Subliminal culture learning | The impact of HITMAN video game on our perception of culture and travel
Last decade has debunked many myths regarding video games – them being a worthless way of wasting time, the source of aggressive behaviour or an unproductive hobby for children. Now we know that video games are so much more than that – gamification in the workplace and education is gaining traction, gamers construct their whole careers around them and skills such as crisis management and strategic thinking (possible to shape via video games) are one of the most pursued and valuable assets at the Human Resources market. The potential of gaming is endless and its influence can be visible even in our perception of foreign cultures and even travel, thanks to what I will be calling subliminal culture learning. In this article I will show you how playing video games, such as Hitman Trilogy (used as example), can have a positive impact on the travel industry and spread cultural & general knowledge.
Reason behind using HITMAN Trilogy as an example | Subliminal culture learning
Hitman games franchise explores the story of a stealth assassin who travels the world to fulfill his contracts. Before criticizing the game for promoting aggressive behavior, we should take into consideration that many psychological researches have proved that playing these types of video games does not provoke aggressive behavior any more than watching TV (Sherry, 2001). Agent 47, the protagonist of the game, infiltrates the culture of various countries, blending in with their traditional costumes, customs and rituals. He explores the typical for the nations architecture, religious sanctuaries and stumbles upon features typical for a particular culture. Even though the actual locations of the game, such as the Scepter (a building imitating real life’s Burj Khalifa) in Dubai are fictional, the effort put into transpiring the real spirit of the given culture, the attention to detail in every single element of the game, doesn’t go unnoticed, and lets us learn a lot about the country our protagonist is discovering. Hitman III’s representations are so far the most accurate in reference to real life, with the other two parts of the trilogy (Hitman 2016 & Hitman II) closely following it on the podium, hence why I decided to use it as an example in this article.
The first mission of the HITMAN 2016 game takes the player straight to a fashion walk in Paris, France. French culture is globally known for its haute couture and is regarded to be the capital of fashion. The choice for the mission theme is therefore not just a coincidence – we are immediately presented with the importance of fashion in the country’s culture. However, there are so much more cultural gems hidden in that virtual world. The gardens surrounding the pompous property reminds us of those we can see at The Versailles, reflecting the traditional French style and care for royal gardens. For someone who has never been to Paris before, this might be a completely new sight, convincing the player to get to know more about the country, its architecture and eventually – maybe travel there to see the real version of Paris. The interiors of the palace in which the fashion show is taking place tell us a lot about how the French put efforts into preserving their traditional architecture and history, implementing modern solutions with the upmost respect to their origins. Artworks, paintings, masterpieces and carefully sculpted wooden and golden ornaments are the essential part of the gameplay, as well as the real French culture – in which Art has a central position, considering the interiors of Versailles, Louvre and ideally preserved châteaux scattered across the country. Cultural stereotypes are abandoned in place of an accurate representation of the country’s values, motivations and heritage. That itself is an incredibly valuable source of cultural knowledge, especially when compared to modern TV shows reinforcing stereotypes & inappropriate depictions.
Core aspects of culture-related lifestyle
After the immersive experience in France, the player is taken to the picturesque town of Italy, which, even though is fictional in that case, incorporates the true beauty of the mediterranean culture. With some elements from the gorgeous region of Tuscany and some (like landscapes) borrowed from Cinque Terre, the fictional town of Sapienza lets the player explore more of the Italian culture & spirit than any travel guide, in a playful and visual form. One of the crucial aspects in Italian history that Hitman doesn’t fail to deliver is the importance of the clergy (with a reference not only to the Vatican City, but also the religious aspect of the country and monasteries, as well). Through the player’s journey we can discover the spirit of Italian’s Bella Vita, the culture of afternoon espresso and almost feel the taste of Prosciutto Crudo di Parma as we enter the typical, traditional store located in the heart of the fictional town – not by chance, of course. Unlike other sources, we are not bombarded by pizza, spaghetti or mandolino as the ultimate characteristic of Italy, and accurately depicting the country without referencing these three core associations is a great fight against stereotyping once again. Instead of focusing on things people generally think symbolize the country, the game developers go further into developing a deeper sense of cultural belonging.
Development of technology and tolerance
Japan has been leading on the technological market for decades, being the first country to introduce many modern mechanisms into scientific fields, like medicine. That, of course, had found its place into video games as well, featuring the most advanced medical technologies on 47’s mission to Hokkaido, Japan. In the mission, the players are however not only introduced to the scientific core of the country, but also to the traditional garment, food (the protagonist can also prepare specific Japanese dishes while blending in), and even Zen meditation techniques popular across the country. Being able to find out so much about a foreign culture by exploring an accurately created virtual world freely is priceless to those interested in that aspect of the game, and has a positive unconscious impact even on those who play with other intentions and involuntary notice these cultural details. What’s also important that the game blurs the racial boundaries between the characters, as a byproduct of the world development. There is a mix of ethnicities in various missions, and the interracial nature of the gameplay has a subconscious positive influence on tolerance and condemning racism.
From virtual to physical
If we take a closer look on the Dubai’s Scepter Inauguration in Hitman III, we will be able to realize that the reference to the original Burj Khalifa can’t just pass unnoticed. However, aside from the architectural similarities visible in every level of the mission, from oriental, traditional arabic designs through a few elements of decor with a striking resemblance to Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque; the player gets familiarized with arab and muslim culture, the clothing, the religious aspect, as well as the fast modernization of prospering United Arab Emirates. The Dubai’s location strikes the player with a perspective of a whole new world, which, as it isn’t much different from real life, takes over the gamer’s interest and fuels him with a wish to discover the city and climb the top of the real Burj Khalifa in physical world. Spiking the interest of a curious mind to explore new perspectives is not only good from the travel industry’s point of view, but also enriches the player with new experiences and a multidimensional personal development.
Subliminal learning curve of general knowledge
One of the most culturally rich environments in Hitman III’s gameplay in my opinion is the Argentinian city of Mendoza, where the protagonist explores the vast vineyards of traditional Latin American wine production. The incredible realism of the game lets the player subconsciously (or consciously, in case of some individuals) learn various aspects of general knowledge. A particular example that comes to my mind is how in the Mendoza’s mission the gamer is prompt to understand the difference between a few types of wine: Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir. A cultural aspect of the country, such as in this case wine production, can as a byproduct lead to the player’s retention of information that can come in handy in his daily life (choosing the right type of wine) and expand the borders of gamer’s general knowledge. There are many other examples of involuntary learning curves within the game, which in this mission’s case might be differentiating Argentinian accent or picking up a few Spanish words; making the game once again a great way of providing cultural enrichment to the player.
Based on these few aspects incorporated into the Hitman Trilogy used as an example, I think it’s safe to conclude that modern video games depicting true to nature representations of cultures and travel destinations can have an incredibly positive impact on their perceptions. The current trends in gaming no longer place this form of free-time-hobby on the unproductive margin, on the contrary – making them a wonderful tool to promote cultural inclusivity, tolerance, awakening curiosity for diversity, while at the same time being educational and inspirational – in terms of lifestyle, development and travel.
List of Hitman Trilogy Destinations | Subliminal culture learning :
Sapienza, Italy (Fictional town)
Santa Fortuna, Colombia (Fictional town)
Whittleton Creek, USA (Fictional town)
New York, USA
Citations | Subliminal culture learning:
Sherry, J.L. (2001). The effects of violent video games on aggression: A meta-analysis. Human communication research, 27(3), 409-431.
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