Remember The Getaway? It was a PlayStation 2 game released in 2002 that plonked the player right into the world of cockney gangland mischief. Villains with shooters, mouthy bleeders getting all previous and a cast of toe-rags looking for a dry slap. It did quite well – it was a bit short, but the style was distinctive and the writing was spot on. It isn’t hard to see why. The remake of Get Carter as well as Snatch had come out in 2000 and everyone in Britain was talking like psychopathic pearly kings.
I had reason to be in America not long after The Getaway came out, and I recall being asked about it a lot. Of course, Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels; Snatch; and even EastEnders are known to have our US chums staring at us with ultimate perplexitude. But all they talked about – all they cared about – was the ‘Britishisms’ in the game. To them, that was the game.
I realised that no matter how good the UK is at making games, they’re always viewed as ‘British’ in the States. And although that’s not necessarily bad, it’s at best condescending, and at worst something of a distraction. If it’s not the quaint words we use, it’s the English humour or the accents our games have. In America, we stand out. We always have and I suspect we always will – there’s a sort of osmosis whereby we in the UK absorb far more US culture than they absorb culture from us. We’re used to films, songs, games and sports being American. It doesn’t really register and although we can stereotype their great nation when it’s convenient to call them thick, obese, or war-mongering, we really are too close to have such simplistic views.
But Americans still have simplistic views about us. It’s simply because we’re smaller and because we have history to thank for making us the kings of them for a while, so they have the view that we’re smart, emotionless, aristocratic and quirky. With poor dental hygiene. It’s sort of OK that they think this, but unlike the way we see them, it never goes away. Chat to someone in the US and it’s likely that you won’t be constantly aware of their country of residence. But, before long, they’ll mention yours. Either the way we spell things incorrectly, or simply our detached air of superiority will crop up. They’ll make reference to the Royal Family, or that Cornwall is years older than Detroit, or something.
Place before an American audience a videogame lovingly crafted on this side of the Atlantic and the Britishness will stand out. Even if there isn’t really any. Spellings aside, well-written English is near-identical to well-written American English. Of course, the moment they hear the accent a bell goes off in their heads, but they’ll think one of three things. One, they think medieval. When I was writing the Fable script, I was asked by a Statesider whether it was hard to write in such an old Shakespearean style. I wasn’t doing anything of the sort, of course; I only know Shakespeare from that Simpsons episode when he’s a zombie and Homer blasts him with a shotgun. But by simply using fewer contractions and removing the excesses of today’s yoofspeek, Fable sounded like Hamlet or something. If Shakespeare wrote that. I dunno.
Then come the comments about our English sense of humour. When pressed, your American will say we have a dry wit, and possibly that we’re surreal. Well, I’d like to advance the notion that our dry wit is simply understating great gags in the manner of people like Sean Lock or Bill Bailey. And not really shouting. Surrealism? Got to be a throwback to Monty Python, hasn’t it? We haven’t been surreal since fish lipstick unicorn. See? I can’t even do surreal. “We love your English sense of humour”? Well, me old dude, when you look at it, it’s the same as yours with fewer exclamation marks and an English accent.
Finally, yes, the accent. The Americans around us will say that we talk funny. It’s fair comment in the case of the mockney geezerishness of The Getaway and all that. Slang, especially rhyming slang, shouldn’t be understood by anyone not of these shores. If we thought someone had cracked it, we’d have to change the code wheels and bin 180 years of apples and strife nonsense. Also, a hint of Welsh, Irish, or anywhere outside of David Attenborough’s house and they’re stymied.
Hold on, though. I’m a hypocrite; I just realised. I don’t play Japanese games without having a voice in the back of my mind saying, ‘This is a Japanese game. Get ready for tentacles, nukes, and tiny girls.’ I see ‘Japaneseness’ pervading their games in precisely the same way that many Americans see Britishness pervading ours. And does this mean that the games from Japan are bad? Or that I see them as worse because of my stupid racist blinkers? No. Well, a bit. But many of my favourite games come from Japan and I wouldn’t change them for the world.
So, OK, America. Yes, we all went to Hogwarts and we all know Gordon Ramsay. And, yes, we did have an empire, but it’s gone. But darn it, judge us if you may as pointless toffs with teeth like vandalised graveyards, but we make the best games in the world and you know it. I think I need to sit down for a biscuit and a little cry now.