Mixing Cultures in Games: Part 2
Welcome back to my series on mixing cultural elements in your games!
Combining multiple cultures into your game can be difficult. At worst it can seem contrived and at its best it feels natural and seamless. In this article I am going to talk about techniques you can use so, when you add a different cultural element into your game, it fits.
Most importantly, you should identify if the new cultural element you are bringing into your game is meant to mix with the existing culture and create its own unique setting/culture or whether the cultural element is foreign in your setting.
I am mixing two cultures together to form a new, unique culture.
Truly mixing two cultural elements together means that in the text of your story you are going to treat both as mundane. For example, if your setting is in 16th century France, but you want to feature Thai spirit houses in your game, these two elements will form a new culture that has not existed before. However, for the characters within the game, it will be an ordinary part of life.
Once you have accepted that all your cultural elements are utterly mundane, it is time to start to thinking of how they would work together. The beautiful thing about our world is that it is a living, breathing being. Without knowing about each other, cultures all over the world developed language, unspoken rules, and queues that universally link us together. The only thing that limits two objects getting placed together is your imagination.
To help you tease out the elements you want to feature, you can make an itemized list of key points you find in your two elements. For example:
Thai spirit houses
- spirit worship
- calm & beauty
16th century France
- New ideas, writing revolution
After thinking about your two elements individually, figure out what they can do to help each other. What could the serenity of a land-spirit give to the bustling development of the Renaissance? What could the drive of science give to the worship of spirits? Ask yourself - how would these two elements live in the same place, at the same time?
Finally, place yourself in the setting - could your character, could you, live here? If the answer is yes, you’ve done it! If you still have questions in your mind, doubt about whether something seems plausible, go back to the lists you have made, add a few more items, and try pairing your cultures again.
I placed the bracelet on the altar and looked at it in the sunlight. It was a simple thing, tiny, red beads made from glass sparkled and reflected in the midday sun. They shined on the walls of the small house and flecked the groomed trees shaped like angels next to them.
I’d never thought much about the maison de l'esprit behind our home, aside from when we’d go each year to thank the spirit of our land for allowing us to live here. The irony always struck me, my father was such an important man, and yet he was cowed by a spirit that could live in such a miniscule house. When we would come to thank the spirit, he would always be the first to supplicate onto his knees pressing his hands together, and then my mother would place a small wreath of flowers around my hands and motion for me to do the same.
After we placed our offerings, my mother would tell me the gentle breeze blowing past us was the spirit accepting our gifts. However, I grew up in a time of amazing progress and change. My mind didn’t have space for spirits, for the superstitions of my parents, all I wanted was poetry and life!
It wasn’t until a month ago that I truly believed that the spirit protected me. My father had thrown a ball, the same as every year, and it seemed as if the entire city had shown up. I danced and whirled across the ballroom, I listened to new ideas in the parlour, and at the end of the night, my head drunk with thoughts of flying machines and poetry, I walked my betrothed, Pierre, to his carriage.
I knew by doing this the girls inside would have a fit, my parents would disapprove, but I did not care, the night was growing old and I was in love. In my dreamy state, walking back to the house I did not realize the carriage was heading straight for me, and in the dark of the night, it did not see me either. When the carriage was finally upon me and all seemed too late, a flurry of wind, from out of nowhere, picked up and nudged me from the road. My heavy skirts were caught in the gust of power and I landed safely on my feet, staring bewildered at the carriage that ploughed by, not an inch past me.
I knew then what had saved me and realized the tremendous power of something so small.
I am using a new cultural theme as a foreign element in my game.
Unlike a setting where you are mixing two or more cultural elements, when you add a new cultural element as something foreign, you need to think of it as utterly different (no matter how familiar you are with the subject). As with thinking of something as mundane, it is important to think of this new cultural element as strange (or different), because that is how the world you have created will treat it. While in the long run, this item might become part and parcel of the setting, that will be an organic process played out in game.
There are a few things you should ask yourself:
- Why is this cultural element so different? Why is it the same?
- How would someone in the world I have created react to this item?
- Would they accept this item?
Once you have worked this out, you can figure out how you would like to introduce your cultural element. If we take the spirit houses above as an example, through the questions, we can see how it would affect 16th century France.
Why is this cultural element so different? Why is it the same?
A spirit house is different, because of the difference in religions and worship. While 16th century France follows one God above all others, the spirit house involved worshiping spirits of the land and thanking them. Physically, spirits houses are beautiful and ornate, while the aesthetic is different than that of 16th century France, I believe it would appeal to the taste/style of the time.
How would someone in the world I have created react to this item?
Since it is the renaissance, I believe they would appreciate the houses as objects of beauty.
Would they accept this item?
Yes, but as curiosa, I do not think they would put any stock in the spiritual value of the house.
Now that you’ve identified a few key factors about the cultural element you want to introduce, you can begin to figure out how it will be introduced, when, and in what context (as with a normal story item). Using the notes you’ve written down before about how the cultural element would interact with setting, you can also start to outline how NPCs would react and the type of impression you are going to give your players of the item/element.
Thank you for reading this post! In my next piece of this series, I’ll give you some Do’s and Don’ts to help you with your game creation. If the whole French Renaissance / animism theme of my examples caught your interest, my fourth piece is a real example of my advice in practice using those two different cultural elements. You can read the first post in this series here.