Do indie games need an indie translator?

It’s time for another theoretical entry regarding translation and the notion of translator. This time, we’ll try to describe an ‘indie translator’. But what does it mean precisely? 

Independent games, regardless of what they are (see: the 14th ENTRY), they have undoubtedly influenced not only the gaming industry, but also the community of players. Now, let’s think about how they have influenced translators. What is translator’s role,  position in this new system? Do indie games require indie translators? If so, how can we distinguish between different types of translators?

Right now we are experiencing a rapid technological development which has led (or will lead to in the following years) to a rise of a new kind of translator. Trying to foresee the future and describe ongoing changes in our perception of reality (globalisation, social media, importance of technology in our life), I created a notion of independent translator. Perhaps in the future I’ll be able to study the subject thoroughly, but for the time being let’s focus on the general concept, explaining the basics.





  1. First of all, an independent translator is someone dealing with niche products, niche genres of literature, movies, video games etc. In this case, it is rather literal understanding of the term – an indie translator simply handles indie matters. We need specialists in all fields, even the alternative ones, so it is important to have a translator truly interested in what he would translate. However, it doesn’t mean that each bookworm or an avid gamer could, or should, start translating books or video games. At least not without preparations, which means…
  2. …that to broaden one’s mind, to gain new abilities, to expand one’s knowledge is incredibly important. It is particularly important when it comes to an indie translator, as it may be someone without a philological/linguistic education. There aren’t any mayors concerning e.g. video games localisations (or at least I haven’t heard of any). Everything is based on our practical (habitual) knowledge. Joining a fan translation group, voluntary work at Steam Translation service or translating short fan fiction stories for small websites could be a good opportunity for us to gain experience. Nevertheless, this solution does have some flaws. A graduate in philology may be familiarised with different translation theories and techniques, allowing them to do their task faster and better. Moreover, such studies put focus on learning vocabulary and grammar, resulting in better L2 acquisition and thus in greater results at translating. On the other hand, studying philology or linguistics can be tiresome and take much of our free time — it does not happen with an ‘unqualified’ translator, who can easily start his traineeship and who could always read some books regarding traductology and various translating techniques to further improve his skills. Therefore in this understanding, an independent translator is independent from the others, gaining knowledge and improving his skills on his own.
  3. Social media will probably become an inevitable part of translator’s work and life, so ability to make use of them will be invaluable. It seems to me that this solution has few important pros and cons. Firstly, a translator can use various website and forums to communicate with more experienced colleagues, who could help dealing with some difficult words and phrases. Secondly, using social media we are able to get noticed by our future employers. In that way, we are building our digital personal network — someone will recommend us to the others, someone will mention us, someone will ask for help. Next, we are able to get noticed by the audience, meaning we are fully recognisable now. Social media allow the translator to be fully visible, to express himself and stay in touch with those who will use his translation to enjoy their books, games, movies etc. Posting screenshots and pictures or informing about the progress might show that translator is truly engaged and does respect the audience.
  4. How does this independence influence work organisation and personal attitude towards translating? Could an independent translator work in a localisation company, for example? Is an indie translator allowed to do his work for free? I would say these problems are disputable. To me, an independent translator should be autonomous, self-reliant and self-sufficient, therefore he should avoid working in larger groups or companies. From my experience, working alone is the best solution, as I am able to choose what I’m working on and I rely mostly on myself. Certainly, larger projects require working in groups, help of proof-readers, testers and so on — still, smaller task can be done alone.
  5. Last but not least, there is the question regarding earnings and the attitude. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with working for free. Things can be difficult at the beginning, so it may take some time before we are able to get some profitable projects. We could use this period to gather experience and have something to present in our portfolio. HOWEVER, it does not mean that an indie translator (or even, every translator) should work for free all the time. I believe an independent translator should be able to take both non-voluntary and voluntary tasks, in order to help out all these small developers by making their products available to larger audience. Financial independency is important as well, so we shall not forget about that! Being overly idealistic does more harm than good. Can we even call it an employment at that point? Doing everything pro bono seems to be more of a hobby than a real job.

I’m hoping that with time an independent translator will become a thing. We need someone who can easily combine translations and social media. We need an expert in niche genres, who will help out small developers and artists by making their works available to larger public. Do you think that such a translator can even exist? Perhaps we should allow freelancers and big companies to take care of these minor projects? What do you think about my concept of an indie translator, does it make sense? All suggestions, comments or criticism are welcome!

The photo used in the entry was taken by Amaury Henderick [Copyright © 2007]. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] license.



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