Unravel, Ikea and Swedish Meatballs

A friend’s comment about Unravel made me think about something. We hardly ever realise which country our games are from. Unravel is Swedish, and we know that because the game is using the Scandinavian country as backdrop for the adventures of its adorable little protagonist.But normally, in 99 percent of the cases, the country of origin is not reflected in the product. My friend discussed with another friend the achievements of Swedish game design, and mentioned Battlefield, Mirror’s Edge and Little Big Planet amongst others as big names of Swedish export.

We don’t really bother about the home country of the studios behind these games.
Because there’s nothing distinguishably Swedish about them. Battlefield or The Darkness (another ‘Swedish’ game) could have been developed in Spain, China or Argentina and it would be the same game. Unravel being a great exception. Then there is Fable that has a  signature British feel and Metro 2033, developed in Ukraine and based on a Russian novel, that carries a true Russian soul. Same can be said about S.T.A.L.K.E.R or Never Alone and its native Alaskan spirit. Sleeping Dogs and Max Payne 3 did a decent depiction of Hong Kong and Brazil respectively. But the games weren’t made by studios from these countries. They did their research: hired consultants, visited the countries. But it’s not a ‘home made’ product and still a mild form of cultural appropriation.

Most videogames are either taking place in fantasy realms or in countries the developers
themselves know little about. Unless it’s America, which they’ll just based off Hollywood films. Battlefield Hardline, Hitman Absolution and Grand Theft Auto are all drenched in Americana and Hollywood culture, despite being made by Swedish, Danish and Scottish development studios. Is this really necessary? Personally I would say it is not. And the answer can be found in Ikea, of all places. I’m not the biggest fan of Ikea, but that has nothing to do with them and more with me. Or more accurately my complete incompetence when it comes to construction. If I was to build a piece of Ikea furniture it would fly out of the window with two dozen nails hammered in places they don’t belong. What Ikea does brilliantly though, is carrying out their Swedish identity. Everyone knows their chairs and tables are called Björn, Ingrid and Lars but walk around in one of their shops for a bit and notice the many reference to Sweden and Swedish language, the meatballs and mashed potatoes in their restaurant and the food section with lingonberry jam, cinnamon cookies and frozen princess cake. Ikea does this because they know people like it. Because it’s different and nobody else does it. And because they do it best.

And that’s exactly why Unravel is such a neat concept of a game too. It’s genuine and unique and nobody else could have made it. Same way there’s nobody who can capture the Russian soul in a game the way the makers of Metro 2033 did, and only a British studio can put that typical dry witted British humour in Fable.I looked up which studio there are in my own country. Triumph made the well known Overlord, Guerilla of Killzone fame and small indie developer Vlambeer who produced Ridiculous Fishing, Luftrausers and Nuclear Throne. All critically acclaimed games, but none of them do anything with their heritage, while I know there’s plenty interesting things to tell about the Netherlands. Even before its release, Unravel was already getting so much attention in the press. Not only because of the incredibly adorkable guy that introduced us to the game during the E3 presser, but also because of the personal, genuine feel of the game. I want to encourage developers to closer to home, find uniqueness in the stories and lore of your own homes instead of going after industry clichés.

Be the first to comment on "Unravel, Ikea and Swedish Meatballs"

Leave a comment