The last year or so in the video game world has been an interesting one. The industry has been transitioning into the newest generation of home consoles, companies have been changing their approach to making games, and more importantly, sexism and misogyny have dominated the discussion at large–spawning countless heated arguments. Whether you side with the mindset that believes a lot of games use females in a perverse manner or with the other party that believes it is a non-issue, this recent discussion has at least brought the topic forward for debate.
Where I stand on the issue at this time doesn’t necessarily matter. What’s important is for the gaming community and the general public to strive to become more open-minded and show more empathy. But there has been one glaring omission: culture. Exploring culture in video games is needed to create insightful, more positive influences. Developers have only dipped their toes into the large pool of cultures and it is time they dive in to provide meaningful social explorations.
Games, film, and books act like an escape into another world, giving you the ability to live out a fantasy or experience something otherworldly. It accomplishes all of this while at the same time having fun. But, our favorite hobby has an advantage over both books and film: interactivity. Literature and cinematography are things you simply consume. At its most basic form it’s a one-way street. That is far from being bad, but being able to interact and change your experience is what makes games so special.
So why is it that we have yet to delve into varying cultures and truly explore what makes us all unique? A couple of things come to mind: games are usually only made in a few parts of the world and injecting a culture into a project from outside of your own sphere requires hefty amounts of research. Because games are more about actual gameplay, narrative and everything else are usually second in terms of importance. No one is going to argue that it shouldn’t be that way, but wouldn’t it be fun to explore what different cultures could inspire in regards to gameplay and art? This would allow people to literally walk in someone else’s shoes for the duration of the play time.
Enlightening ourselves about the world we live in will help combat the racism, sexism, and the naivety that is so prevalent in the world. If it makes even one person more understanding towards the people they interact with, then it is worth it. This hobby of ours is also increasingly popular with youth, so why not breed more positivity? As a community, I’d like to believe that we all pride ourselves in being an accepting group, even if we can be a fickle bunch at times.
A recent title I had the pleasure of playing, Never Alone, used Alaska storytellers and elders to explore the traditions of the Iñupiat people, giving the person holding the controller an insight into their world. It is a sometimes simple puzzle platformer, but using the different style elevates the whole undertaking. Titles like Mass Effect’s storytelling sort of do the same thing but with nonexistent species. Could you imagine the effect the already-loved franchise would have on fans if it focused on human cultures instead?
Even though Connor is usually considered as a low point in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, it was fun to witness one man’s struggle with two cultural identities. Sure, the narrative is old and can be applied to many games, but witnessing it through the eyes of a Native American is what makes it stand out. It is most certainly not the best or most accurate depiction, but it’s at least commendable.
The obvious difference in style and narration can also be seen in some recent games like Toren and Nihilumbra which come from a Brazilian and Spanish studio respectively. They both take a unique approach to the art style, and Nihilumbra in particular has such a powerful thought provoking narrative that will stay with you long after you complete your adventure. These are gleaming results of how positive and imaginative creations can be born from including various cultures to the building of games. I understand the studios came from different cultures so it came naturally from them, but a studio like Naughty Dog could do something special using their masterful storytelling and entertaining action. It would just take an extra step — a difficult one full of research at that. When it works, though, it is special.
So it’s not like developers aren’t dabbling into these deeper themes, it is just time to take the plunge and create something more meaningful.
Allow me to clarify something, I’m not talking about race. I have no interest in watching developers simply add people of different skin tones for the sake of diversity. That is part of the larger issue at hand. Adding new skin colors to characters usually means that they are fit into a stereotype like a Mexican guy that is a street thug with no education. This only helps feed the disgusting stereotypes everyone faces.
Not every game does this, of course, but it feels like some teams find the need to diversify for no real meaningful reason. Adding tokens is neither informative nor helpful.
Some of the most impactful pieces of literature and moving pictures have been about the struggles of different cultures and people. This interactive pastime of ours shouldn’t ever be like the aforementioned items, but should instead become more mature. Not every game needs to do it; there is plenty of room for the simply fun titles. We just need to see more culture in a meaningful way in our games.
Games are fun and inspire creativity, and it’s safe to say that should never change. We are in the midst of a social movement that is pushing for true equality and pushing this agenda will only prove fruitful for everyone. Like always, make your way down to the comments section below to let us know if you agree or disagree with the discussion posed. Keep the positive vibes going everyone.