Everyone seems to love Italy. You can visit Tuscany in the Assassin & # 39; s Creed 2 sub-series of Ubisoft and tour a fantasy city inspired by Venice in Final Fantasy 15. You can fight in Venice in Final Fight 2 and in Pisa in Castlevania: Bloodlines. You can drive on Italian roads in Gran Turismo and ski in the Alps on Steep. You can kill in an imaginary Sicilian city in Hitman 2: Silent Assassin and in an imaginary city near Naples in Hitman (2016). But are these games "Italian"?
The answer is clearly "no." These games are developed by Japanese, American, European and international teams; Italy is just one of the many geographical and historical flavors that they add to their receipts. And the question might also seem uninteresting: why should it matter if a game is "Italian"? Maybe he planned a trip to Italy and wants to eat pizza there, but he feels that, at the end of the day, Italy is not so important in the grand scheme of things. And I must admit that you are right. But what happens in Italy shows how developers are looking for their own identity, drawing new tools from their own cultural heritage and shedding light on less known stories and places.
A 2016 survey states that 11.4 percent of tourists discovered the small Tuscan town of Monteriggioni because of Assassin & # 39; s Creed 2, which houses the family home of the protagonist Ezio Auditore. This case inspired local institutions interested in promoting smaller cities and developers interested in digging up new stories, traditions and legends for their video games. "They always say that video games are a global medium that must be designed with a wide international audience in mind," says Andrea Dresseno, founder of IVIPRO, the Italian video game program. "That is very true. However, this does not exclude the possibility of using this medium in order to reach a specific audience that had never been reached before, or as a means to talk about particular issues in a local environment." IVIPRO is an Italian association that seeks to connect institutions and developers to promote video games established in Italy. "In the first place, it is necessary to begin to distinguish between the different types of works and the various objectives (they pursue)," continues Dresseno. "I always hear people talk about business, about the importance of the growth of this industry, about investments and income. All of that is legitimate, but are we sure that the only way to use and take advantage of video games as a means is to profit of them? Let's try to see video games as a means of communication and expression, not just as a product. By changing the perspective, we could start using the peculiarities (of video games) in a way that is free of restrictions (and stereotypes) imposed by commercial urgency ".
During IVIPRO Days, an event organized by IVIPRO with the help of Game Happens, Pietro Righi Riva from Santa Ragione explained how the videogames of the studio are influenced by Italian design and traditions and how European and Italian institutions and IVIPRO helped the development of his new video game, Saturnalia, set in Sardinia.
"Our Sardinia is not the Sardinia that tourists know, but the interior," Righi Riva tells me by phone. "There is a combination of attention to detail, immediacy of the interface, accessibility for new players, location, themes, a progression system that is not based on abstract puzzles … all this makes me think of a peculiar kind of survival horror which follows the principles that we, in Milan, have developed in recent years. It is a game that could only exist here and now. "
Of course, that is not the only way to be Italian. "What Kunos does, for example, is also very Italian: it is not innovative per se, but there are ideas of luxury, innovation, attention to detail," adds Righi Riva.
"In design, many people refer to the Italian style as the particular effortless glamor that Italy apparently evokes. There are clearer examples in fashion and other luxury items." Claudia Molinari tells me by email. Molinari is half (the other is Matteo Pozzi) of the Italian duo We Are Müesli, developers of visual novels that often cover Italian history and culture. "But oddly enough," Molinari continues, "we believe that Italy has always expressed its best creativity in its (many!) Difficult political times. There is a tendency in a small niche of Italian game makers to use games as a tool. to express specific political views, or at least not to hide them, even if that is not the objective of the work. Games to document contemporary history. Games to cite, mention, honor events that are somehow beginning to fade away " .
During his talk on IVIPRO Days, Righi Riva said something perhaps even more interesting when talking about the space exploration game MirrorMoon EP of the studio and another Italian game, Noctis by Alessandro Ghignola. "They have this taste in common for not explaining things … and a large part of the game is to understand the logic behind how the game behaves," he said. "And I think if it's not specifically Italian, this is at least a very little American way of designing games."
You can see other examples of this design in the horror and puzzle games of Andrea Pignataro and in Open Lab Games and Demigiant & # 39; s Football Drama: culture can affect more than the environment and assets of a video game. It can affect your mechanics. "I think there is a difference between European and American design," Righi Riva tells me during our phone call. "You can also see it in the recent Nauticrawl or in Mu Cartographer, by the French developer Titouan Millet. It's a series of games focused on deducing the rules through experimentation; if you want, you can track up the non-story Tale games and the Chinese room. " It is interesting to note that Tale of Tales has just moved to Italy.
Mattia Traverso (co-creator and designer of Fru and main designer of the last day of June) discussed a similar theme in his talk at the Internet Festival in Pisa: "What is an Italian game?" He asked himself. "Now it is clear that having Italian subjects in video games (cities, folklore, characters) is not enough," Traverso tells me by email. "Take Dante's Inferno: this is clearly a game with American sensibilities, even though the subject is Italian. This incredible focus on power and violence as a rewarding issue is not something we express in this way. (.. .) For me an Italian work of art has something that has an extremely strong focus on small communities and the relationship of people between them. (…) I have the feeling that Italian art is about small ones. between a mother and a son. Everyday actions in her simple life. Rituals and traditions in her communities. It's as if we focus on what American art would cut as superfluous. "
Maybe "What is an Italian game?" You will never receive an answer. As Molinari says at the end of his email, "heterogeneity is probably a distinctive feature of Italian culture." But in Italy, as in other areas of the world, developers claim their own voice. We can see it in Never One One of Upper One Games, Mulaka of Canvas, The Load of Juan Useche and Linsey Raymaekers, Pamali of StoryTale Studios, Walk of the Year of Simogo, When Rivers Were Trails of Elizabeth LaPensée and many other games. Artists are expressing their culture and stories through video games and mechanics, revitalizing a western scene that is too often crushed by American tastes.