10 September saw the release of the third and last chapter of Tell Me Why, Dontnod’s new graphic adventure game.
The Wabbit team was responsible for the Italian localisation and we have decided to share our experience of working on the first high-budget game with a transgender main character.
The interesting features of the game
Tell Me Why recounts the story of Alyson and Tyler Ronan, two twins in their twenties who reunite ten years after their mother’s death. The twins gradually rediscover the special bond that binds them and allows them to relive memories and communicate telepathically.
The game is set in the fictitional Delos Crossing, a sleepy little town in Alaska where everyone knows everyone. This seemingly peaceful place guards the painful memory of the mysterious death of Mary-Ann, the twins’ mother.
Gordon Greenwald’s totem concept and the totem as it appears in Tell Me Why. From tellmewhygame.com
The game has many interesting features: for example, it is set in rural Alaska, a region inhabited by many indigenous communities. Dontnod has therefore ensured that the Tlingit Indigenous people have been accurately potrayed, following advice from the Huna Heritage Foundation in Juneau, Alaska.
Members of this association have helped to create a realistic and responsible representation of these elements.
Thanks to their guidance, various aspects of the game were refined, including ambient sounds, the pronunciation of the Tlingit language and correct spelling of words. They also provided information on cultural elements, such as funeral rites.
In the game, objects, wall paintings and drawings related to this culture were commissioned to Tlingit craftsmen from Huna.
Moreover, as we mentioned earlier, the game is the first high-budget game to star a trangender man, Tyler.
Trans, non-binary and gender nonconforming members of the DONTNOD team worked on Tyler’s character development, contributing to character design, dialogues, the story and many other aspects.
To ensure that Tyler’s character would appeal to a wide and diverse audience of transgender people, the Tell Me Why team worked closely with two transgender members of staff at GLAAD, a non-profit LGBTQ activist organisation devoted to spreading the community’s stories through digital and print media and entertainment in order to accelerate the acceptance process.
August Black during a recording session, from his Instagram account: @augustsinsta
For over two years, Nick Adams, GLAAD’s director of transgender representation, and Blair Durkee, a special consultant for gaming, provided fundamental advice on the story, character and casting and revised the screenplay at every stage of production.
Additionally, August Black, the voice actor for Tyler, made special contributions to the dialogues in Tell Me Why. During the recording sessions, August changed the script whenever he felt that a line or a particular moment did not do justice to Tyler’s story, becoming an integral part of the creative process. August’s personal experiences inspired key moments and lines.
Dontnod has therefore managed to create an adventure that defies stereotypes by creating deeply human characters and, in doing so, making an important step forward in terms of the representation of transgender people and the exploration of feelings and consciousness in general.
The Italian localisation of Tell Me Why
Translating a project of this nature posed significant challenges for our translators Laura and Livia, who discussed their work on the localisation of Tell Me Why.
Tell Me Why is unusual because the story develops “in reverse” From the players’ point of view, the twins’ story begins in the present day, when the two characters reunite as adults in Delos Crossing to arrange the sale of their childhood home.
This naturally leads to many “unspoken” elements within the game, such as comments or references to past events that the twins do not need to explain (since they have helped to shape their childhood and identity).
The player, however, only discovers them through dialogues between the game’s characters. This situation is further complicated by the fact that, in the course of the episodes, the two main characters (along with the player) will realise that their memories do not always correspond to how events actually unfolded.
Likewise, the translators gradually discovered the story as they proceeded with the project. Consequently, references to past events or flashbacks that were initially unclear were translated in the most vague and neutral way possible. Only at a later stage, as the story progressed and thanks to discussions with the developers, was it possible to review the translations to check their accuracy.
For example, the characters in the “Book of Goblins” are based on real characters that the twins meet: at a certain point the player has to match them with the real people to progress in the story, but this is not immediately clear at the start.
“In English the animals are attributed a gender – he or she –, but we decided not to do this in Italian,” explains Laura. “While in English animal names do not change according to gender, which is indicated by the pronoun, in Italian we would have had to invert noun genders in an unnatural way, which we preferred to avoid for stylistic reasons.”
As discussed, considerable attention has been paid to the characters’ personality and psychological development: Alyson, for example, suffers from anxiety attacks and low self-esteem and it was therefore interesting to adapt some of her lines that include references to psychology and self-affirmation theory.
For example: “This will pass. I’m a great person. My feelings are valid.“
“Tutto questo passerà. Sono un’ottima persona. I miei sentimenti sono legittimi.”
Tyler, on the other hand, is a sharp, witty guy. Laura says that it was a challenge to translate his lines, especially at the beginning, when she did not yet have a clear picture of the story and characters.
Esempio: “Well, you’ll be welcome on my ship. The Nauti Buoy.”
“Beh, sarete i benvenuti sulla mia barca. Il Trans-atlantico.”
(Since the original word play could not be replicated in Italian, the translated ship’s name is a pun on ‘Transatlantic’).
“Before I risked this line, I made sure that Tyler’s character was comfortable talking about his gender identity, because in English the term ‘trans’ is not made explicit, but I needed it to create yet another bad joke to annoy Alyson,” says Laura. “This scene appears at the beginning of the story and we, as translators, still didn’t know much about the characters and their feelings, so in this case having a dialogue with the developers was very important, because they clarified the fact that Tyler is explicit about being trans in English.”
“For the Italian version, a complex gender neutralization process was required. We came up with all sorts of tricks to prevent Tyler’s birth name from appearing in the various police reports”, Livia explains.
In the pursuit of neutral language for the twins’ childhood experiences, the translators reflected on how dialects offer ways to overcome the limits of standard Italian thanks to certain typical neutral expressions.
Such as: “Kid”
“Criatura” (a word that refers to both genders in the Neapolitan dialect).
Obviously these solutions cannot be used for ethical reasons, but this made for an interesting discussion!
The NPCs were painstakingly created and we had to carefully adapt the distinctly American cultural references so they would be immediately understandable to an Italian-speaking player. English is more neutral and concise than Italian and subtitles cannot be excessively long since this risks overwhelming the player and distracting them from the next lines/game experience.
Esempio: an NPC talks about their son who has just started university, but who does not appear in the game:
“He needs the extra energy. He wants to letter in wrestling, and oh boy, is he working hard.“
“Ha bisogno di energia. Punta a eccellere nel wrestling a scuola, e accidenti se si sta impegnando.”
The concept of a letterman is unknown in Italy and has no equivalent, but unfortunately you can’t add a footnote!
Have you played Tell Me Why in Italian or other languages? Let us know what you think by sending us a message or leaving a comment on our Linkedin page!