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Digital Game: A Modern Age Folklore Repository to Unlock, Relive and Archive the Collective Unconscious

By Ayantika Chakraborty

In the 21st century, when the entire world is heading towards the cultural convergence under the expropriation of globalization and urbanization, the folklore as well as the regional culture and traditions are almost obsolete in many spheres of life. The bearers of many arts – craft forms, performances, beliefs, and traditions disown their own roots. The mass shows an ever thriving inclination towards urbanized digital media for amusement and entertainment purpose. Dundes argued in his essay, “Who are the folk?”, that technology would eventually become the medium of study of folklore and will generate new forms of communication that would follow other folkloristic criteria. While stating this he said, “technology isn’t stamping out folklore; rather it is becoming a vital factor in the transmission of folklore and it is providing an exciting source of inspiration for the generation of new folklore. The rise of the computer symbolizes the impact of technology upon the modern world. My point is that there is folklore of and about the computer.” In this scenario, documentation of regional and folk genres have become mandatory to rescue them from being obsolete. But the process and mode of documentation vary. While a written documentation can only give an imaginary sketch of the genre, museum preservation can provide a still life evidence for a limited period of time as folklore materials in many cases are perishable, it is tough to document a performing art form as text or in museum whereas a digital archive is the staple mode of documentation and preservation as it gives a live view of the genre. But the question that I nurtured for a long time is what can be specified as archiving? Archives can be classified into many sectors depending on the materials of preservation like historical archive, folklore archive, art archive, film archive, and many more. Likewise medium of presentation and preservation can classify archives; archives can also be judged on the basis of functions and importance of the preserved documents, etc. Even Letters, Diaries, Minute Books, Registers, Account Books, Maps, Plans and Drawing, Photographs, Deeds, Electronic Records are preserved in archives. If we talk about digital games, can those be termed as digital archives? There are few characteristics of archive which have to be met to achieve the title of archive. This article will be a venture to find out if the digital games have the qualities to be claimed as archive.

While justifying this question, it has been found that the modern digital games document an enormous data about the folklore spread all over the world. These documentations can be classified into two certain categories based on the way of application; namely Direct and Inspirational. The infamous game ‘Tetris’ has a comparatively more infamous music running in the background. This Tetris music is an instrumental version of a 19th century Russian folk song, ‘Korobeiniki’. Though it’s hardly known to many of the players but this Russian folk song is still archived as the music of the Tetris song and has least chance to get obsolete anytime soon. This serves as the best paradigm of Direct application of folklore in digital games. The folk games like ‘Monopoly’, ‘Archery’, ‘Hunting’, ‘Samurai games’ (Japanese Warrior games), etc., which are rarely in practice contemporarily are popular among the modern gamers as video console, PC, and android/ IOS games. Even the typically fictitious games like ‘Samurai Vs Zombie’, ‘Samurai Love Ballad’ somehow succeed to account folk beliefs and genres of oral literature. Again, ‘Saman Dance’, an online game, reflects the folk music of Indonesia, and a dress up game named ‘Samba’ documents the costumes of the Brazilian folk dance forms. ‘Tattoo designing’ and ‘Mehendi designing’ games can be considered as the ones which implement and document folk art forms directly in the world of digital gaming. Other than these, world famous folk festivals remain documented in the form of digital games in many cases. ‘Harvest Festival’, ‘Hanami’, ‘Rio Carnival’ are to name a few as examples.

When the previously mentioned games directly archive different genres of folklore, the world famous games like ‘FarmVille’ and ‘Clash of Clans’ are majorly responsible for providing an ideology-based sketch of folk life. These games did not directly employ any folk games, art form, dance forms, music, etc. but gave an inspirational view of the culture and traditions of the folks and tribes. There are games which have different scenic views of various civilizations at different steps like Mayan, Inca, Osirian, and many more. These are undoubtedly imaginary but can’t be denied that there are high chances that they can have similarities with the civilizations when those were in reign. One reason behind that accuracy can be the archetype. These background sceneries might be feigned but they are basically developed from one archetype, which the whole human kind possesses in their psyche. It is relevant to claim that these can’t be called scientific archiving as the process of archiving demands proven facts, field study, statistical analysis, and digital data like photographs, videos, justified documents, etc. But when it is impossible to archive a civilization as it is no more in existence other than relics, a movable sketch based on the idea of the collective unconscious is believed to be the best way to preserve an outline of the civilization for the next generations. The collective unconscious eventually sets an archetype based on the memory and traditional transaction of ideas through different genres of oral narrative. The relics of the civilisation also provide a concept of the real civilisation and when this archetype or the conception is in the form of a digital game, it is more appealing to the people. Apart from the sketch and illustration of the ancient civilizations, totems, tribal deities, taboo oriented signs are also employed in different digital games to decorate the gaming background, to offer the game a more absolute identity of tribal culture. While ensuring the essence of tribal life in the game, the game creators, or to be more specific the graphic designers, use archetypes to document the forgotten totem systems and little deities of the tribal society. This could be employed only to make the game look more realistic and appealing to the gamer but it surely does some good in disguise. In a society where hardly any urban commoner has any idea of what taboo or totem is, these games provide at least an idea of the existence of such things which were or are in practice among the aboriginal clans.

