Cheers love, the cavalry’s here: eight representations of Brits in internationally made video games
The 30 Years of Play campaign has already taken a good old gander at what British studios have thought about when they’ve looked at our glorious sceptred isle.
We’ve already looked at video game characters created in the UK, and representations of British locales across a number of games. But how does the rest of the world see us?
In this lovely listicle, we take a look at eight British characters made overseas by international games companies to take a closer look at what everyone else thinks of when they think about what it means to be from good ol’ Blighty.
(Professor Layton series, 2007)
Back in 2007 when the Nintendo DS reigned supreme, Japanese developer Level-5 released the first instalment of the hugely popular and critically well-received ‘Professor Layton’ series. The sweetly animated games follows the eponymous detective Professor Layton, who travels across various locales including fictional typical English villages to solve crimes and supernatural mysteries.
Inspired by the detective/murder mystery literary heritage of the UK (Sherlock Holmes, we presume), the CEO of Level-5 Akinhiro Hino created the character of Professor Layton to reflect the stereotypical values of a classic English gentlemen - polite, well-spoken with penchant for a good cup of tea (and a stylish top hat, of course).
Written as an archaeology professor at the fictional Gressenheller University in London, the mild-mannered academic was well received, with one reviewer describing him as a “delightful companion” whose “refined demeanor brings a cultured air”.
Couldn’t we do with more of that now...
(Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, 2013)
Edward Kenway, the star of Ubisoft’s ‘Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag’, gets an extra special nod for being Welsh and playable!
Born and bred in Swansea, Edward Kenway stars as a privateer-turned-pirate in the early 18th century during a period which is often called the Golden Age of Piracy. With Wales being the home of some of the most famous pirates in history such as Bartholomew Roberts, it makes sense to make Edward hail from there too.
But did you know that the original casting call was actually for Mancunian or Bristolian accents? Well, now you blooming do. But fortunately for us all, the Welsh accent of voice actor Matt Ryan, charmed Ubisoft so much that they decided to go the whole way and write Edward’s background as a Welshman.
And while it may not seem like much, lead script writer Darby McDevitt thinks otherwise. He told Wales Online, that Ubisoft had seen “ kids in the US asking what is, or where is Wales, and then we’ve got the Welsh gamers excited that the hero is Welsh.”
Of course, as a pirate, Edward pillages ships and has big craving for alcohol. So it may not be the most flattering of representations of the Welsh people, but he is a hero at the end of the day.
And while we might be saying that because he’s a hero in game, it’s his constant anger at characters mistaking him for an Englishman that makes Edward a genuinely great Welsh hero.
(Street Fighter series, 1997)
Fighting game classic Street Fighter features characters from around the world. The series includes Dudley, who, like Professor Layton, is styled as a typical English gentlemen. But unlike Layton, Dudleys vision of upper class English life is less about deer stalkers and more about Queensbury Rules.
Designed by Japanese company Capcom, Dudley sports a neatly trimmed moustache and a crisp white shirt perfect for some crisp boxing action. He’s also a notably somewhat down to earth compared to the rest of the cast.
Dudley is more interested in picking flowers for his country estate, or recovering his father’s antique car, and actually takes the time to wear cushioned boxing gloves in consideration of his foes. By ‘Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike’, he’s even knighted by the Royal Family and called Sir Dudlington.
And if that wasn’t posh enough for you, Dudley has some delightful quotes in game that really show his (upper) class.
"There is a difference between refined strength and uncouth violence."
"I like you. Please allow me to buy you a pint."
"It was quite the honour to be able to exchange blows with you."
"Pardon me for my violent behaviour, lady."
What a gent, eh?
John ‘Soap’ MacTavish,
(Call of Duty: Modern Warfare trilogy, 2007)
Meanwhile, Scotland has one of the most iconic protagonists of modern games - John ‘Soap’ MacTavish. In 2011, he was placed 12th in a list of 50 characters from an online survey of over 13,000 game players.
Starring in all three instalments of the ’Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’ series, players get to watch Soap grow from a young sergeant to a Captain in Task Force 411. His Scottish voice actor Kevin McKidd had noted how it was finally nice to have a role where he could use his natural accent - due to him previously having to cover it with a English one when starring in TV series ‘Rome’, or an American one on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’.
Like Edward Kenway with his Welsh heritage, it’s made clear Soap is Scottish - Soap proudly displays the saltire on his dog tags. But unlike Kenway, Soap falls foul of an attempt to avoid controversy by indicating that he’s a supporter of the fictional Glasgow Football Club: annoying Rangers and Celtic fans in equal numbers.
