Culture in Video Games Created by Evan Snyder

Video games are increasingly becoming more main stream. With this, video game developers are striving to reach a larger and more diverse group of people. One way developers try to make there games more appealing to different groups of people is to make there characters more diverse and try to represent different cultures. With this many games fall short and end up missing the mark and miss representing the culture leading to backlash from the community.

Picture screen grabbed from Overwatch website.

Overwatch, made by Blizzard Entertainment, is a team based first person shooter that boasts a large and diverse cast of characters to play as. These are characters with diverse back stories from all over the globe. Overwatch begins to have trouble with cultural representation when they introduced different skins for the characters.

Images taken from Overwatch websites

A skin in a video game is just a cosmetic variation of the characters look it has no effect on game play but is something extra that players can purchase. On the left is the standard version of Pharah. On the right is a skin called Raindancer. The skin borrows motifs from native tribes around the Pacific Northwest in the eagle styling of the shoulder pads but the face paint is most likely influenced by the Mohawk people in Ontario, Quebec, and upstate New York. The act of blending these different cultures together results in removing the beautiful difference that makes each tribe of Native Americans unique.

Images taken from Overwatch websites

On the left is the standard version of Roadhog. On the right is Roadhog in his islander skin. The skin borrows from cultures throughout the south pacific. Such as the tattoos are similar to those of the Maori people. The hook most resembles a fish hook club from Hawaii, although it is a cartoonish representation of the real thing. This skin also continuous the falsely representation of pacific islanders as being overweight.

Images taken from Overwatch websites

On the left is the standard version of Zenyatta. On the right is Zenyatta in his Djinnyatta skin. The skin borrows from many cultures in the middle east and south Asia. The costumes or skins depicted above encourages the stereotyping of cultures that are far more diverse and detailed then can be conveyed in a costume. Having game characters dress up as different cultures is just as bad as people dressing up as Black face for Halloween. Culture is not a costume.

Image screen grab from Hi-Rez Smite Webpage

Another game that tries to represent different cultures is Smite, made by Hi-Rez Studios. Smite is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) where players play as gods from different cultures battling it out in an arena. Smite offers 8 different mythologies from all across the globe to choose from. Complaints about this game come from the fact that developers have turned religious figures in to toys that are being controlled by humans and from the design of the gods themselves.

Image on the left taken from https://lukepullen.wordpress.com/2014/03/29/kali-defanged/ Image on right Screen shot from Smite website

In 2012 Hindus reacted strongly to Hi-Rez Studios depiction of the goddess Kali. The original images, on the left, was thought to be to an over sexualization of Kali and the Hindu community wanted Hi-Rez to completely remove Kali from the game. Hi-Rez did not remove Kali from the game but did change the image of Kali as seen on the right.

Never Alone made by E-Line Media is the first game developed in collaboration with the Iñupiat, an Alaska Native people. Nearly 40 Alaska Native elders, storytellers and community members contributed to the development of the game. Players play as a young Iñupiat girl and an arctic fox as they set out to find the source of the eternal blizzard which threatens the survival of everything they have ever known.

In this interview done at Gamescom 2014 Gloria O'Neill from the Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC) and Alan Gershenfeld from E-Line Media discuss how Never Alone came to be. The game is a platformer style of game with a strong story backbone. E-Line studios worked closely with members of the Alaska Native people from everything from the story to the artwork. E-Line Studios was founded with the goal in creating games that can both educate and entertain. E-Line success with Never Alone proves that game developers can use peoples culture as a backbone for their games while still being respectful to the culture of people.

Credits:

Created with images by dawnydawny - "keyboard gamer computer" • tpsdave - "norway fox arctic"

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