Presentation // Vaguely Oriental: Engineering Asian Architecture in Fantasy MMORPGs (Forthcoming)
“Vaguely Oriental: Engineering Asian Architecture in Fantasy MMORPGs,” paper to be delivered at the 48th Annual Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) Conference, Indianapolis, March 28-31, 2018.
In his seminal work Orientalism (1978), Edward Said described the “Orient” as “the stage on which the whole East is confined.” He explains that, “On this stage will appear the figures whose role it is to represent the larger whole from which they emanate. The Orient then seems to be, not an unlimited extension beyond the familiar European world, but rather a closed field, a theatrical stage affixed to Europe.”
This paper pursues Said’s original line of thinking in massively multiplayer online role-playing games within the fantasy genre. When immersing one’s self in a massively multiplayer onling role-playing game (MMORPG), the city and the backdrop forms a kind of “stage” for the player. Reading Said literally in this sense, I analyze the construction of these theatrical spaces with an approach that combines architectural analysis from the field of art history with the study of race representation in game studies. I will offer an analysis of race representation that transcends the roles of in-game characters to consider the built environment. The visual settings of MMORPGs challenge us by creating specific locales that are read by the player as “Asian” or “vaguely Oriental” within story narratives that harken back to fantasy worlds based in the Western tradition. I want to envision the stakes as well as the creative possibilities enabled by such design.
Image: Concept art of Kugane used as a loading screen in Final Fantasy XVI: Stormblood.