Author Topic: Is universal culture actually the USA culture?  (Read 1576 times)

Is universal culture actually the USA culture?
« on: 23 Feb 2018, 16:02 »
Hello dear AGS lovers,

I am going to give a presentation about publishing games on Steam, the event is called Game Talks Ankara. A topic I'd like to include is Universality vs Localness. In other words, "Should we make games for world or only our country?".

I have got some thoughts, but I want to hear your opinions. As far as I see, when we make a game for universal audience, it is actually the West culture we are talking about. USA, to be exact. Because we assume that a non-American person would expect American culture when s/he buys a game made in another country. Personally, I make games based on West culture, it seems like it works to make my games known in the world.

Another point is, East Asia has its own culture, it's really hard to make a game target both West and East unless the content is quite minimal (like only a bird, or geometrical shapes).

What are your opinions?
« Last Edit: 23 Feb 2018, 16:05 by Gord10 »

Re: Is universal culture actually the USA culture?
« Reply #1 on: 23 Feb 2018, 16:35 »
As a Swede myself, I'd say that there are plenty of American culture that me and most people I know don't get. Most people only learn about USA from Hollywood, and I myself was surprised by a number of things when I visited USA, so I wouldn't say American culture is as universal as most people think.

As for East Asian culture, I do not have much experience myself, but I felt I understood at least the majority of the themes presented in the films I've seen. Things such as love, loyalty, pride and jealousy exist in all cultures, and as long as the story and characters are built around real human emotions rather than specific tropes and patterns, I think most of the audience will get the gist of it.

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Re: Is universal culture actually the USA culture?
« Reply #2 on: 23 Feb 2018, 16:56 »
It would be an interesting topic but it depends on a lot of factors in my opinion, in particular the target audience and game genre. What kind of games are we talking about?









Re: Is universal culture actually the USA culture?
« Reply #3 on: 23 Feb 2018, 16:58 »
It would be an interesting topic but it depends on a lot of factors in my opinion, in particular the target audience and game genre. What kind of games are we talking about?

Any PC game. The topic of the conference is publishing games on Steam.

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Re: Is universal culture actually the USA culture?
« Reply #4 on: 23 Feb 2018, 17:46 »
Any PC game. The topic of the conference is publishing games on Steam.

In that case, I'd say universal culture in this sense is more 'mainstream' culture than it is US culture. True universal culture comes from people though, not a country. We all have the same basic needs driving us and when those are used to build the story, it can appeal to anyone who can identify with it.

So the story and the world / setting play a major role in deciding the cultural background a game is going to have. Fiction based in non-fiction also tends to steer it in a certain direction because of the need to incorporate real events and locations (Metal Gear Solid games come to mind). It's also possible to throw everything out the window and create a world for your story by picking elements from all sorts of cultures (Morrowind and Albion both do this very well). Those games usually take some time / effort to get into as you need to learn about their world and how it works but can be more compelling because of it.

A game like Mario Bros is universal in it's appeal because there aren't any ties to specific cultures in there, it's accessible to pretty much anyone who can understand that the princess is in another castle. This is a very simple example ofcourse but even huge story driven games can sport a culture on their own.

Games that are pure fantasy or are based on mythology, be it eastern or western can have a huge appeal in both parts of the world too, in the end the main question will always be if the gameplay is good. I love Dynasty Warriors, mindless as it may be, it's fun to play and the setting is awesome. Same with the God of War and Prince of Persia series.

One of the reasons US culture is deemed 'popular' for games is just because of the size of the country, the amount of games being produced there and exported to pretty much every western country and the majority of other countries as well. It's everywhere and because of that, it feels 'familiar' and a lot of people like familiar stuff, they trust it. The same goes for American cinema, 9 out of 10 times it's dead easy to tell an American production apart from a production done in another country. Games are no different most of the time.

