It’s the context, stupid.

After my post on Shanoa and realizing that her lack of emotion said plenty on the historicism of the time and the hysterics often attributed to women, I began wondering whether or not this was actually in any way researched by the development team when the game was made. It fits in rather nicely into a full argument, but did the game purposefully provide such context? Whether or not it did, the point I made can stand on its own; it does have me pondering what other contexts we place on games in contrast with what they provide us–particularly in games placed in our own world.

There were some complaints over the fact that the latest Prince in the latest installment of Prince of Persia spoke with an American, rather than British, accent. Some even felt it did an injustice to the acknowledgment of Persia in the title (read: racist). For some, it was a slap in the face to break with the tradition of an English narrator. Contrast this with Jake Gyllenhaal being selected to be the Prince in the movie adaptation and the statement over race starts gaining more ground.

Whenever one tells a story, context can be very important. This has an even greater chance of becoming an issue the larger an audience becomes. Suddenly there is no one niche, no one culture to whom you are speaking.

Of late I’ve been replaying Titan Quest and its expansion The Immortal Throne in a need to scratch that Action RPG itch that I satisfied last year with a replay of Diablo II. Three things struck me on my recent playthrough of the game:

The third act of the game takes place in the Orient. Your character will go and meet the Yellow Emperor and walk the Great Wall of China. He or she will also encounter Oriental accents that are a throwback to what I would expect from early cinema. In other words, overly stereotyped accents performed by people who are delivering an expected accent, often for comedic effect. It’s egregious.

The context? Why is this person speaking with such a racist, abysmal accent when your character is Greek? That’s right, you start off in Greece and are a Greek traversing your own country, Egypt, China, and then Hades. Somehow you can speak to all these people. Then they all suddenly have ridiculous accents based on English. I understand why the game is all stated in English, but if communication in a foreign language is one over which we can gloss, can we do the same for hackneyed, insulting accents?

Then there’s sex. You can choose to be male or female. However, this is set in our world. The primary movers and shakers in this game are male. The exceptions occur in Feiyan, part of the Order of Prometheus, and Medea. This makes sense, sure. In antiquity, females were not given the right to own property, vote, make many decisions, and this all in the context of being considered the root of all men’s problems (see: Eve and Pandora).

While it is great to be able to choose to play a female in such a situation, it does seem a bit ridiculous that this is never addressed. If the creators did not wish to address such, it seems it would have been better to remove it from our world directly. Perhaps play only in the lands of myths, rather than set them in corporeal, historical locations. In such an environment, I actually expect the female to face some resistance or have it at least addressed why it’s acceptable for her to go marching about in armor (tailored for her breasts and figure, naturally) and wielding weapons.

The last issue I saw was with the fact that one traverses Egypt and sees not one dark-skinned person. There are plenty of tanned people all along the Gaza and in various locations one visits in Ancient Egypt, but no one has a skin tone darker than a white person who sat out in the sun and worked on a tan. The cultural white-washing is rather disheartening, though not entirely surprising in the popular eye. Ancient Egypt was rather large and comprised of more than just one race, especially considering its location.

There’s another level to this, though. What is the context of the game? The narrative is provided, but it does not seem to be the primary focus of the community still involved in patching the game now that Iron Lore is defunct. This is an Action RPG that does encourage min/maxing and building up a character, where everyone else is seen as merely a prop. While the narrative is not the primary focus, it does appear to still somewhat factor into its appeal.

Does this then excuse the game for cultural oversights? Considering this would all require more work and possibly even putting in controversial or political material in a game focused on myth, does this put too much work on people who are working on a game that follows a model of genre?

Who knows, perhaps these females are our chance to create a myth in a world dominated by mortal male heroes. There is still debate over the issue of black persons being involved in Egypt (this was largely a hot topic when people claimed black persons had never had a civilization of note). We may also expect to go to the Orient and hear that hammed up, annoyingly schtick accent when they utter anything in English. This was not the primary aim of the game, but it has me wondering how much, if any, thought went into these particular areas as well.


About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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3 Responses to It’s the context, stupid.

  1. Regarding the language and accents, you’ve just highlighted one of the reasons I think Valkyrie is a film I won’t ever be watching. If it’s set in Germany, shouldn’t everyone be speaking German?

  2. Denis Farr says:

    @Daniel: That can be debated. I find interesting the debate they had over whether or not the native English speakers should speak with a German accent. They decided no in the case of some of the actors perhaps not being able to do it convincingly, thereby insulting Germans in a serious film that didn’t have much room for comedy.I’ll likely see the film, especially as I’ve visited the historical grounds over which there was controversy over filming (though that was over Cruise’s Scientology beliefs, which is just idiocy for the government to behave like that), but I don’t enjoy Cruise as an actor and don’t expect to like his portrayal.

  3. In regards to the German, or lack thereof in Valkyrie, there are three valid options in my opinion.1) Have everyone speak German and go full sub-titles2a)Go full English with no accents. This artistically represents the fact that it is, in essence, a pure translation that just skips the sub-titling process. When two Germans communicate, they do not hear a German accent, they are simply speaking so English with a German accent isn’t redundant, it’s ridiculous.2b) Use spoken English with actors using only British accents. This is at least consistent with the historical precedent set for German characters in old war films. It also adds a level of military sophistication that a flat American accent fails to portray to my ears. A modern era movie would be different, but during WWII there were just certain situations and tactical discussions that did not happen with an American accent, but did with a British, so I can suspend my disbelief through it.

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