[In this analysis, originally published on Gamasutra sister alt.weblog GameSetWatch, columnist Daniel Johnson studies Australian wildcard Dane Bishop in Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow to examine cultural identities in video games.]
The greatest challenge in writing a column on the relationship between video games and culture is being familiar with the cultural norms and practices of communities from around the world, and then being able to draw on this information at will.
Within my own sphere of cultural knowledge, I'm personally well acquainted with Australian and Chinese culture, less so the rest of the world. Given my familiarity on the topic, it's only fitting that I take a squiz at a game that features an Aussie bloke.
PSP spy-thriller Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow
is a title from a franchise rich in ethnic stereotypes (Somalians are pirates, Russians are evil, Americans are the saviours of the world)-- but oddly enough, many cross-ethnic partnerships too (an American-Chinese lead duo, making friends with the Russians).
It's bizarre the way the series gravitates back and forth between shallow cultural tropes ripped straight from action cinema to identities and backstories containing some actual cultural weight.
Aussie shoe-in Dane Bishop is of particular interest in this iteration of the franchise. Bishop is the ambassador for the new swimming mechanics in Logan's Shadow
which makes him pretty important. He provides a tutorial at the start of the game and then later accompanies Gabe during key diving missions.
The Australian accent put on by esteemed (British) voice actor Robin Atkin Downes
comes off suitably brilliantly. Better still, Bishop's character sp well exemplifies Aussie larrikinism
I found it difficult to ignore - which is why I want to talk about it.
Larrikinism, quoting Wikipedia
, is “the name given to the Australian folk tradition of irreverence, mockery of authority and disregard for rigid norms of propriety. Larrikinism can also be associated with self-deprecating humour”
I want to focus on this element exclusively because it's an important aspect of what I consider Australian culture. More so than the often shallow image packaged and exported overseas. You know; kangaroos inhabiting our backyards and park lands, wrestling crocs on the weekend and blowing gum leaves around a camp fire while singing songs. While these things are certainly true of Australian culture...to a certain extent, it's a very narrow interpretation of the broader cultural identity this country that has to offer.
This article is concerned with the way Bishop's larrikin-like nature is introduced to the player through the initial swimming tutorial in Logan's Shadow
Dane first makes his appearance in the last of the game's tutorials. Up to now series regular Teresa Lipan has been covering the tutes which include basic movement, weapons and combat training. Even before Bishop is introduced there's a slight amount of apprehension surrounding the character. Teresa is unaware that (protagonist) Gabe Logan has contracted the Australian to help with agency swim training.
She curiously questions Gabe over the secrecy. Once Dane interrupts, marking his appearance, Teresa vents her irritation, denoting some sort of history between the two characters, as they then verbally joust over the radio speaker. Teresa is clearly agitated by Dane's presence, while Dane intentionally riles her up.
In the same vein as the previous column
, we're analyzing the way game developers manage the roles and performances of their characters. Teresa plays her part as the officer of authority and Dane as the larrikin averse to her authority. This much is obvious from the manufactured scenario that Sony Bend present.
Of course, it's more than that. Teresa's function is to contrast and further heighten Dane's personality as the Aussie larrikin. She operates to personify the character, not only that, the history between the two characters and the conflict this creates is used as a means to warm the player in, not just to Dane Bishop's sense of character, but it'd be fair to say Australians in general. The conflict and resulting interplay is later capitalized upon in other missions too.
As the training continues Dane cuts in on Teresa's transmission with snide jokes, disrupting the procedure. Teresa complements Gabe on disabling an underwater valve (the safer solution to the exercise) when Bishop jumps in as the deviant with “Booooring, blow it up mate!”
Once Teresa has run through the basic manoeuvres, Bishop takes over with the underwater weapons training. In his introduction to this component of the exercise (“let me take over from here darling”
) Bishop uses “darling”
as a marker to joke/flirt with Teresa as he did when he first made his appearance.
This term also breaks down the formalities of the session and is a commonly used Australian word to refer to a female. When referring to Gabe he'll use the word "mate"
a lot to remove the informality between them. Again another word symbolic of what Australians relate to our culture - mateship and all that business. The stress placed on the vowels in Bishop's speech, particularly in the two aforementioned words "mate"
showcase some convincing voice acting talent.
Teresa then departs, Bishop follows this up by "seeya tonight toots"
and Teresa responds angrily. With her now out of the way, Bishop can get into some real mischief. He runs through the procedure fairly professionally, his casual language is the only point of reference here. Dry-land weapons being "gimped out"
under water, "shotguns just plain don't work and do"
and "don't even bother throwing a grenade.."
are examples of slang, relaxed grammar and causality in language.
Bishop then sends a recruit down near the water for Gabe to pull him in with a close quarters attack. The recruit is unaware of this and is instead told to go down by the water and look for Gabe. Bishop chuckles at the situation he has constructed, knowing that he's tricked the trainee. The recruit then says to himself "I shouldn't have trusted that weird Scottish guy"
, Bishop then angrily responds "Aye! It's bloody Aussie you dumb recruit!"
This utterance isn't so much a display of deviance as it is a means to remind the player of Bishop's identity and bind him to it. The recruit is unfamiliar with the Australian accent; a situation that the player may well be in, Bishop's response affirms the Australian identity within the players mindset (attaching it to the obvious larrikinism which is present) while the coarse, aggressive tone and quick, off-the-mark reply works to show that he is also passionate about that identity, and refuses to be confused with other cultural identities. He's also breaking etiquette by insulting another team member.
After taking down the recruit, Bishop let's out a loud cackle through the speaker. Gabe then discusses the course with Bishop. Gabe concludes by saying that Teresa will be disappointed with his role as supervisor. Bishop continues the joke for one last time before the training ends, he states in reply "You don't understand women Logan, she built this course just so that she could see me"
As we can see by the constructed conflict, respective characters and dialogue how the training sequence allows the player to get a feel for this larrikin-like phenomena present in the Australian identity. The sequence is choreographed well by first allowing Bishop to play up during Teresa's performance, lightly introducing his role before he takes centre stage and then concluding with Bishop some mischief.
At the same time, the training uses the two characters to split the procedure in the middle with movement and weapons training handled by either supervisor. The training is therefore successful at both introducing the new swimming mechanics as well as Bishop and the larrikinist aspect of Australian identity.
The training familiarizes you with the culture that the character embodies, and does so to the game's credit. This successful example can be applied to other games as a framework to warm the player into possibly unfamiliar concepts; such as those of different cultures. If we look at my previous post on the implications of dialects in Dragon Quest IV
, we see how that lack of context can cause confusion.
The game begins by dumping you into (what is likely to be) a “foreign”
context with no assistance. If the game introduced dialects in a more “considerate”
manner, drawing from familiar sources (ie. in the LS
example, the “normal”
participants; Gabe and Teresa) then perhaps there would have been less dissonance between the speech and the player's possible interpretation of that speech. That's not to praise one and dump on the other, the games have different intentions, clearly, but it's worth noting the comparison.
[Daniel Johnson spends too many late nights conversing Mandarin to friends in Shanghai. He studies language and culture, and shares most of his video game musings on his blog at danielprimed.com]