Videogames and Cultural Hybridization

This is text is result of a conversation between me and my good friend Omar Ruvalcaba concerning some points in videogame culture and how it can hybridizate traditional/etnical cultures or be product of that hybridization. I must warn you first that we reached no ultimate conclusions at all and also that this text is only a compressed version of our conversation! Hope you enjoy it!

Cultural products of a culture are the expression of its culture values and thoughts. Period. Of course, there is also the author personal touch and “universal” values, which generally are in a deeper layer. For example, Shakespeare work, each one of his writing, are highly tied with Elizabethan era, its values and its ways. Even in writings placed in other countries our other times written by Shakespeare have that British XV~XVI accent. Even though, all those works also talk about deeper human values, universal ones, that can make sense in any culture, no matter where or when in a Shakespearean way.

Videogames are also a cultural product, but the society in which they happened to be created, our contemporary society, is not as well defined nor most of those cultural products use such complex narrative elements as Shakespeare’s. Also, most videogames are produced in 4 or 5 countries while are readily consumed by all the rest of the world. So, it’s not hard to come up with questions as how conscious game designers are of the culture of the people that will be playing their games in the development process or when designing the human computer interaction aspect (such as the controls) do designers of this equipment consider how people in various communities outside of Western Europe and the USA participate in activities, two of the three main videogames producers?

Well, you don’t have to think much to answer that: probably not, or all evidence indicates that they don’t. But, honestly, can you blame them? We are as we are because of our cultural environment; our model Shakespeare was, dressed, though and ate what its environment allowed him to. Of course, we do have our personality and freewill to decide what we want, but we can’t decide for a option that was not given to us. Therefore, Shakespeare couldn’t write [or, at least, would have a lot of trouble not only to come up with such ideas but also to make himself understood back them], for example, about zombies or aliens, kinds of characters that weren’t part of Elizabethan common thought, its collective consciousness. But fairies and elfs were, that’s why.

Also, that brings me to mind that I also said our society was not as “well defined” as Shakespeare’s, a argument which can be said about many aspects of today society, but that I meant in a cultural spectrum. In Elizabethan era, the fantastic creatures in the social imaginary were basically some old Norse [their Britannic imagine being, itself, a prove of hybridization] or some creatures, not that well known, from classical mythology. Today, we can add up European  [werewolves, vampires, warriors, knights], African [zombies], American [chupacabra, bigfoot, indians] and Asian [ samurais, gueishas] folk myths/characters and also myths created by modern society [as aliens]. And they can all [or almost] appear in only one place/game, as World of Warcraft or Ragnärok.

That, by itself, is show us how multi-cultural can a videogame that, at first glance, seemed a total American or Japanese creation. Of course, those appropriations generally aren’t accurate, but generally natural-historic appropriations aren’t since the appropriators have to “fit” the traditional idea to its own traditions or beliefs. That’s a natural evolutionary movement of human cultures, an enriching one. Even Shakespeare did it based on the collective consciousness of his time; try comparing his Pluck to a traditional Norse elf. Also, complete accurate references could also be considered boring to most people. In the original zombie myth, the malady is not contagious nor instigate brain eating, but the popular culture zombie malady does. And it’s awesome.

So, even that most people are still not really interested in a pure original immersion in other cultures throw games, that “semi” immersion provided by the hybridization of a pop culture movement/figure with the native cultures can be a great way to begin the culture exchange. I like to think about this with great Japanese games from the 80’s and 90’s in which the hybridization of the american/japanese culture seemed almost perfect, like Ninja Gaiden and Kabuki.

I believe that though this multi-culturalism is present in all games they are more obvious in indie games. Even indie pop based games, that seems to have no relation to the developer’s native culture, can be used to understand some kind of outlook provided by his reality. For example, in India there is some kind of great glamorization of the western super-heroes. Even though, they understand these super-heroes in their own ways. Therefore, even if they try to approach the theme in a “American” way, it will actually translate the American super-hero to their own culture. This example is blatant in Indian movies.