Saturday, September 30, 2006

Melanie and I have written a paper for some conference or other. The theme for the conference is "Un-Australia".

Here is the first bit of the bit I wrote (expertly edited by Melanie; thanks Melanie!):

Playing games is one of the most UnAustralian pastimes in Australia. This is not to say that Australians don’t play games as much as their counterparts elsewhere, because they do: gaming is a hugely popular activity in this country. It's just that the content of the games that Australians play, even the Australian-made games, are almost universally devoid of Australian cultural content.

Why should we care? According to media consumption statistics (RTO Online, 2005), young people are increasingly consuming their culture via games and decreasing their use of older media such as television. In other words, Australians are turning off their televisions, where they have the possibility of being exposed to Australian-made content and switching on their PlayStations through which they are almost guaranteed to consume none at all.

Result: the media consumed by Australians becoming less Australian.

The lack of local content in games played in Australia is remarkable, given the vibrant and respected game industry Australia has had for nearly three decades. While the Australian game industry is fairly mature and sizeable for a country of its population, this does not mean that “Australian games” are being made – any more than you can say that Vietnamese children sewing Nikes in sweatshops are making “Vietnamese shoes”.

It is hardly their fault. Australian development studios have little choice but to create games for the international market. Australian industry is based on cheap (in game industry terms) labour making games on behalf of international game publishers for the international (predominantly US) market. Often this means developing ports (conversions of games from one platform to another) licensed titles and budget games (think: made for Kmart). If they’re lucky, an Australian studio will be able to work on “original IP”: a fully original game concept. But again, this game concept will be designed and tweaked to cater primarily for the US market. Australian-based American voice actors owe a great deal to our local industry for keeping them in work.

There are a few exceptions to this un-Australian rule: examples that are always raised when anyone is asked (albeit rarely) to provide examples of Australian content in games. One is a yearly budget title based on the Australian Football League license. Another is a game called Ty the Tasmanian Tiger. Ty is Australian enough, but only in a way its American audience would consider Australian. Electronic Arts, the US-based publisher, required the removal of certain content from the game (mangrove swamps, for example) on the basis that they wouldn’t recognised as “Australian” by the American market.



At 2:45 am, Blogger Paul said...

This is an interesting point, and one which I find myself thinking about a lot as an outsider living in Australia.

The question I repeatedly come up against, and this is similar to the 'Values' debate rattling around, is what defines Australian Culture? What makes a story uniquely Australian?

I found some interesting thoughts on the matter and put them up on my blog here:


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