I don’t live in the most rural of places in Australia, but I cannot ever overcome the awe and love I have for this sun burnt land. I’m a city kid, grown and bred in the trendy and cosy parts of Melbourne. Thankfully there are some beautiful parks and places that are easily accessible, my favourite is a place called Studley Park. It’s a national park in the leafy suburb of Kew, Fairfield and Abbotsford. There you can hear the call of Kookaburras, see the deadly eastern tiger snake and marvel at the tawney frogmouth’s bark-like feathers. Parts of the park are reserved for native flora, creating a bush away from the city. It’s always a pleasure to walk through these spaces and interact with them. However, as a consumer of media it is rare that I ever find myself in the Australian landscape in any digital means. Is the Australian landscape not pretty enough?
There have been plenty of games designed and set in Australia, such as AFL 99 and AFL Live 2004 along with the little known title AFL Live 2: Season Pack 2014. A quick google search provides a woeful display of commercial titles in the game industry ‘set’ in Australia. Over half of the games I found were either sports games such as the Tiger Woods golf series, or only contained one map in ‘Australia’ in which a eucalyptus tree was never seen. The games that do use Australian flora and fauna are generally at best depicted in a deformed stereotype lacking anything Australian in them at all.
Game makers in Australia too have shied away from the Australian gum, instead happy to revert to the European evergreens. Australian based company League of Geeks with their beautiful and stunning Armello is lathered in an Australian quality yet features only European and American animals. I’d love to see a tanky Echidna character that could be accessed or maybe a cute sugar glider with a paunch for fencing.
The argument that exporting Australian content won’t be well received is false, we only have to look at other forms of media to see that it is the most iconic of Australian film and television garners most success overseas. TV shows include Neighbours and Round the Twist both considered to be dipped in Australian iconography and setting are constantly being shown and repeated across the globe.
I’m not blaming developers for wanting to build Euro-centric and American based games. Heck, even I love playing in a Germanic and eastern European Witcher 3 but I question why that is. There have only been a handful of games I can think of that truly engage with the Australian environment in a rich and positive way. The Call of Cthulhu adventure Old Fellow That Bunyip by Penelope Love and Mark Morrison was for me the first time I realised I could tell stories based in the environment that was most familiar and I had most loved. It created an excitement in me I had never felt before and as soon as I stepped out of my door I suddenly saw stories everywhere that I could tell. Suddenly the lane ways could be set pieces for a stealth game, the Yarra river was now a snake already filled with Indigenous meaning that I needed to find out.
Another beautiful example is a student designed game from RMIT called Paperbark in which you take the role of various bushland animals exploring a temperate forest in Victoria. The level of detail and familiarity with the landscape took my breath away. The colour palette, the familiar ambience of birds and cicadas, the dangers of rival animals and bushfire. I fell in love because it spoke to me in words I could not express and made me realise how much I had yearned to explore a world I engaged with every day.
Image credit: Paperbark Game