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Role-playing games (RPGs) place a significant emphasis on the development of the player character or avatar. Players improve and customize their avatars by managing their appearance, quantifiable character skills and by obtaining and using progressively better items (Barton, 2008, Hitchens & Drachen, 2008). It is thus vital for an RPG to immerse the player in a character, and a significant body of research has examined the complexity of player-avatar relationships (Hjorth, 2011). Characters do not exist in a vacuum, and character immersion is strongly connected to immersion within a specific imaginary world. This is achieved by world-building, a process described by Wolf (2012) as hinging on the three characteristics of inventiveness, consistency, and a sense of completeness.
Given the importance of imaginary world-building for immersion in RPGs, they devote considerable attention to culture (Monken, 2010; Johnson, 2013). This attention makes RPGs potentially effective tools for cultural heritage purposes alongside other virtual heritage applications. However, RPGs do not always serve well the virtual heritage concept of cultural and social presence (Champion, 2007). While it is reasonable to argue that world-building will demand steady improvements to presence-building over time, not all RPGs that explore culture rely on presence to the same degree, and indeed not all RPGs require substantial cultural content.
Furthermore, cultural accuracy is not intrinsically valuable in games development, and developers frequently resort to popular culture stereotypes, distorted but readily recognizable to audiences (Sołtysiak, 2014). Simultaneously, effective cultural transmission relies not only on strong cultural content, but also on the appeal of the game. A game that explores culture in depth and with accuracy while failing to meet audience expectations, will not ultimately be successful.
Conference slides DiGRAA 2015 Majewski - Approaches to cultural heritage in role-playing games.pdf (4572 kB)
Conference Presentation slides
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