Another thing that comes to mind for me is: what do you expect to get out of the game you publish and what do you want buyers to get out of it? In the end, it's a product you create for profit (wether material or spiritual), because even if it is a labour of love, there are always concessions to be made. You can make a game that's interesting to a very small target audience, hoping to truely inspire them in one way or another. While there's not much material gain to be had there, the personal payoff for you as a creator may still be worth it.

On the other hand, if your goal is to get filthy rich, you'll probably say screw that small audience, I need something that almost anyone can identify with and build a completely different game.

I'll leave it at that and sum it up below :P

TLDR: It depends

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Re: Is universal culture actually the USA culture?
« Reply #5 on: 23 Feb 2018, 17:58 »
I have got some thoughts, but I want to hear your opinions. As far as I see, when we make a game for universal audience, it is actually the West culture we are talking about. USA, to be exact. Because we assume that a non-American person would expect American culture when s/he buys a game made in another country.

Mmmmmm... Western culture maybe, but I cannot agree that USA culture is the same as Western culture.

What is American culture actually? Are we talking about significant elements of the mass culture? Wild West, air carriers, super-heroes from the comic books, transformers, racial conflicts in society, wars on the Middle East and Vietnam. All of these are easily recognized in the world, but are they only parts of the western and "universal culture"? What about Medieval elements (knights, princesses, castles), which did not exist in American history and were inherited from Europe?
Japanese made a big deal in promoting their culture also, samurai and anime are elements of universal culture today, although they went through simplification, but that's inevitable when you are trying to get to mass culture.

I would not say that I expect an American culture when buy a game, rather I expect something that I will be able to recognize, or at least to learn along the play. The number of recognizable things is changing over time, and publishing games and other media containing elements from your culture is a way to make it recognizable abroad. But if you aim at wider audience, you probably need to smooth the transition, simplify the unknown images to make them easier to comprehend without taking a course of local history and tradition.
« Last Edit: 23 Feb 2018, 17:59 by Crimson Wizard »

Re: Is universal culture actually the USA culture?
« Reply #6 on: 24 Feb 2018, 08:19 »

It's a good thing when a videogame may learn something about foreign culture, as in  Sol 705 from Argentina o Il Belpaese from Italia. Because the AGS games can be played worldwide it's a good opportunity to understand how life is in different countries.

_

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Re: Is universal culture actually the USA culture?
« Reply #7 on: 24 Feb 2018, 20:11 »
I think that the situation can be seen as follows:

While US culture has been clearly the most presented, marketed, and bought-into (eg movie tickets, toys etc) in the 'west' since ww2, it is arguably not the kind of 'high culture' of the day, but the mass culture one. For example, for high culture of the 'west', one would imo mostly think of important writers (eg Kafka, Borges, Pessoa, Poe, Baudelaire, ETA Hoffmann, a number of obvious ancient greek ones, Gogol etc), and not the kind of mass culture we are exposed to from the US :)
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Re: Is universal culture actually the USA culture?
« Reply #8 on: 26 Feb 2018, 17:47 »
Thank you everyone for all the helpful opinions! It seems like West culture != USA culture.

Do you think a general West culture exists? For example, an FPS game which takes place in a Christian graveyard and you fight with the ghosts. We tried targeting the West in general in Graveyard Shift, it seemed to work, but the game failed for reasons beside the cultural elements. I believe that an RPG in which the world resembles European Middle Age may target Europe and America, too, but I'm not 100% sure.

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Re: Is universal culture actually the USA culture?
« Reply #9 on: 26 Feb 2018, 17:59 »
Sorry, I decided to delete my post :/. On second thought, I do not have too much expertise in this topic.

One thing I may add is that having exotic location with unknown cultural elements which you have to discover was one of the reasons game like Morrowind became popular in their time.
« Last Edit: 26 Feb 2018, 18:40 by Crimson Wizard »

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Re: Is universal culture actually the USA culture?
« Reply #10 on: 26 Feb 2018, 19:59 »
I believe that an RPG in which the world resembles European Middle Age may target Europe and America, too, but I'm not 100% sure.
The moment you mentioned this, it too, like Crimson, brought to my mind the incredibly praised world of Morrowind, compared to, for example, the less praised "generic" middle age european/roman world of Oblivion. So I don't think such a thing is necessary.

