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Giving video games a distinct Italian flavour doesn’t mean what you might think

Everyone seems to love Italy. You can visit Tuscany in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed 2 sub-series, and roam a fantasy city inspired by Venice in Final Fantasy 15. You can fight in Venice in Final Fight 2 and in Pisa in Castlevania: Bloodlines. You can drive on Italian roads in Gran Turismo and you can ski on the Alps in Steep. You can murder in an imaginary Sicilian town in Hitman 2: Silent Assassin and in an imaginary town near Naples in Hitman (2016). But are these games “Italian”?

The answer is clearly “no”. These games are developed by Japanese, American, European and international teams; Italy is just one of many geographical and historical flavours they add to their receipts. And the question could look quite uninteresting, too: why should you care whether a game is “Italian”? Maybe you planned a trip to Italy and wish to eat pizza there, but you sense that at the end of the day Italy is not so important in the grander scheme of things. And I must admit you are right. But what’s happening in Italy shows how developers are looking for their own identity, drawing new tools from their own cultural heritage and shedding light on lesser known stories and places.

A 2016 survey claims that 11.4 per cent of tourists discovered the small Tuscanian town of Monteriggioni because of Assassin’s Creed 2, which places the familial home of protagonist Ezio Auditore there. This case inspired local institutions interested in promoting smaller cities and developers interested in digging up new stories, traditions and legends for their video games. “They always say that video games are a global medium that should be designed with a wide, international public in mind,” sats Andrea Dresseno, the founder of IVIPRO, the Italian Videogame Program. “That’s very true. This, however, doesn’t preclude the possibility to use this medium with the aim to reach a specific public that was never reached before, or as a means to talk about particular themes in a local setting.” IVIPRO is an Italian association that seeks to connect institutions and developers in order to promote video games set in Italy. “First and foremost, it is necessary to start distinguishing between the different types of works and the various aims [they chase]” Dresseno continues. “I always hear people talking about business, about the importance of the growth of this industry, about investments and revenues. All of that is legitimate, but are we sure that the only way to use and take advantage of video games as a medium is to profit from them? Let’s try to look at video games as a medium of communication and expression, not only as a product. By shifting the perspective, we could start using peculiarities in a way that’s free from the constraints (and the stereotypes) imposed by the commercial urgency.”

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