Jonathan Cohn

The Folklore Mechanic: Toward a Third Gaming Culture

In 1969, Octavio Getino and Fernando Solanas called for the creation of a third cinema, a non-commercial film movement to subvert the bourgeois and imperialist productions created by Hollywood.  Given the extreme global popularity and influence of North American and European video games, perhaps it is time to begin imagining and calling for a third video game production culture as well.  In this paper, I will discuss nascent efforts toward what might be called a third gaming culture that have materialized around the success of a small handful of video games that seek to educate audiences about various colonized cultures across the planet.  I will discuss Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan (Kiro’o Games, 2015) made in Cameroon, Never Alone (Upper One Games, 2014) produced in part by the Cook Inlet Tribal Council,  Guacamelee! (DrinkBox Studios, 2013) designed partly by a Mexican émigré in Toronto, and Papo & Yo (Minority Media, 2012) designed partly by a Colombian émigré in Montreal.

While these games have been widely celebrated for their depiction of local postcolonial cultures and their pre-colonial histories, they do have many clear narrative, aesthetic and gameplay similarities that together suggest they constitute the beginnings of a new genre (or perhaps even a movement).  Although they do not challenge the capitalist logic of the video game industry, they do, like 3rd cinema before it, all include explicitly educational elements and encourage players to collaborate and commune together both in the game and after.  These games also all ask players to use local magic, tradition and myths to help them navigate spaces and platforms and master puzzles.  I will discuss the complicated relationship this “folklore mechanic” has to a long history of both colonial and decolonial practices.

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