Earlier this year, Melbourne-based studio Mountains released Florence, a narrative-driven mobile game with a focus on simple puzzles and word-less story. Florence is exceptional in many ways—and has won an array of awards to prove it—but one particular aspect of Florence that stood out to me was its people of colour protagonists.
Recently, successful Australian indie games have been doing amazing work in representing marginalised groups and telling untold stories. Games like 2017’s Ticket to Earth, recently released Paperbark, and upcoming Wayward Strand are showing parts of Australia that have—until now—remained invisible in videogames. For Florence, that’s the exploration of diverse cultural backgrounds and how these unfold within the Australian experience. I reached out to Ken Wong, the studio’s creative director, to chat about the joys and challenges of creating Florence and Krish.
It quickly became clear that Ken made a conscious choice to cast non-white protagonists in Florence. ‘Casting our leads as non-caucasians celebrates the diverse backgrounds of Australians and helps counter the idea that Australia is a White country’ he said. ‘Making at least one of the characters non-white wasn’t even a proposal really, it was just assumed to be the right thing to do.’
Although it was a no-brainer for Mountains to depict Florence and Krish as having East Asian and South Asian backgrounds, respectively, the subtlety of how to create these representations was trickier. ‘We wanted to include details about Florence and Krish’s families without perpetuating stereotypes,’ Ken said. In the end, they decided to include ‘very specific details’ to make a representation that ‘becomes relatable to everyone who has any form of cultural heritage and particular family dynamics.’ This approach was inspired by a Times interview [link: http://time.com/3696111/fresh-off-the-boat-constance-wu/] with Fresh Off The Boat’s Constance Wu.
But where do you get these details from? Mountains found them by consulting with ‘friends and family members who were East Asian and South Asian’. This had a positive impact on those who played the game. Ken said, ‘so many East Asian women and South Asian men write in and say how much it meant to them to see main characters who looked like them and faced the same cultural issues’.
Representation is important, and sharing the experiences that are often unseen in media can resonate with those being represented. ‘We think it’s important for everyone to be able to see themselves represented on the screen,’ Ken emphasised. ‘I think about others whose stories don’t get told, or don’t get enough publicity. I do what I can to support underrepresented stories.’