more enemies and a short while later, another lollipop.  Oh no.  When the character approaches the lollipop, a bolded message zooms onto the screen, “Being the wise and courageour knight that you are you feel strongth welling in your body.”  That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen…but it looks oddly familiar.

One screen later and the game goes black again.  “Oh come ON!  Work, you piece of junk!”

A creepy looking purple figure with sickeningly green skin appears, along with the text, “All your base are belong to us.”

“Hahahaha.  Is this a joke?  I watched YouTube for an entire afternoon just to see that poorly translated part of Zero Wing.”

[Taps “Y.”]  The screen returns to the sidescrolling platformer.  “I gotta call someone…This is just too weird.”  [Calls Jimmy.]  “Yeah, hi, Jimmy.  You picked up that new game, right?  Have you played it yet?”  Laughter on the other end.

“Heck yeah, dude.  That game is amazing!  Absolutely hilarious.  Have you gotten to Bimmy yet?”

“What?  Bimmy, as in Double Dragon 3?”

“Yeah dude.  You know, I almost stopped playing until I got to the guy from Zero Wing.  I was fed up with all the glitches.  It wasn’t until that next part of the game when I realized they were intentional!”

“What do you mean?”

“Keep playing, you’ll see.  There are all kinds of errors from old games and some the developers threw in for fun.  Just make sure you catch them in time.  Anyway, call me when you’re done.”

Well that was a weird conversation.  [Unpause.]  Why is my character moving on its own?  And what is this crosshair doing on the screen?  Oh, I can move it?

Another lollipop appears.  A window pops up, “Use control, defeat error.”  Huh?  Lollipop flashes.  “What am I supposed to do?!”  Lollipop explodes, and a man wags his finger with the speech bubble, “I AM ERROR.”

“Ooooh, haha.  Is this supposed to be the guy from that old Zelda game?  I think his name was supposed to be Errol or something like that and the translators accidentally turned the last letter into an ‘r’.”

The game flashes back to the previous screen.  [Moves crosshair to lollipop.  Presses “Y.”]  A tree appears in its place, along with the speech bubble, “A winner is you!”

“Oh my God, that’s the ridiculous line from Pro Wrestling.  I completely forgot about that game.”  [Continues on.]  Chanting echoes, and ancient Gaelic glides across the screen.  [Targets the words.  Presses “Y.”]  “A winner is you!” speech bubble.

As the hooded figure journeys farther, there are more lollipops and oddly-timed chanting to zap.  Whenever an item escapes the crosshair (allowing the character to proceed down the path with the errors intact) the speech bubble appears, “I AM ERROR.”  When the crosshair destroys different errors within the game, “A winner is you!” flashes briefly and then disappears.

When the character reaches the end of the path, the screen shifts to display a huge orange-haired man in a pink shirt.  The tiny, cloaked figure looks up at the man, who says, “I am Bimmy.  You must defeat me to vanquish the evil of the errors and mistranslations enshrouding this game.  Good lock 七面鳥.”

After a long and difficult battle against Bimmy, Bimmy says, “This is just the first part of your journey.  Long and timely trroubless lay beforee you.”  Bimmy fades into the background, and a trophy appears with the message, “You’re winner!”

“Isn’t that the trophy from Big Rigs?  This is such a weird game.”

The screen is filled with bright, white words, “Conglaturation!!!  You have completed the first phase in vanquishing errors from the games of old.  As you continue on your expedition, each new stage will contain different enemies, depending on localization issues relevant to various regions of the world.  Each stage will describe a localization issue, and you will have to vanquish the issue relevant to the stage.  Some missed errors will cause your screen to freeze momentarily, and others cause death, depending on how significant the error is.  If it is a spelling or grammatical error, that you can get away with.  If it is a severe localization issue that wouldn’t allow the game to be released in a specific country, death will befall you.”


“Stage 1: A number of games were banned in Germany due to Nazi references.  In this stage, you must hunt all Nazi references and eliminate them.”  Throughout the level, any escaped Nazis and Nazi symbols cause death, and random English words appearing in German text blocks that aren’t caught fast enough cause the screen to freeze for an instant.

Other levels described countries that strongly censored violence, sex, even the marketing of energy drinks.  The Danish level described a law that decreed it impossible for EA Sports MMA to be released due to the integration of energy drink ads.  The most difficult level was the level for China.  The prohibition of skulls and skeletons was described, and many would fly across the screen all at once, with any escaped skull or skeleton causing death.  The end boss included items from each level and was ridiculously hard to beat.  The finale of the game showed the message, “Conglaturation!!!  You have completed a great game.  And prooved the justice of our culture.  Now go and rest our heroes!”

[Dials Jimmy.]  “You’re right.  That game was amazing!  I couldn’t stop laughing when I saw the ending screen from Ghostbusters.  I feel like I really have prooved the justice of my culture!”


(Poem excerpt from beginning of story taken from “bho Cheum air Cheum,” a Scottish poem by Christopher Whyte.)

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