Representations of Australia in Gaming

So, recently I’ve been playing a few games that centre around Australia as a setting and inspiration. So I figured I’d take a look at how Australia is represented in games, through the lens of the current games I’ve been playing. I’ve never been a particularly proud Australian, mostly in part because nationalism is … messy. Australia as a game setting though? Hell yeah, sign me up.

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The first game I want to look at is also the oldest on the list: TY the Tasmanian Tiger. A PS2/Xbox era game that was recently re-released on Steam sometime last year. TY the Tasmanian Tiger centres around the evil plans of Boss Cass, an evil cassowary (appropriate since Cassowaries are bloody scary) and the thwarting of those plans by TY, the last Tasmanian Tiger after the rest of his species was abducted into the Dreamtime.

There is so much Australia ephemera in this game that it would take an article unto itself to break it down. Here’s just a few. TY’s allies are a grouchy cockatoo, a genius koala, a Park Ranger Tasmanian Devil, a lifeguard platypus, and TY’s love interest, a possum called Sheila. You collect opals and thunder eggs, you rescue Bilbies, you fight frill-necked lizards and blue tongue lizards. There are multitudes more characters that represent the diverse wildlife of Australia. The environments include beaches, rainforests, desert, and snowy mountains. Perhaps the only Australian environment represented in this game are the big cities which are an interesting omission in of themselves.

The game could be said to represent Australia and it certainly seems to represent the flora and fauna of the country. However, it seems to be an overly pastoral view of Australia. There’s nothing wrong with this, hypothetically. However, just as pastoral poetry was criticised in its heights it ignores something important about the environment, that colonisation ruined it. There are clear indications that this is a world that is meant to be post-colonisation (as much as it can be when all the characters are animals). There are towns and electricity. However, the lack of any modern technology could suggest that this world is not meant to reflect modern Australia. It feels like the world of Clancy of the Overflow (here’s a personal favourite version of mine) or The Man from Snowy River.

Is it a good or bad representation? Hard to say. There is good and bad in it. If I had more words, I’d go in depth, but that might require a chapter in a book. Before I move on to the next game I should mention one final thing.

When representing Australia, there is one aspect that I think cannot be ignored, because to do so would remove an important aspect of our history. It is the question of representation of Aboriginal Australians. This is their land rightfully so to eliminate them from it when representing the landscape would be poor form indeed. TY has a complicated relationship with the representation of Aboriginal Australians. There is the character of the Elder Bunyip who is clearly meant to represent an Aboriginal elder. There is also the fact that TY can access a powerful Bunyip form when walking over a power up. There is some equation between the mystical bunyip and Aboriginal Australians. Good representation? Bad representation? Hard for me to say as Whitey Whiterson. It could also be said that TY himself is a representation of an Aboriginal person and indeed the abduction of his family could be seen as allegorical of the Stolen Generation. TY as an Aboriginal protagonist does make a bit of sense. His primary weapons are boomerangs, an invention of the Aboriginal people. That interpretation is certainly valid.

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The second game I would like to discuss is the comparatively contemporary Forza Horizon 3. Forza Horizon 3 was released last year on Xbox One and Windows 10. In terms of representations of Australia, this comes off as slightly bizarre. One can see from the map that the game is making no attempt at accuracy (The Twelve Apostles are above Byron Bay, both are just a short drive from Surfers Paradise). Everything has been compressed to provide the most fun for a racing game. Just like TY, the game represents a diverse Australian landscape. Outback, rainforest, beach, city. It’s all here as such. There are a few clues however that this game lacks a homegrown element. Granted the game is fun and certainly an excellent Australia from an outsider. However, there are a couple things missing. No missteps as such, just missing elements.

Before I mention what’s missing I will note that the cars are on point. With nearly 400 cars it seems that plenty of Australian motoring history is represented (and the Barn Finds, with Warren the mechanic’s options certainly reveal that). Now, first and foremost my biggest bugbear is the music. Most of them are imported stations and thus lack an Aussie feeling, or the music doesn’t suit. Perhaps the station that comes closest is the classical station and its presenter, Don Johnson. Certainly, the one station missing from Forza Horizon 3 is a classic Aussie rock station. That would make it feel more Aussie. Jimmy Barnes, AC/DC, Crowded House, Hunters and Collectors, Men at Work, Midnight Oil. All these artists could be included and much improve the Aussie feeling.

The other thing that strikes me is a lack of representation of Aboriginal Australians. Of the default main character faces, they feel like a collection of diverse Americans (not surprising as your character is specifically coming to Australia to set up the festival). I can’t hold that against them much but driving across the wide-open landscape at 250km/h feels disrespectful in the same way that climbing Uluru would. It’s not particularly heinous but it is a notable oversight.

So, Forza Horizon 3 as a representation of Australia isn’t perfect. There’s a lack of familiarity which you can feel in the soul of the game. It is well-researched, with the cars and landscapes feeling true but something is missing.

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To finish up I’ll just briefly talk about the sequel to TY. TY 2: Bush Rescue, which recently entered Early Access on Steam. TY 2 notably re-introduces TY’s family of Tasmanian Tigers after they were rescued at the end of the first game. The game removes the Elder Bunyip notably. It also opens the world up and introduces some sci-fi tech. Whereas the first game felt like a historical creation, the result is that this game comes across feeling more stepped in modernity. It continues in the spirit of the first game with its representations of Australian flora and fauna. Everything that could be said about this game could probably be said as a rearrangement of my thoughts on the first game. It’s worth noting for what it changes nonetheless.

So, those were some of my thoughts on representations of Australia in gaming. It’s interesting, to say the least. All are good games but have some complicated relationships with their inspiration. With that said, there could always be more games about Australia and I will be first in line to play them.

 

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