Learning and appreciating cultures through gaming in a non-problematic way

I thought Never Alone was a successful game which achieved its purpose: it captivated me with its beautiful visuals and rich story, the gameplay was quite fun, especially when co-playing with someone else, and I got to learn more about the culture of the Iñupiat people through the rendition of a folktale.  The art style of the cut scenes was also inspired by traditional Alaska Native art and there are several videos that can be unlocked as the story progresses showcasing members of the Alaska Native community. Never Alone is a good example of the potential games have to become platforms to create better understandings of different cultures in ways that are truly representative and non-problematic.

It reminded me of one of my all-time favorite games, Okami. The story focuses on a representation of a Shinto sun goddess who has been reborn as a wolf and must vanquish the evil that has been terrorizing the land of Japan. (I later learned that the title is also a pun; ōkami (狼) means “wolf”, but the kanji used in the title of the game is ōkami (大神) means “great deity”, and so they are homophones)

Image result for okami

The game’s themes and story are heavily influenced by Japanese myths and folklore; Okami was made in Japan and by a group that lived in a society that would usually know these stories as part of popular culture. For the art style of the game, they had tried out a realistic 3D rendered one in the beginning stages but changed it to one that resembled the traditional East Asian type of brush painting called sumi-e. The soundtrack in this game was also inspired by classical Japanese music and included traditional instruments such as the shamisen and shakuhachi.

Even though I had already gotten a better understanding on some of the most popular traditional tales from the game itself, my later research that was inspired by it also helped me learn. So this particular game also gave me additional motivation to look more into the culture it was representing.

Such games like Never Alone and Okami will hopefully be part of a growing pool of similar games that explore the ways in which different cultures and societies can be expressed in ways their audiences can learn to understand and sympathize with more.

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