As stated previously, it is tricky to define what makes a cultural game. I don’t agree with a nationalistic view on this, nor do I think this accolade should be linked to money, as it can meddle with the creative process and vision. As a counterpart to the previous post, however, here is what I think should be considered to decide whether a game can be considered cultural
(1) Is it a game that teaches players something about culture in general?
Games are a powerful way to engage players and teach them new things – not just about their own country or culture, but about the world.
Show the player what Renaissance Italy looks like, and tell them about notable pieces of art and architecture of the era? Check > Assassin’s Creed II
- Invent a world where you follow a famous classical music composer’s dreams on his deathbed, and introduce the player to their work? Check > Eternal Sonata
(2) Is it a game that transports the player to another time and place (either realistic or based on realistic situations)?
We live in an age where you can effectively play through historical periods or world events at the touch of a controller. It can be a powerful tool that uses emotion and empathy to resonate with the player, and teach them about the world around them… or before them.
Make the player experience WWI through the tragic perspectives of a civilian, a French soldier, a German soldier? Check > Valiant Hearts: The Great War
- Put the player in the role of a scavenger during an imagined civil war, forced to consider what survival means? Check > This War of Mine
(3) Is it a game that establishes lore and uses world-building?
We usually consider what culture is in the real-world, but can we truly say that imagined world and lore are not also a form of culture, whether they are a criticism of our real world, or just a very detailed new world?
Create a world with distinct people, forms of art, forms of music, lore, locations, literature, politics and characters? Check > The Elder Scrolls
- Use a real historical period and existing philosophies to create a mirror game-world, hypothesising on what would happen if you took the ideologies to an extreme? Check > BioShock
(4) Is it a game relevant to gaming history, through significant technological or mechanical innovation?
I believe that culture should also be a nod to history and to how a medium got to where it is now, even if by modern standards a product or piece of art might seem inferior. What can make a game matter for the medium as a whole?
First game ever made, using 1960s computing power to create an entertaining experience and become the pioneer for the medium we know and love today? Check > 1961’s Spacewar!
- Spearhead and launch the video games-only consoles market, introducing platformers to the masses? Check > Super Mario Bros*
*of course platformers, consoles and even Mario existed beforehand, but the commercial significance of this particular game makes it quite special.
These are not mutually exclusive, nor do they have to be all fulfilled to make a game cultural. Games are a very broad and varied form of expression, and I think it’s wrong to try and box them up into one neat category – so we will have to make do with more than one criteria or checklist. If your games fits my list, I can’t fund you but at least I can vote for it with my wallet!
11 Bit Studios (2014) This War of Mine. 11 Bit Studios.
2K Australia, 2K Boston (2007) BioShock. 2K Games.
Bethesda Game Studios (2011) The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. Bethesda Softworks.
Nintendo R&D4 (1985) Super Mario Bros. Nintendo.
Russell, S (1962) Spacewar!
Tri-Crescendo (2007) Eternal Sonata. Namco.
Ubisoft Montpellier (2014) Valiant Hearts: The Great War. Ubisoft.
Ubisoft Montreal (2009) Assassin’s Creed II. Ubisoft.
BioShock Image (no date). Available at: http://bioshock.wikia.com/wiki/Andrew_Ryan (Accessed 23 October 2017)
The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim – Varen’s Wall Image (no date). Available at: http://elderscrolls.wikia.com/wiki/Varen%27s_Wall_(Book) (Accessed: 23 October 2017)
Eternal Sonata – Chopin Image (no date). Available at: http://eternalsonata.wikia.com/wiki/Fr%C3%A9d%C3%A9ric_Fran%C3%A7ois_Chopin (Accessed: 23 October 2017)
Super Mario Bros Image (2017), Nintendo. Available at: https://www.nintendo.co.uk/Games/NES/Super-Mario-Bros–803853.html (Accessed 23 October 2017)
Valiant Hearts: The Great War Image (2014). Available at: https://www.giantbomb.com/forums/valiant-hearts-the-great-war-629705/valiant-hearts-is-the-most-respectful-war-game-eve-1490711/ (Accessed 23 October 2017)