Mixing Culture in Games: Part 3
In my last two posts I have gone over why I wanted to write these articles on how to add different cultural elements into your game and also how to do just that. Today, I am going to give you a list of some do’s & dont’s and a FAQ for integrating different cultures into your game.
Encourage your players to read and talk about the different cultures you have added into the game. Players and GMs create a story together, and while it might start in your head, the story will always end in the player's hands. Knowledge is power and the more the players know about the subject, the better they can play their characters.
Add shamefully subtle hints about a culture that your players never have a chance of figuring out. If the point of your game is that the players discover a new culture, let them discover it! Equally, if you have spent the time researching and weaving two cultures together, try not to erase one in favour of the other if both work.
Your research! The worst thing you can do is hold back because of fear or laziness. The more you know about the subject the more you can throw in at a moment’s notice. Many a seasoned GM will tell you anything you have planned will ultimately thrown out the window, set on fire and burned to a crisp the moment your players get a hold of it. Knowing enough about the cultures you are portraying will allow you to add elements in when things don’t go as you planned.
(And this goes hand in hand with the ‘DO’ above) ignore a player when they offer insight into what you have created. While you have done a lot of research and work on your game - you don’t know everything. I’ve had to learn this the hard way, and there are going to be things you never knew about a subject. Players adding tidbits of information into your story makes the game richer and allows them to engage. Remember, if the person is from the culture you are portraying it is important for them to know their opinion and voice is heard.
Enjoy yourself! Fall in love with these cultures you are researching, be seduced by them, dream of them, live in them! There are so many amazing inspirations in our world to draw from, allow yourself to live in that wonder.
Mock the cultures you have integrated in your game. While ignorant and cruel NPCs can be interesting foes for players to overcome, as a GM it is your job to take the lead and show each theme you use in your game respect.
How many cultural elements are too many to add to your game?
Personally, I don’t think there is a limit here, but you should stop yourself when you are adding things just to add them or to be novel. While this line may be at two elements for one game, it can be five for another. Dont over do it and make sure you are creating something you can manage later.
I’ve added an element into the game that my players aren’t really interested in, what can I do?
If you’ve combined two or more cultures into your game, making them their own unique culture, you can OC remind your players about this. Give them tips or hints of what their characters could do instead of what they are doing now. For example, if you are doing a Japanese/Western space opera, character’s could bow to each other when they meet instead of shaking hands. These are queues you might have thought a lot about, but don’t occur to your players so it is important to help them out.
If you’ve added in a cultural element to your game that is meant to seem foreign, like we talked about in my last post, and your players aren’t picking up on it, there is not a lot you can do. Save of shoving it in their faces, this is exactly the same as any plot hook that drops in your story because there is no interest in it.
Are there themes to avoid?
Everyone has their own limits to this and as you will most likely be playing these games with your friends, it is best to ask them before you start and put a lot of work in a game they might not want to play. If you are developing a game for public release, let as many people see your work as possible and, trust me, if there is something off they will let you know. Saying this, I have never seen a creative work that has not had someone hating it. In general, I follow this very simple guideline:
As with people, you should treat your chosen subject matter the way you would like something from your own culture to be treated. When you add a culture other than your own into your game, make sure you are doing so with respect and understanding. If you aren’t sure you are doing this you could ask someone from that culture, check with your friends, or do some research. The world is a huge, beautiful place, and there is no reason you can’t pull different elements from it into your game.
I hope these tips help you with mixing cultures in your game. For my final piece in this series I’ll show you a real example of how I mixed two cultures into a mini-setting and a mechanics example.