'Breath of the Wild' Missed an Opportunity To Represent Arabic Culture

How 'Breath of the Wild' handles gender and analogues to Arabic culture.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/breath-of-the-wild-missed-an-opportunity-to-represent-arabic-culture

I don’t know. Having to represent a culture with depth and care still seems to me like a pretty big ask just because a piece of media borrowed from said culture. Like prayer wheels are totally off the table unless you’re also going to represent all associated Tibetan culture and religion thoughtfully.

Says the privileged ass white boy too scared to write anything for fear of getting it wrong so please take my comment with that context. Even as I write this I realize how hypocritical I’m being as I remember how uncomfortable I felt with how unconcerned Persona 5 was with treating or even designing a Cathedral.

I understand where you’re coming from. It’s tricky to talk about for sure. But I think the author has a point. By borrowing from a culture, whether they like it or not, the artist is making a political statement on said culture, and more often than not it can feel disrespectful. Like in the case of BotW, while being a fantasy game in an unreal world, Guerdo Town is inadvertently Orientalist. It uses ancient Arabic imagery to make the place feel exotic and different from other areas in the game. While in a vacuum, Guerdo Town’s portrayal may not be an issue, on planet earth it is affirming some stereotypes of the middle east and extenuating the culture’s differences without realistically portraying what the middle east and Arabic culture is actually like.

I think of it like this: I was mad when Bioshock Infinite used American Racism as background dressing without actually digging in to the subject in the same way I’m mad that Far Cry 5 looks to use white supremacist imagery without actually trying to cover or make a statement on racism. I feel uncomfortable with Mass Effect Andromeda’s trans character dropping her dead name in the second line of dialogue as that made her feel like an item off a checklist than an actual fully fledged character. In the same way I want artists to accurately portray and carefully handle subjects I care about, I imagine many people from other cultures from my own feel the same way about their heritage and beliefs.

So yeah, I do agree it’s a big ask to expect artist to represent a culture this way, we’ve been facing this problem since humans painted in caves, it’s something to aspire to.

EDIT: added some context at the end to bring it back around


I’m not a professional artist, but I dabble and I know tons of artists and I’m also a writer. You have a duty to learn how to research, represent or at the very least, learn about what you use as references, even if its a mere gesture. It not only informs your art in a better way, it also means you might develop a deeper respect for the things you are borrowing from when putting it into your game/media.


This article really struck me, mainly the part about it lacking the actual tension of culture shock. It made me wonder if any game handled the reality of culture shock well. I grew up in Nairobi, and only recently moved to Oregon for uni, and the past year has been nothing but adjustment. I played Life is Strange the other day and wished I had played it earlier because it depicted Oregon youth in a way that would likely have helped me in the beginning months at school. But that just represented a culture, it didn’t capture the feelings of confusion, loss, and ethnic meandering that culture shock can create. I want a game that portrays my inner experience of cultural confusion as profoundly as Teju Cole’s Open City. I’m sorry Zelda didnt capture that.
Does anyone know of any game that portrays culture shock well?

This was a fantastic piece, I hope the author gets great reception. Absolutely great point coupled with language that wasn’t antagonistic. Celebrates what the game does do and what it could have done. It’s hard not to concur that it would have been a more powerful experience if it did engage with the culture more.

I really really really love this piece.

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I totally feel you on this and also this article was something I immediately saved for future thought about this stuff. I think Inkle did a pretty stellar job with 80 Days but that can’t ever make you complacent.

Shenmue II sort of does this at its halfway point when the player moves from Aberdeen/etc. to Kowloon proper. There’s a drastic shift in the tone of the game’s soundtrack, the number of people walking around, the scope of the architecture, the story feeling a little more dangerous, the slow build up from an attempt at a realistic depiction to more and more mythological trappings worked into the level design. The writing may be typical hero’s journey sort of stuff but the soundtrack and atmosphere really sell this part of the game incredibly well.

Ironically it’s more effective than when the game tries to portray an actual culture shock for the character in its final act.