When you think of a good story, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s a beautiful romance or an epic battle. Maybe it’s the quest for self-fulfillment or the pursuit of knowledge. While these tropes are universal human experiences, the ways that we experience them can differ from culture to culture. A character’s journey will keep audiences engaged, but it’s their relatability — how easy it is for a player to put themselves in the character’s shoes — that makes good stories so resonant.
Imagine you're working on a fantasy game that takes place in a new and unfamiliar world. You’ve perfected the visuals, written extensive world-building lore, and scored an emotional soundtrack that set your game up to be a one-of-a-kind experience. Your players love exploring the universe you’ve created, but the illusion comes crashing down when a pivotal wedding scene includes bridesmaids. This idea might be innocuous or even expected in some Western demographics, but the concept of bridesmaids is not a universal one.
“I see quite often these writers that have never been to a different country, that don’t speak another language, and that don’t have a bicultural life experience. They see the world from a very rooted point of view and have no clue that what they’re talking about isn’t universal,” says Ji Shin, Senior Narrative Designer at Lionbridge Games. “Little things like that really stick out. To some Western players, this pulls away from the story because it’s unimaginative for you to travel to an alien world and see bridesmaids. For other demographics, this foreign-to-them custom is treated like the status quo without being explained. They feel alienated, and like the content isn’t made for them. Either way, you’re pulling the audience away from your story.”
As part of the Lionbridge Games Narrative Design team, Shin is tasked with identifying these points of contention and working alongside publishers and developers to make sure their games will thrive in multiple markets.