“It's so normal, and … meaningful.” Playing with Narrative, Artifacts, and Cultural Difference in Florence
Keywords:Video Games, Game Design, Religion, Culture, Ethnicity, Interactive Narrative, Game Mechanics, Hinduism, Pan-Asian, Cosmopolitanism, gamevironments
This article considers how player interactions with religious and ethnic markers, create a globalized game space in the mobile game Florence (2018). Florence is a multi-award-winning interactive novella game with story-integrated minigames that weave play experiences into the narrative. The game, in part, explores love, loss, and rejuvenation as relatable experiences. Simultaneously, the game produces a unique experience for each player, as they can refract the game narrative through their own cultural, identitarian lens. The game assumes the shared cultural space of the player, the player-character (PC), and the non-player-character (NPC) while blurring the boundaries between each of these categories. Through textual analysis, semiotics, and globalization theory, we show how Florence’s designers use game mechanics and narrative artifacts to produce a dynamic, cosmopolitan game space that beckons the player to engage personally with the game’s narrative. The result is that narrative objects function as nonspecific cultural signifiers, inviting players to see the game space as global, a place in which traditionally underrepresented groups (non-white ethnicities and non-male genders) can be posited as normative and ordinary. Specifically, the religious and cultural artifacts signify a game space in which an interracial, interfaith love story is the default narrative – a pathway into the ordinary, rather than these artifacts functioning merely as markers of difference. Thus, these artifacts signify a globalized community that welcomes the player into the game space of Florence. As such, Florence is a novel and important entry into video games’ representation of culture and religion.