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Full Steam Ahead – Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: none.

Hello again everyone! I’m now writing Full Steam Ahead from my wife’s computer! Sarah was gracious enough to let me transfer my files and games to her desktop (named Numenor). Hopefully, this means I will be able to get Full Steam Ahead back on track, and continue playing games without further delay. Seeing as this is something of a fresh start for me, it’s somewhat appropriate that the first game I play is a game about going back in time. It’s time to return to the middle-eastern fairytale setting of Prince of Persia.

R.I.P. Owner PC. 2010-2018, your name a tribute to how bad I was at naming things.

The last game in the Prince of Persia series I played was The Two Thrones, the conclusion of the series’ reboot trilogy. Between that game’s release in 2005, and the release of the The Forgotten Sands in 2010, there was another game released called Prince of Persia that had, as far as I know, nothing to do with the story of the sands of time. The Forgotten Sands, however, takes the character back to the trilogy which returned the character to prominence.

I feel sorry for the people writing the story of the titular prince. It must be very difficult to write a story about the progression and development of a character and their personality when the games they appear in consistently use the mechanic of returning to the past so you don’t have to learn from your mistakes. Don’t get me wrong, the time reversal mechanic remains one of the most fun things I’ve ever seen done with a game, but I feel like it hampers cohesive character development.

The Prince is as arrogant, short-sighted, and as doggedly determined to use his powers to solve all his problems as he ever was. True, the source of his powers this time is a gift from a genie, as opposed to an ancient artifact, but the powers are more or less the same: the ability to reverse time to an earlier moment (and the ability to completely defy the laws of physics because parkour)

I’m pretty sure Parkour is French for “screw you and your security system”

Also worth noting, perhaps, is that this story was released at the same time as the cinematic adaptation of the Prince’s story, Prince of PersiaThe Sands of Time. I remember it being an okay film. However, given the quality of most game-to-movie adaptations, okay was pretty impressive. In any case, the Prince’s design in The Forgotten Sands is nearly identical to his film appearance. Furthermore, The Forgotten Sands introduces a new character named Malik. An elder brother to the prince who had not appeared in any previous games, but who played an important part in the movie.

Hey Malik, how you doing? Definitely not possessed by any evil spirits, right?

Ultimately, the movie and the game tell two completely different stories, so the connection between the two is ultimately superficial. But while we’re talking about things that are only superficial, I think now would be a good time to talk about Prince of Persia’s setting. Ultimately, there’s nothing about the Forgotten Sands that chains it to a middle-eastern setting. You are running around a fictionalized palace of King Solomon, but a few texture packs could easily make it a gothic castle in middle ages Europe, a la Dracula. Similarly, the game’s main villain, as well the the game’s support characters are djinn, supernaturally magical creatures traditional to arabic myths and legends; once again, There’s nothing about them tells us they are djinn other than dialogue. For the villain, any other powerful, magical, evil being would serve just as well.

What’s more, as I mentioned, the appearance of the titular Prince is based off of his cinematic counterpart… played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Oddly enough, I don’t remember there being much controversy regarding casting a white actor to play a middle eastern part. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t any, but it certainly wasn’t as dominant a part of the film’s public image as I feel it would be in 2018. In any case, the Prince of the game looks like Jake Gyllenhaal with a bad tanjk, blue eyes, and a permanent princely pout.

There’s a conversation to be had about cultural appropriation as it is present in games. I’m not sure I’m necessarily the best person to have it on this blog (in fact I double checked to make sure Graham hadn’t already written on it in depth), but I’m up to the plate right now, and I don’t really feel like watching this pitch go by. In my mind, at least, cultural appropriation can broadly be broken into two major categories:

  • Cultural Appreciation is when an artist or designer draws inspiration from a culture outside of their own, trying to use elements of that heritage either to make a point about the similarities and/or differences between different cultures, or to cultivate further interest and engagement with that culture.
  • Cultural Affectation is when an artist uses elements of an outside culture as a way to emphasize the alien, otherness of that culture, and to demonstrate the unique nature of the creation their appropriation has made possible.

To be certain, the good intentions of an artist engaged in cultural appreciation may not make a difference to the culture being appropriated. What’s more, there is an element of colonialist superiority in both types of appropriation that, if unexamined, could be drastically harmful.

I remember once getting into a discussion with a very good friend about cultural appropriation and whether engagement with a separate culture will always be, by its nature, appropriative. As someone who enjoys, in no particular order, Japanese animation, Ethiopian cuisine, and Polynesian music, as someone who lives in a multicultural state and an increasingly globalized world, I hope that’s not the case. I enjoy white rappers and black country musicians, and I don’t know that that statement is in and of itself culturally appropriative. Goodness knows it’s a serious discussion to be had by serious people, but I’d like to think that we live in a society that is more likely to celebrate the interaction of cultures than discriminate against them.

I don’t know the creators’ intentions for The Forgotten Sands, but there are certainly moments that feel less like appreciation and more like affectation, along with the harm that could cause. While I can’t change the game’s nature or the handling of its setting, I can, as a consumer of culture (in this case, games) try to be more mindful of appropriation when I encounter it.

I suppose I wanted this to be a game that engaged more with its cultural inspirations more than it did. I wanted this post to be a lot lighter than it ended up being. And I really wanted someone a lot smarter than me to cover this idea on this blog first.

Oh well. Since that ended up being a heavier post than I originally intended, have a gallery of pictures of the Prince sulkily ignoring amazing things.

Next episode: Brink

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