I'd say universal culture is universal culture, which certainly has a percentage of it being US/European, but I certainly don't think all US culture is universal, or all universal culture is US- the US is a large country with lots of varied culture, and what people outside it usually see is a combined mishmash that isn't necessarily representative of any specific place. I think because the rest of the world is so superficially familiar with the the output of American culture, sometimes we miss out that there are some things that are uniquely targetting or referencing a specific "American" thing, that we don't pick up on.
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Re: Is universal culture actually the USA culture?
« Reply #11 on: 26 Feb 2018, 20:29 »
I don't know but I hope not. That's pretty much what the EU politicians are after, 'one Europe'. The countries in Europe have a lot in common with each other but still a lot differences too. I wouldn't say there's a general Western culture, there is a lot of overlap because of Europe's history, Christianity for example. I'm not religious myself but I know what to expect when it's made part of a story in the sense that I'm familiar with it. I'm not sure how much Americans know about Europe's Medieval period, Hollywood's depiction of that time isn't always the best but yeah, a game set there could appeal to US consumers but I think it's more down to your game itself rather than the setting. The Witcher series seems to have no trouble selling over there

I agree with Crimson Wizard about Morrowind, I don't know if you've ever played it but the world Bethesda built is incredible and completely alien. I can talk for hours about it so if you need more, just say so.

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Re: Is universal culture actually the USA culture?
« Reply #12 on: 26 Feb 2018, 21:03 »
And somewhere in some Chinese forums someone probably asked "Is universal culture actually the Chinese culture?" (imagine this written in Chinese characters)

And then some alien that lives in some solar system galaxies away probably asked if his planet system's culture is universal.

Little did they know!

(I just posted here so I can disagree with Babar, I think Oblivion is better than Morrowind.)

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Re: Is universal culture actually the USA culture?
« Reply #13 on: 27 Feb 2018, 13:45 »
I would say a "universal culture" is a mixed bag of all of the common elements of other cultures.
From France to Japan, there are common elements that you will easily pick up on. With the way people interact with each other, how cities are laid out, how taxes are paid. Some of these things are not the same as the USA culture (a really good example is how much the USA love their guns).

There are of course loads of differences, and these differences are very easy to pick out. But when you look at a bunch of cultures, you should be able to notice the similarities. And those similarities are the "universal culture" in my opinion.

Although I have never seen anything use anything remotely similar to a "universal culture" in their work. Which is probably for the best, because I prefer cultural differences in my media, because they add charm and they teach you things about other people's culture. :-D

Re: Is universal culture actually the USA culture?
« Reply #14 on: 27 Feb 2018, 19:21 »
I think it really depends. The obvious thing is that more people speak English than most any other language, for a variety of reasons, but a big one is two of the most recent colonial empires spoke English. American cultural imperialism throughout the 20th century (stuff like Black Panther and the rise of China is just barely starting to come back against that) has meant a greater amount of exported culture than imported culture. But the trend seems to be reversing as the US wanes and a multipolar world, particularly a world where China may surpass the US' economy circa 2030 is a reality. This is why World of Warcraft, Overwatch have many Asian-targeted characters, all the major blockbuster films have a greater percentage of Chinese and other Asian actors (Star Wars, Independence Day), I think.

At the same time, I think that simply, "Trying to make games like the West", or "Try to make games for the East" may be a mistake. Trying to make games to sell to a niche, like puzzle games, twin-stick shooters, dating sims, visual novels, etc. makes some sense. If you're making a puzzle game, a mostly action-oriented game, a game without much text or where story, "Is like the story in a porn video: it's there, but it's not that important" as John Carmack would say, then it doesn't really matter much what culture you're focusing on, because that stuff may be mostly window dressing. Tetris is drenched in tons of Russian culture, from the background architecture to the music, and came out during the Cold War, but no one cared, because Tetris is all about gameplay. (Fun fact: Tetris is still the #1 top selling game of all time, 30 million units ahead of Minecraft, and was made by a Russian! I have actually worked for the owner of the property who Shanghaied the game across the Iron Curtain, Henk Rogers, who lives in Hawaii. :) )

