Have you watched any good movies lately?
Of course you have! Now, while you’re compiling your list, let me ask another question, how many of those are Canadian films? If you’re anything like me, you’re probably racking your brain for an answer and coming up blank. Opting to stay home and plop down in front of the TV doesn’t offer any reprieve either. Seeing the popularity of shows like America’s Next Top Model and, god forbid, Jersey Shore, I can’t help but feel like we’re getting to the point where the only Canadian things we’re consuming is our chicken and beef.
Is there something wrong with us? Are we that untalented? I want to believe that slapping rubber discs around with sticks, sliding over frozen water, and making crappy knockoffs of American reality shows (and breeding poultry and cattle too, I guess) aren’t the only things we’re good at. So, it brings some solace to learn that one particular area that Canada is excelling in is none other than the video game industry. Unlike a large part of our film and/or TV media sector, Canada’s video game industry contains a great wealth of, namely, original and innovative content. Over the years, some of the most successful games and original franchises have been developed right here in Canada.
Ubisoft Montreal redefined stealth gameplay and introduced many original and interesting locales and stories in their original Splinter Cell and Assassin’s Creed games. Other big name titles, such as Mass Effect, are also Canadian in origin. Developed in Alberta by BioWare, Mass Effect gave players an entirely new and realized universe to immerse themselves in, complete with its own canon and lore. Other new gameplay elements forced players to make choices that had actual consequences, the repercussions of which could even be seen in later installments of the series.
Prior to Mass Effect, BioWare found success with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, a single-player RPG (role-playing game) that managed to make Star Wars enjoyable again for fans that had to suffer through George Lucas’ prequels. BioWare did this by breaking away from the long established (and very played out) canon of the Star Wars universe, choosing to set the game a long time before “a long, long time ago”. The game was lauded for its excellent writing, captivating story (and back-story) and an undeniably interesting cast of characters that you actually came to care about as you progressed through the game.
These characteristics and features were retained and advanced throughout BioWare’s subsequent projects, including Mass Effect and recently, even in Star Wars: The Old Republic, BioWare’s new MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game), a genre where in-depth stories and elaborate NPCs (non-player characters) are not typically seen.
To say that Canada is a solid competitor to other countries in game development might be putting it lightly, in fact, “Canada is ranked as the third-largest video game developer behind Japan and the United States,” according to the Entertainment Software Association of Canada (Lasalle, 2010). More importantly however, Canadian-developed games are enjoyed all over the world: from North America, to Europe, parts of Asia and even all the way to Australia and more. This is more than can be said for the films we put out, many (if not all) of which no one has heard of or even seen outside of Canada (or even within the country, for that matter).
Why is this so? How we can be so outstanding in one respect, yet so unsuccessful in another? Canada’s success in the video game industry cannot just be attributed to the tax breaks that the video game developers get because Canadian film projects also get the same treatment.
Perhaps it is important to bring up the issue of the cultural relevance of the media we produce, particularly the issue that there is often little to no discernible connection to Canadian society or culture in the media we create. Incidentally, you might ask, as I did, a question that has been repeated ad nauseam: What defines us as Canadians? And honestly, as far as I know, there isn’t a consistent answer to this question.
And looking at the games mentioned above, you aren’t really able to tell that they’re Canadian. Sometimes they take place in the US and other times they forgo mentioning any particular ‘setting’ country altogether. Is it possible that a detachment from our cultural roots (if any) is the key to success for us? If so, it paints a particularly bleak picture of Canada as a whole. Perhaps a more optimistic outlook is that maybe the worlds we create in our games are completely separate on their own and can be enjoyed universally?
Well, no matter the reason, we have ample evidence that Canadians too, can also be excellent storytellers and writers, programmers, artists, and so on. I’m not sure where I was going with this little rant (if you can call it that), but no matter the reason as to why we’ve been so ‘unlucky’ with our film industry (amongst other things), at least we have something else to boast about (if you’re that kind of person). Just pray that the people making the stuff don’t move to the US.
Lasalle, L. (2010, July 16). Canada is among top video game developers with its home-grown titles. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved January 30, 2012, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/technology/canada-is-among-top-video-game-developerswith-its-home-grown-titles/article1642278/