From the soaring heights of the Egyptian pyramids in Assassin’s Creed: Origins, to the classically influenced styling of Japan’s Sengoku period in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice; video games have become a way to explore classical and historical periods as well as familiarising ourselves with a wealth of different cultures all from the comfort of a couch. By transporting gamers to lands away from home, games have become a way to spread tolerance among humanities’ differences, providing insights into the different religions, cultures and lifestyles while allowing exploration through unobtrusive means and paving the way to learning that even gamers are sometimes unaware is happening. While not every game has made this a fundamental of its design, developers willingness to recreate or interpret time periods and cultures is a result of the enormous successes they give potential to.
When it comes to the sheer celebration of cultures, no gaming series has done this quite so well as Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series, especially in their more recent outings of Origins and Odyssey. While depicting lands from thousands of years, the developer’s meticulous eye for detail has seen the recreation of lands and famous monuments as well as the resurrection of histories greatest individuals (even if manipulating time for storytelling). From the influential leaders of ancient civilisations like Origins’ Cleopatra and Julius Caesar to the famous doctors and mathematicians like Odyssey’s Hippokrates and Pythagoras; Assassin’s Creed games have become a discrete means of allowing people to explore history and extinct cultures. With the stunning recreation of monuments, missions built on exploration and discovering of significant historical artefacts, and seamlessly living world in re-creations of the past civilisations. However, Ubisoft’s commitment and passion to recreating deceased worlds and accurately depicting different times came to the forefront in the introduction of their Discovery Mode. This feature accompanied the two newest iterations of the series, or a standalone purchase for the avid history fan. Stripping all the mechanics of gameplay, the Discovery Tour mode had you fill the role of a character and journey across different locations built within the game-world as an interactive history experience. It became a wealth of culture and history accessible from your couch that was designed with the purpose to educate people on past civilisations and explore a culture that otherwise could have seemed alien of them. It was a celebration of the past and proved to give way to a thoughtful gaming experience which rose above the goal of entertaining and accomplishing much more.
Although, Ubisoft isn’t the only noteworthy example of ways in which a developer make accomplish an accurate representation or exploration of culture. In games like Sekiro and Nioh 2, the game selects the default language as Japanese, not reducing themselves to the appropriation of their cultures from Western audiences. While subtle, using the original Japanese audio completes the game and makes it the experience that the developers had intended for it. It teaches gamers to celebrate the differences of language, and appreciate the importance of languages to culture, eliciting a positive reaction to language rather than a discriminatory dislike of it. Then you have science-fiction space epics which bring in a multitude of different species and other-world creatures and throws them into a vat of trying to establish equality. In games like the Mass Effect series, the struggles of human races become exemplified in the divides of experiences of different species. Where these cultures seem alien and fabricated, their use to promote equality and their exploration of the “other” generates acceptance and celebration of these cultures utterly different from the ones we know, translating into an ability to celebrate then the ones we experience around us in the real-world day today.
A gamer’s experience becomes influenced by the world’s they inhabit, and along the way, the interactions with the cultures that exist within games help fashion tolerance to those in the real-world. Games are continually embodying various cultures and exploring them in their own way: whether through the dynamics of language, the recreation of history, or disguising it under an elaborate system of fantasy or fiction. However, culture is almost always celebrated in some shape or form within a game, slowly spreading a message than speaks tolerance far more often than it does hatred.