Similarly, if you, "Try to make a game for American culture," which involves a lot of actual text and storytelling is a big focus of the game (such as an RPG, an adventure game, or a VN) and you are not fluent in both English and the culture of America or the West, then you could be shooting yourself in the foot. A friend of mine from IndieGames.com recently did a poll to ask whether people would prefer to have a game dubbed in their language, or have English voice actors with subtitles in their language. The majority of the response was, "Unless you have a very high quality translation of a native language speaker, and actors of similar caliber in that language (almost impossible for an indie) don't bother with dubbing, because it will sound hollow / forced, etc."

It's one of the oldest lessons in the book, "Write what you know." But I think it holds true, and fairly successful indies like Wadjet Eye's Dave Gilbert is the epitome of this (he only ever makes games about literal places he's been to in New York! :grin: ). Unless you're doing something where narrative, story, and culture is secondary or not important at all in the game, it may be better to make a game about where you are.

On the topic of games for East-West culture: the overwhelming American and international success of Black Panther, an almost all-black film revolving around African culture, that is climbing toward a $1 billion international gross, is a strong and hopeful data point that universal themes and stories that resonate in the East and West do not need to be centered around "American culture", but need to simply be good stories about and for human beings.

I actually found this recent review of my game Neofeud by a Chinese individual -- which is I think the longest and most thorough review on Steam -- to be particularly revealing. I had no translations, and thus I was betting that basically nobody from China or Japan would have any hope of playing this game, especially given the cultural referents, "English level (100 million points, lol)" and the amount of specificity and regional dialects. But apparently, the topics and themes in the game are things which resonate even across continents and the East-West divide. There have actually been a surprising number of Asian sales. (Also, thanks to this machine translation, I am still wondering what an "American native Terrier" is. :D)

Quote
Before the evaluation I have to say two sentences
If the English level is not 100 million points is not recommended to play, the game involves a large number of cyberspace friends professional terminology, biological terminology, a large number of American native Terrier. Other games without Chinese can also slowly search through the dictionary, but the game, impossible, the dictionary can not find the word, feel it desperate.

Introduction
Neofeud is a game based on the cyberpunk era, and like all other cyberpunk entries, this game contains many human and machine reflections. The content of the game is very good, the entire game is about 15 hours in length, which is a very long length for an indie game.

Gameplay
Most of the content of the game is looking at the plot, the rest is filled with puzzles, looking for enough information in the scene and solving puzzles after thinking.
The design of the puzzle is very diverse, until the clearance will not have a sense of repetition, the puzzles are not only thinking and observation, the game will give enough tips, this time need to observe the scene of the items, Think of what can come in handy.
There are not many items in each scene, so solving the puzzle is not that hard. When can not figure out how to pass, just need to point all the items in the scene again.

The game lacks some details of the deal, such as the general process is: dialogue with people, get the task, find the task items, to pay the task. However, if I first found the task items, you can directly submit the task, lack of dialogue, it is very unexpected.

The game is a linear process. There is only one passing way for each scene. Although the author blocked most of the incorrect routes in the game, it is still negligent. In some scenes, it does not follow the process to touch other objects Will lead to the collapse of the game, because the game is not automatically archived, if you have not saved the file before, encounter a bug will lose all of their game progress.

World view
The worldview of the game is a cyberpunk era in which humans and robots and genetically modified humans coexist. Because human beings are the inventor of the robot, purebred humans naturally have the idea of ​​discrimination against robots and genetically modified humans. The robot is the bottom layer of the oppressed and exploited world, In an era of extremely advanced technology, huge landfills and slums are in sharp contrast with the upper class.

