How Games Can Strengthen Local Culture
Published: August 6, 2020
In recent years, the games industry has experienced a kind of cultural Renaissance. Game designers began to use games as vehicles for exploring more diverse cultural ideas, histories, and mythologies, and the positive response from players has led to even more growth in this area.
For players, this trend means even more kinds of stories to experience and a greater appreciation for the uniqueness of regions and peoples around the world.
For developers, this trend means the opportunity for us to put more of ourselves into our art, blending our personal heritage and our unique cultural experiences with our work in game design. The more developers are rewarded for doing this, the more opportunities players will have to play different kinds of games. While this might not be a surprise to RPG players or fans of games like The Witcher series or the Metro series, one part of this trend that is not often discussed is how it actually strengthens the root of cultural history and heritage.
Here’s a story from our own work that illustrates this point:
When we began work on Operencia, our mostly Hungarian team knew that we wanted to weave Hungarian mythology and central European folktales into the game world. These were stories we grew up hearing as children, and they were also game ideas that we had experimented with over years of tabletop roleplaying with friends. Beyond our personal passion for this part of our history, we also felt this content was unique since other games had not used this material in the way we envisioned using it.
What we didn’t expect was how much we would learn about our own history in the process.
As development ramped up, we found ourselves with stacks of books about Hungarian mythology and folktales on our desks. We learned new stories and rediscovered tales we had forgotten. We started to see overlaps in themes and lessons, which led to new ideas about what we could do in our game. And in doing this work, we developed an even deeper appreciation for Hungarian history and lore.
We can’t say for certain, but I suspect that the Polish developers working on The Witcher or the Russian developers working on the Metro series had a similar experience. They got to not only work with content that was uniquely tied to their region but they also got to build on it in their own way, playing a part in a new generation of stories to be celebrated locally and internationally.
In other words, developing games with strong regional roots can be a way to make those roots even stronger. The stories of a culture are heard around the world, and the developers working locally get a chance to grow closer to their heritage.
That’s powerful, and we can’t wait to see more games from developers around the world as this trend continues.