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Canadian Content in Video Games

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THEME: Internationalism: Worlds at Play Topics: Internationalism, Identity in Gaming and Learning to Play Abstract: How does Canada fit into the global cultural context of video games? This paper investigates the culture being reflected in video games being produced in Canada as Canada is one of the world's leading producers of video games. It examines the how Canadian culture is represented in current new media artistic output against the culture, or lack of culture, being represented in video games currently being produced. With the shift of television viewers away from culture-regulated television and onto "culture neutral" video games, is our culture being eroded or expanding to fill a new culture shared with others across borders in virtual space? Canada is one of the most active in internet use, do virtual online gaming cultures form based on physical locale and shared real-world culture? Should we attempt to find our "national identity" in video games, or does culture travel differently through interactive media? Can we measure the impact of the transmission of culture through video games in Canada? In short, an in-depth examination of the impact of the transmission and direction of our national culture through the video games we produce and consume as cultural product. This paper expands and continues to explore issues raises in a paper previously given at the 2004 New Forms Festival with new interviews with leading Canadian video game designers, an in-depth examination of Canadian online gaming communities and an investigation into “serious games” which Canada is producing which portray Canada's unique cultural identity. Canada is one of the world's top producers and consumers of video games. The Canadian video game market (which includes hardware, software and peripherals), generated revenues of $746 million (all dollar figures in CAD) in 2003 a growth of 13% over 2002. Canada is home to the largest and most successful video game studios in Burnaby, BC at over 900 employees, which is set to double its size in the near future. The number one title purchased by Canadians for the first quarter of 2004 was the Canadian produced Electronic Arts NHL 2004 for the PS2, closely followed by another Canadian title: EA's Need for Speed Underground for the PS2 in third place. Other top Canadian video game players include UbiSoft Montréal, known its Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time game which swept the 2004 Academy of Arts and Science Awards (the video game equivalent of cinema's Academy Awards), winning 9 awards in total. BioWare's Edmonton studio produced Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic for the Xbox which currently ranks at number 19 in the best games of all-time by and became the fastest selling Xbox game in history. For online play, Canada is also well-prepared as one of the most internet-savvy countries in the world, ranking second in the world behind the US by the Conference Board of Canada. It is well prepared for the rapidly growing online console gaming market with 80% of Canadian Xbox owners having broadband access and Canada representing 25% of the total online PS2 market. But what are we producing and consuming as Canadians when take a step back and view our video games as a cultural product? How does our prominence as video game producers reflect who we are to the rest of the world? Do our roles as interactive cultural producers have a distinct “Canadian” feel in a culturally deregulated industry, or are we culturally lost in a post-modern hyper-connected world consciousness? Canada is one of the world's leading nations in the production and consumption of video game product and culture and shows no sign of slowing in the near future. Video games themselves are just surfacing as an art form worthy of academic critique. Many universities, colleges and private institutions are now offering courses in video game studies and development, increasing the future talent pool for local video game studios. Additionally, the rise of academia in video games also holds promise for self-referential “high art” games, which can further highlight the role of Canada's culture in video games.
Contact: Leonard Paul, Sound Design Department at the Vancouver Film School
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