Game Lingo – 〜することができる


Every game translation results in the translation of a game manual. Video game companies will sometimes farm out manuals to a second translation company, which makes sense. The game itself is complete, and the manual isn’t all that important relatively speaking, so you can have a smaller, cheaper company do the translation using the in-game text as reference.

Not that the translation is easy. There is more terminology (button names, controller names, error messages) that needs to be in line with company protocol, and you’re put in the position of having to explain a game (the whole point of a manual) often without having played or even seen it.

Because explanation is the central goal of a manual, some of them are basically a list of what you can and can’t do within the game. One phrase that you see in nearly every manual is 〜することができる. This is the simplest form of the potential tense. The normal potential tense (食べる→食べられる, 飲む→飲める) would be perfectly acceptable here, but these manuals need to be simple so that kids can read them easily. The normal potential tense can be confusing due to the fact that it overlaps with passive for some verbs, and this pattern also works easily with compound verbs (確認, 使用, 保存).

Combine this with the Japanese language’s high tolerance for repetition and redundancy, and an inexperienced translator can end up with something like this:

You can check your items with the A Button.
You can attack enemies with the B Button.
You can move the character with the +Control Pad.
You can pause the game with the START Button.

Yikes. I mean, those are perfectly acceptable translations of these kind of phrases (which all look something like, Aボタンでアイテムを確認することができる), but when you take a step back, look at the sentences together, and think about how they will be presented on the page, it’s immediately clear that “You can X” is a very poor translation. The best way to deal with these sentences is to cut off 〜することができる all together. “You can check your items with the A Button” becomes “Check your items with the A Button.” Simple, clean, and easy to understand.

This rule shouldn’t be applied blindly. The main point here is that while it’s important to keep the Japanese in mind, it’s more important to keep the final English product in mind. This isn’t literary translation – no one is going to be comparing the English with the original, unless you make a giant, embarrassing mistake.

Just more proof that your English composition can be more important than Japanese comprehension.