The purpose of this article is to put a bit of information on Wales and gaming out there, something that has gone largely undocumented in the gaming media. First, let’s have a little background information about Wales. For those of you that don’t know, Wales is a country in the UK consisting of three major cities: Cardiff (the capital), Swansea and Newport. Wales has its own language, its own culture and its own politics; it is not just an off-shoot of England as many assume. Also, you see that flag up there on the featured image? That’s the Welsh flag. That’s right, a bloody dragon.
It’s no secret that the Welsh are the most underrepresented of the major Celtic nations. If you were to tell an American that you’re Welsh the typical reaction would one of unknowingness, despite a respectable knowledge about the Irish, Scottish and English. This underrepresentation has been historically abundant in the gaming industry, where even the tiniest mention of Wales was about as rare as a new Nintendo IP. There have, however, been some significant surprises as of late. Is Wales finally starting to get embraced by the gaming industry?
The first significant inclusion of Welsh-inspired characters in games can be linked to the abandonment of the RPG as an exclusively Japanese-developed genre. Western and European RPG series like Fable and The Witcher (which are based in fictional quasi-Medieval locations) draw heavily from Celtic history and culture. Both games have a plethora of NPC’s voiced by Welsh voice actors, authenticating the Celtic vibe. It’s not just NPC’s though, Merrill —one of the major companion characters in Dragon Age 2— is voiced by Eve Miles, a Welsh actress (Torchwood, Frankie). The Japanese-developed action RPG Dark Souls also had a couple of Welsh voice actors for some of the merchants, implying that perhaps our friends in the East are taking note of the successes garnered by Western RPG developers.
Rockstar have a tendency to include Wales in their games as a comedic device, particularly in the fictional radio stations in the Grand Theft Auto series. Vice City’s VCPR station features a caller that hilariously claims that Wales is the reason Vice City is so crime-ridden and degenerate. There’s also a hilarious reference on the Chakra Attack station in Grand Theft Auto V, where the host recalls a hazy ‘spiritual’ trip to where he assumed was Tibet, but what he actually explains in his ‘confusion’ is a trip to Wales; rugby is mentioned, along with cheese on toast, male voice choirs and the fact that everybody was called Jones/Davies. All these things are staples of Wales; it’s an absolutely hilarious snippet of dialogue that embodies the bombastically satirical nature of GTA. These radio references were undoubtedly comprised by Lazlow Jones, a Welsh-American writer that was involved in writing, producing and voicing many of the radio stations across the GTA series. There was even a brief Welsh cameo in Rockstar San Diego’s Western epic Red Dead Redemption, whereby the aptly named character “Welsh” comically murmurs “Who do you think you are, boyo?”, before being shot dead by the game’s protagonist. It was refreshing to hear the Welsh accent relayed in such popular games, even if it’s brief on the most part.
A few years ago then, it was apparent that Wales had subtly embedded itself in the industry. Yet, I was losing faith that Wales and the Welsh would ever be significantly represented in the industry. Spanning from this, my ears were totally unprepared for what they were exposed to early last year when I played the critically-acclaimed Japanese RPG Ni No Kuni, a PS3 game developed by Level-5 Studios in conjunction with much-admired storytellers Studio Ghibli. This spectacular RPG is about as Japanese as a Japanese RPG gets, tropes and all. What immediately struck me though was the English (language) voice acting of the main character’s mentor – Mr Drippy. Mr Drippy was voiced in a heavy Swansea accent, complete with all the little colloquialisms: boyo, mun, youer; it’s great! Mr Drippy’s persona was one of the crowning moments of the game for most too. Must be that whimsical Welsh charm, eh?
After Ni No Kuni, I really couldn’t fathom hearing the Welsh accent from such a central character in a game any time soon. Boy I was wrong! Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag’s development was shaped by some of the failings of the overly-ambitious Assassin’s Creed III. One of these failings was the lack of player attachment to the game’s main character, Connor. In Black Flag it was a conscious effort of the developers to introduce a likeable character. This character came in the form of Edward Kenway, a privateer turned pirate in the West Indies, born and bred in Swansea. Edward doesn’t just have a Welsh accent though, he is Welsh. He overtly flaunts his Welsh pride, often getting riled at other characters he encounters in the Caribbean who mistake him for an Englishman. It’s bloody great; millions of people around the globe have heard and embraced the character of Edward Kenway, which can only spell good news for the future of Welsh representation in gaming.
As far as Welsh locations in video games go, the pickings are pretty slim. However, there are a few nifty inclusions. Insomniac’s post-apocalyptic first person shooter series Resistance has had some interesting inclusions. In Resistance: Fall of Man, the British military survivors of the Chimera attack fall back to a military base in Cardiff; the Welsh coast enabled British forces to regroup with USA forces too, which is pivotal to the narrative. Likewise, there is a quirky multiplayer map in Resistance 3 called seaside. As stated by the developers, seaside is set in a fictional Welsh coastal town; it’s peppered with signs written in Welsh, complete with a rural backdrop and a traditional little Welsh pub, lovely!Interestingly, the map acts as one of the few portrayals of a post-apocalyptic Welsh landscape in any media too – gaming or otherwise.
In a less impressive vein, Koudelka, an overlooked PS1 JRPG, took place in Aberystwyth (a seaside town in Wales), with the title character hailing from Abergynolwyn – a Welsh village. However, the game’s location bears no geographical resemblance to Aberystwyth, and Koudelka wasn’t voiced in a Welsh accent. How disappointing! There’s also a heartening nod to Wales in Sucker Punch’s Sly Cooper in an area called ‘the Welsh Triangle’. There isn’t anything distinctly or architecturally Welsh about this location, but —in line with real Welsh climate— it’s always raining!
What about outside software? Are there any Welsh representatives in the popular gaming media? I’ve got two words for you: Marcus Beer. Marcus (AKA Annoyed Gamer) is among the most controversial gaming journalists out there. He’s known to be brutally truthful, rambunctious and highly opinionated; he often talks about hot topics in the gaming industry in a down to earth and straight manner, complete with an abundance of side-splitting agitated cursing! He’s somewhat polarising as clearly visible on his Twitter page, he was even involved in a Twitter spat with Phil Fish (creator of Fez), a spat that arguably contributed to the cancellation of Fez 2. That being said, Marcus remains one of the most prominent and insightful characters in the gaming sphere. Did I mention he’s Welsh? He loves integrating a little Welsh flair into his videos too, often commenting about the rugby, pubs and, well, Wales in general. His Gametrailers videos oft pulled in six figure view counts, further exposing the globe to the ways of the Welsh. His newly-fangled Youtube channel is also building up some serious steam.
All in all, things are looking up for the representation of Wales in the video game industry. All things Welsh are surely but steadily becoming more and more integrated into the industry, and in novel and diverse ways to boot. It’s looking like this trend won’t buck any time soon, with gamers of all nations highly resonating with these Welsh and Wales-inspired characters. Now EA, if you could kindly take Cardiff City F.C and Swansea City A.F.C out of the ‘England’ section on Fifa 14, that’d be great.