What Rocksmith has taught me about translation

Rocksmith (fully: Rocksmith 2014 Remastered) is a video game. Someone saw how popular the Guitar Hero video games were and decided to make a similar game that used a real guitar and make it into a tool to teach guitar.

For a very long time now, any time someone asked me what my hobbies were, I would say “translation.” That means I translate all day at my full-time in-house job, then come home and do freelance work, and occasionally – up until last summer – try my hand at translating a chapter from a book or a poem for fun. As you might imagine, it left a fairly one-track life. I read and watch movies, but other than spending as much time with my kids and my wife as I can manage, my life is all translation.

Then comes 2020. I look at the acoustic guitar hanging on my wall, and the electric guitar in the corner and remember the video game I tried out some ten years ago, but didn’t stick to. I also tried to learn guitar once before, back in about 1993 for about 3-4 months. I decided I’d take another try, more serious this time. This was partly inspired by my daughter asking for a ukulele for Christmas and us attaching lessons to it – and I took her to the lessons and she wanted me to stay in the room with her and the teacher. I remembered the times I tried guitar, and my years playing violin from elementary to high school and decided to try the guitar again.

I still stink, of course, I’m playing a game 4-5 times a week, mostly focused on the lessons and technique stuff to build fundamental skills. And that brings me to the point.

When I play Rocksmith, there are some exercises built into the “Learn a Song” section – scales, finger strength, speed, and so on. When you play these, the song keeps going whether you get it right or not. It gives you grade at the end, but no matter what you do, unless you give up and smack the escape key on the keyboard, the song and the prompts keep coming. (I tried to take a video of this, but the sound didn’t work, maybe I’ll update this article in a day or two if I manage it.)

As a translator, I have a terrible habit of getting stuck. I’ll cruise along in whatever I’m translating, but as soon as I hit a word or phrase that I don’t know, or that seems out of place, I’ll stop. I’ll research. I’ll send emails and text messages, then I’ll go down the Google rabbit hole – and eventually to YouTube or I’ll pick up a book, cook dinner, help a daughter with homework… and next thing I know it’s been an hour or a day or (to my shame) a week.

The thing I’m learning from Rocksmith – apart from how to play the guitar – is that I have to keep going. I’ve heard the advice, and I’ve even tried it several times, of highlighting the problem phrase/sentence and moving on, leaving the research for the first edit pass. Now I’m starting to implement that plan more often than distracting myself after a brief search.

That’ll do, then. Whether you like Nike (Just Do It.) or Dori (just keep swimming), the music goes on and you have to keep playing – it won’t wait for you to catch up.

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