The Italian Job: how Italy has influenced video game developers

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Italian culture has inspired creative minds around the world and across multiple mediums. From artists and musicians to movie stars, there is almost always a taste of Italy in the arts. For example, commedia dell’arte has not only shaped the narrative arcs of comedy theatre but TV shows and movies. Dating back to 1545 and a performance in Padua, the theatrical genre uses three main character types (masters, lovers, and servants) to create bawdy comedy sequences.

From the classic to the modern, we can see Italian culture adding complexity to other creative industries. One sector that’s had more than a fleeting love affair with Italy over the last two decades is gaming. With today’s video games built with budgets Hollywood movie producers would be jealous of, it’s hardly surprising creative types are flocking to the industry. Artists like Shigeru Miyamoto and Gabe Newell are lauded for the life they breathe into game imagery. Had they been around 100 years ago, their talents would have been on display on traditional canvases.

The point here is that video games have become a canvas for modern creative types. Games no longer consist of simple animations where players move linearly towards a single goal. Look through any PC games download page and you’ll see that modern offerings are highly complex. From role-playing games featuring interconnected worlds to battle arenas where detailed characters fight at breakneck speeds, today’s games are works of art in their own right. What you’ll also notice when you look through the top PC games is that they all have a theme.

Italian Culture Gives Games a Thematic Base

Vikings and medieval monarchs are always popular. So, too, is the Roman Empire. In fact, this is one of the main ways Italian culture has found its way into gaming. Classics such as Praetorians are flanked by offerings like Rome: Total War and, of course, Assassin’s Creed: Origins.

Although Assassin’s Creed is set in Ancient Egypt, it’s Egypt at a time when the empire had fallen to the Romans. These are obvious examples of Italian culture in video games, but they’re not the only ones. A slightly more twee example of Italy in video games is Super Mario. Is it cliched? Yes, but it’s another example of how people around the world have a real interest in Italian culture.

In fact, such is our culture’s influence on gaming that the government has got in on the act. Italy: Land of Wonders is a free iOS and Android game released by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). Available in 11 languages, the game sees players take control of an old lighthouse keeper called Elio. His job is to solve puzzles and collect sparks so he can light up Italy. The subtext is that each puzzle and spark reveals facts about Italy. From famous landmarks and historical figures to pop culture, it’s as much a virtual exploration of Italian culture as the digital world in which the action takes place. This could be the best example yet of how gaming and Italy have become intimately linked. Creative types have been drawing on Italian culture for decades and, with today’s creative types putting their skills into gaming, it’s hardly surprising these influences are appearing in video games. Even the Italian government has noticed the links and used them to make Italy’s mark on the map even more prominent.