In her essay, “Contemporary Folklore in the Digital Age”, Emma Louise Backe writes: “Video games are increasingly drawing upon historical traditions of folklore to supplement their world-building, while also implementing elements of folklore and folklife to craft novel lore for their fictional universes.” A specific android game named ‘Temple Run’ uses motifs like Ogres from the Motif Index of Stith Thompson to build the entire game. It has employed few from the 32 narratemes (narrative units), which are also called functions advocated by V.J. Propp in his book, Morphologia Skazki. These narretemes are fixed in case of any tale whereas the characters are variables. Apropos to the discussion, it must be mentioned that only a bunch of narettemes can create a folktale. In case of this game, only few narettemes have been employed, which are 13. Reaction: Hero responds to test; 14. Acquisition: Hero gains magical item; 20. Return: Hero sets out for home; 21. Pursuit: Hero is chased. Though not a complete story in itself, this game gives such an cinematic impact of fairytale to the gamers that the gamer is left with no option but to accept that this must be a part of a fairytale where he imposters the hero as he flees from an ogre after obtaining the magical element from the cave of the villain. This game is all about overcoming the challenges he faces while fleeing. This vibe gives such a cinematic view of a fairytale, which no written literature can ever offer. Similarly, famous folktale-‘based games like ‘Cinderella’, ‘Snow White’, etc. are popular among the gamers because these offer filmy details of the folktales which a graphic text fails. In one of his interviews with ‘The Signal’, folklorist Trevor J. Blank said: “Since 2007, I’ve noticed definite shifts in how folklore and various elements of folk culture are created and transmitted online. For one, there has been a greater shift towards “visuality,” meaning that a greater part of the folkloric content we find in circulation online tends to have some kind of eye-catching component that renders it traditional in the context of vernacular expression.”

Games are basically a way of escape for the people from their real life. Whether real life games or the digital games, they take us to such a sphere, which is typically impossible to occur in our daily life. Folklore-based games are inspired by such thoughts. In our present time, a large number of the gamers and game creators are urbanized mass. Getting into a tribal society is fascinating for them as much as playing cricket with an international team and driving a racing car. Gamers never create a game keeping in mind that they have to archive the almost extinct cultures of the world; rather they create it to give a thrilling experience to the gamers. Why would they be even concerned? They are typically there to serve the demand of fantasies and to receive financial gain in the business. However, in the process of trade, they actually archive world folklore. So it can be claimed that these games archive many folk genres without the underpinning of preplanned and applied research methodologies. While it is true that few games like ‘Monopoly’, ‘Hanami’, ‘Mehendi’, etc. are direct imitations of folklore and can be asserted as digitally documented data, not all the games are based on proven fact. Carl Jung prescribed the concept of ‘Collective Unconscious’ in the part 1 of his 9 volume book, “The Collected Works of C.G. Jung”. This concept of ‘Collective Unconscious’ plays a significant role in the creation of folklore-based digital games like ‘Clash of Clan’, ‘Temple Run’, ‘Zombie Vs. Samurai’, etc. Thus we can conclude that folk beliefs play a key role while creating the image of archetypes in digital games.

The digital games are the finest examples of Folklorismus or folklorism as well as Fakelore. The German word, ‘Folklorismus’, which translates as Folklorism in English stands for “invention or adaptation of folklore; including any use of a tradition outside the cultural context in which it was created.” In case of digital games, the folklore elements which are used in digital media can be absolutely outside its prototypical cultural context but any analogous element shared on digital games may not be labelled as folklore. Rather, ‘Fakelore’ is the appropriate term, which can be entrusted for the elements of folklore used in digital gaming world. Jerry Griswold used the term Fakelore in his article “A Family of Epic Proportions” in New York Times on 31st May 2009, though the term was first coined by R.M. Dorson in 1950. The term Fakelore or Pseudo- Folklore means “inauthentic, manufactured folklore presented as if it were genuinely traditional”. The application of folklore in games justifies this definition. The elements of folklore which can be found in digital games are no way authentic but presented as one. On the basis of these ideas, we could claim that the digital games are not the truest form of folklore. The documentation of folklore found in digital games cannot be claimed as scientific archives. Similarly, a digital game cannot be claimed as archive because of the timespan of its existence. A game is an intellectual property of the websites and they possess the right to withdraw it anytime. An archive, on the other hand, exists for a notably longer span of time which can even outnumber many scientifically preserved museum stuff.

If asked about the importance of these games as the archives of folklore, I would surely accept the fact that these games have significance as archive. In another interview with ‘The Signal’, Robert Glenn Howard said, “some folklorists study “old” folklore in the sense of studying historical things–like archives of folk tales told in the 1800s for example—but, just like any subject really, there is “new” folklore too. And probably more folklorists study folklore that is being actively shared today than archival stuff.” Not every human is interested to know about his/her culture, tribe, ancestors, traditions, folklore, etc. voluntarily. Most of them don’t feel the urge to visit an archive to know about the folklore. And the fewer who are interested are unaware of the exact existence of the digital archives and museums. Again very few have the financial resources to visit a folklore museum or archive. So, I believe these games are good sources to plant basic ideas of culture, tradition and folklore among the urban kids and youths at the initial stage, when they are not even deliberately looking for the games associated with culture. In the long run, these games might interest few more towards knowing the folklore based on facts and field studies over the partly fictitious games.


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Ayantika Chakraborty holds a Masters degree in Folklore Studies from the University of Kalyani. She can be reached at


For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

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