Cultural representation in gaming is something that has been handled with a wide spectrum of effort and care. Each unique example reflects the priorities of the developer to maintain accuracy in their work. The first and easiest example of mishandling a culture is Infinity Ward, the developer of the Call of Duty series. Infinity Ward has become notorious for the ethnically disagreeable undertones in their titles in recent years. Their games often pit “good guys” vs. bad guys. The good guys are almost always American in these stories. The “irredeemable” villains tend to come from Eastern European nations such as Pakistan or Russia.
A more specific example of cultural insensitivity can be found in Infinity Ward’s “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2”. This game represents several regions, dialects, and cultures of Pakistan. Street signs, random books, and the language people in the city speak in MW2 are all Arabic.
Yet the official language of the country is Urdu, a fact that is easily available with a simple Google search. Mistake comes notwithstanding of the game’s antagonists (a fictional Pakistani terrorist group) having shown no motivation for their actions in the narrative outside of a blatant disposition against imperialist and Western culture.
However, failures to properly represent a culture such as Infinity Ward’s aren’t necessarily commonplace in the games industry. A company well known for their portrayal of other countries and cultures is Ubisoft, based out of Montréal. The developer’s best-known franchise is Assassin’s Creed, a series about exploring a variety of historical set pieces (Caribbean Slave Trade, Italian Renaissance, the Crusades, etc.) through the eyes of an outsider.
Ubisoft is quick to remind players of the effort they put into properly researching not only the regions and time period that their games take place in, but also the cultures involved in events during those times. Ubisoft does this by preceding their games with screens bearing the text, “Inspired by historical events and characters. This work of fiction was designed, developed, and produced by a multicultural team of various religious faiths and beliefs.” This shows an effort on Ubisoft’s part to pay respects to the events, people, and settings in their games.
That being said, cultural representation is not the only societal issue one could find in video games (the topic of gender politics would require an entire series of articles to drudge through). Properly handling how an audience sees the people a developer attempts to portray should be seen as more important than it is. As it stands now though, the mistakes can potentially enforce prejudices and stereotypes and can cause more harm than intended.