But maybe that’s the real battle he’s preparing to fight…
Tracer, or Lena Oxton, is the cover star of ‘Overwatch’, the multiplayer first person shooter developed by American company Blizzard.
Front and centre in Overwatch's marketing, Tracer graces the front cover of physical copies and features extensively in trailers; and as luck would have it, she hails from London too, sporting a spunky (and incredibly stereotypical) cockney accent.
The effortlessly upbeat and persistently optimistic heroine has an oh-so-British background as well. A fearless and daring pilot, Tracer served in the Royal Air Force before adventurously joining the fictional international task force named, yes, Overwatch.
In-game, you can often hear her chattering away various lines of what Blizzard calls her “rapid-fire banter” as you play. Tracer also wears an RAF aviator jacket slapped with a big Union Jack on the sleeve.
Best of all, she’s become even more of a London hero as a result of the Overwatch League. The London Spitfire’s Profit has become one of the leading Tracer players in the world, helping fire the side to victory in the inaugural season of the competition.
You can take the hero out of London, but you can’t take the London out of the hero.
(Tomb Raider series, 1996)
The ultimate heroine, Lady Lara Croft is intelligent, strong, and adventurous. Originally designed as a South American called Laura Cruz, she was adapted to have a more decidedly English and aristocratic upbringing Penned as the daughter of a lord and raised in one of her family’s three manors in Surrey, Lara is also a sharp archaeologist with quick witted one-liners.
But hang on, you cry. Wasn’t she a British made hero?
The answer, is of course, that she was. Her early history was intertwined with the development of legendary British developer Core Design and leading publisher Eidos. But with their demise, Lara had to wait to be rebooted with the help of some international support.
Step forward Crystal Dynamics. The American developer, which is part of Square Enix, remade Croft for the modern generation.
The recent reboot of the series sees a somewhat more down to earth Lara, freshly graduated from UCL and making her way in a grittier (and often painful) environment than during her earliest forays into video games. And while the work of British writers such as Rhianna Pratchett and original creator Toby Gard helped reshape the modern Croft, we have to thank Crystal Dynamics for bringing her character up to date.
(Power Stone, 1999)
Here, we have another British character designed and developed by a Japanese company - but who in the game’s native version has a rather unfortunate surname.
‘Power Stone’, a 3D arena fighting game, was developed by Capcom for the SEGA Dreamcast and later PlayStation Portable. Edward Falcon, one of the starring characters, hails from the fictional town of Londo - inspired by London.
And while Falcon might not be widely remembered, you can see that he shares a lot of characteristics with classic British video game characters. He’s similar to Dudley because he loves a bit of cheeky boxing too. He shares Tracer’s RAF inspired love for aviation. And he even shares Lara Croft’s ever so slightly privileged background.
But what he doesn’t share is the same name that he had in the Japanese release of the game. Players in that territory would have met Edward Fokker instead of Edward Falcon, but Capcom decided to change his name when he headed into English language markets for the first time.
We couldn’t possibly suggest why they did that…
(Portal 2, 2011)
Finally, our list could not be complete without at least one notable British villain making our top eight.
Admittedly, Portal 2’s Wheatley doesn’t start out as the bad guy (bot?). The robot core, voiced by British comedian Stephen Merchant, initially helps the player in their efforts to escape from the testing facility they’re ensconced in (and the evil attentions of the corrupt GLADOS).
But Wheatley takes a turn for the evil mid game after a failed attempt to sabotage GLADOS leaves the blue eyed orb in charge of the facility and - unfortunately - crazed with power. This leads the game to its eventual denouement, where the player boots Wheatley off into deep space - escaping his clutches forever.
In terms of the evilest British video game characters, Wheatley might not be the most villainous around. But there’s something in Stephen Merchant’s entertainingly chaotic west country malevolent robot that captures both our unique sense of humour and our desire to control and dominate everything around us.
Wait hang, on…
So what do international representations of British video games tell us about the country? Well, according to most representations in games, Brits are principally upper class, very polite and have a slight penchant for evil. Not ideal, we know.
However, that’s us being reductive for comedic effect. Once you step outside of the more stereotypical portrayals of Brits - particularly those found within games with heightened art styles or cartoonish characters - it’s really interesting to see that there is an increasing level of nuance in the portrayal of people from these shores.
Whether it’s bigging up Wales’ intriguing pirate history, providing a relatable football link to gruff Glaswegian military captains or allowing a leading nefarious robot to sport a Bristolian twang, internationally made games are beginning to ‘get’ how different people from across the UK are.