The word repeatedly used in games is "personification," a term that measures the level of a robot, which is just a tool if the robot is less than personable. This is a very worthwhile question. In the highly anthropomorphic future of robots, what should we do with robots that are almost completely anthropomorphic? There are also some semi-anthropomorphic robots, they also have feelings, but the robot is too much, the robot can mass production, the program just copy and paste on the line, the huge robotic race in what kind of position is a big problem.

The game is a dystopian work in the background of Cyberjaya, where once democratic countries once again implemented feudalism and the United States became the hereditary king. The game cites a large number of other games and video works, and some of the other works have changed under the game world view. For example, the subtitle of My Little Pony has been changed to "Feudalism is Magic." This part is very interesting, While playing this game, it's like watching a story happening in a parallel world.

The game is imaginative, with a very detailed portrait of the world in which robots live in the game, from the everyday life of robots to the way energy is charged and the work of robots.

The game assumes too much futuristic technology, small smoking control systems, big time travel machines and even though these novelty things are all about the same, too much technology makes the story of the game unavoidably flawed.

Unique style
The style of the game is very unique, like the hand-painted style of deliberately drawing crooked objects. The characters are pieces of paper spliced ​​by various parts. The overall picture of the game gives a sense of novelty.

American humorous dialogues such as American dramas are another major feature of the game. In addition to playing troll from time to time, the game dialogue also uses a lot of slang, accompanied by high-quality full dubbing, substitution into the full sense of the robot metal texture The sound is also very detailed treatment.

The plot of the game doubles the political struggles and conspiracies of the upper-class people. The development of the plot is tortuous. The result of many things is unexpected. The protagonists and pedestrians encounter various dangers. However, American humor is omnipresent and should have been tense When it was created a kind of funny atmosphere.

to sum up
Overall, the game is a great game of content with amazing imagination and a myriad of puzzles, as well as its unique artistic style that is perfect for Cyberjaya worldviews, If you are interested in cyberspace friends, and the English level of 100 million points, I suggest you play this game. However, not many people can do it
« Last Edit: 27 Feb 2018, 19:33 by SilverSpook »

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Re: Is universal culture actually the USA culture?
« Reply #15 on: 27 Feb 2018, 23:00 »
(Also, thanks to this machine translation, I am still wondering what an "American native Terrier" is. :D)

Quote
Before the evaluation I have to say two sentences
If the English level is not 100 million points is not recommended to play, the game involves a large number of cyberspace friends professional terminology, biological terminology, a large number of American native Terrier.

Dogma? (laugh)

(Seriously though, I think it's a mistranslation of something like "ubran expressions" or "slang terms" as he goes on to mention them not available in the dictionary. I find it likely that online urban/slang dictionaries are blocked by China's great firewall for containing pornographic references which are considered subversive material under Chinese law.)

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Re: Is universal culture actually the USA culture?
« Reply #16 on: 28 Feb 2018, 15:10 »
Similarly, if you, "Try to make a game for American culture," which involves a lot of actual text and storytelling is a big focus of the game (such as an RPG, an adventure game, or a VN) and you are not fluent in both English and the culture of America or the West, then you could be shooting yourself in the foot.

Very much this!

I worked on a project (years ago) that had areas set in parts of the world I have never been. Researching those backgrounds (just the backgrounds) was a HUGE undertaking. Sewer grates look different, road signs are different, traffic lights are different, the shapes of the curbs are different, the way the lines (if there are lines) are painted on the roads is different... I mean it's amazing how similar, yet different, the world can be and I realized that any native of the area would probably know that the background wasn't created by a fellow native simply based on tiny little details that would be very easy to get wrong (even with a lot of research).

To answer the question posed though, I am not sure if I could even define a "universal" culture.

That being said; the way America is these days (and in recent years) I'm not sure I'd want "universal" culture to reflect it!

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Re: Is universal culture actually the USA culture?
« Reply #17 on: 28 Feb 2018, 15:15 »
Since we don't know much about the universe we can't really say what universal culture is... world/earth culture we could probably come to an understanding or at least get closer to what that might be... ;)
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