Video games: where’s Wales?

This article is a short look at a representation of Wales and the Welsh in video games.

Introduction

In order to analyse the recent representation of Welshness/Welsh Culture in video games, we are going to need a bit of context first, including a short paragraph on the incorporation of myths into games. This article will will also focus on Welsh representation in video games through some recent and well-known examples.

Mythology in Gaming

Video games, even more so in recent years, are a fantastically diverse medium, which often takes inspiration from various cultures and myths from around the world. That inspiration (though perhaps it is more than inspiration at this point) can be obvious, like with Supergiant’s Hades and Ubisoft’s Fenyx Immortals Rising, which are both based on/feature Greek Mythology and its pantheon of gods. Like with these two games, inspiration from more widely known mythologies (like the Greek, Egyptian and Norse ones) tends to be (unsurprisingly) more common in Gaming, but also more obvious. in other words, if you have a game that features, say, Norse mythology, it has a good chance of being heavily featured, if not at the forefront of the game’s story. Lesser-known mythologies however are, if taken as inspiration, often reduced / confined to the background of the game and fleeting references like a distant flavour of sorts.

Celticness in gaming

Even when considered as a bloc, Celtic mythology is one of these lesser-known mythologies, in a way: a lot of people may know of it, but very few would be able to actually recall a particular tale unless they’re from a Celtic nation maybe. that is reflected in the representation of Celtic mythologies in games: sparse and mostly in the background.
That lack of (good) representation does not only apply to mythology, but also to culture and, well, people.
However, in recent years, there seems to have been a relative surge in respectful representation of Irishness in gaming, as games reporter Cian Maher recently pointed out on Twitter and in articles such as Elden Ring’s best bosses and locations drew inspiration from an unlikely source. Although he writes about Irish representation in gaming, a lot of it can be applied to Welsh representation to some extent. For example, Maher argues that Irish characters used to be caricatures of Irish people, limited to the cliché of the alcoholic with an exaggerated accent. He also talks about the fact that the number of references to Irish Mythology and culture in games is increasing.

The Case of Welsh representation

Both of these statements can be applied to Welsh representation, but to a lesser extent. Indeed, as is often the case in pop culture (the mainstream at least), Wales is often overshadowed by its more famous neighbours, Ireland and Scotland.
In other words, there are examples of references to Welsh culture, but there are fewer of those than there are for Irish culture.
Oftentimes, references to Celtic mythology are not specifically Irish, or Specifically Welsh, but are more “vaguely” Celtic.
That does not mean that there are no specific references, but it does mean that there are few of them and that they tend to be difficult to identify and analyse.
Since it is not an impossible task, however, the rest of this article will focus on some of the most prominent examples of Welsh characters, and references to Welsh mythology and culture in videogames.

The Case of FromSoftware games

FromSofware (or Fromsoft for short) being a Japanese company, it is perhaps not the first name that springs to mind when thinking about Welsh references in games. However, their games contain some of the best known, casually Welsh inspired characters in the industry.
Their games have a history of including characters with welsh accents. But that is not all.
First, in Dark Souls I (released in 2011), players can encounter a cheerful merchant named Domhnall of Zena, and not only does he have a Welsh accent, he actually greets the player with a magnificent “Aye shiwmae [1] !”. It is just one welsh word, so it may not seem like much, but Wales and the Welsh language, in particular, are so under-represented in mainstream games that the smallest reference is at least worth noting.
The Fromsoft game with the most references to Welsh and welsh mythology is actually their latest: the incredibly successful Elden Ring (released in 2022). It does have the usual welsh accents, and a character who quickly became a fan-favourite: Blaidd [2], the wolf-man, whose name has not been anglicised and who also speaks with a welsh accent. The game is steeped in Celtic mythology, the inspirations are too vague to really say which Celtic mythology it pulls from. There are, however, striking similarities between certain major bosses (and other NPCs) in the game and Welsh mythological figures, some of which could be nods to the Mabinogion.

The Welsh in the Assassin’s Creed Franchise

The use of Welsh characters or myths is not a common occurrence for the massive triple-A franchise, but there are two examples worth talking about here if only for the significant amount of exposure their presence gave to the welsh in the gaming world.
The first one was the protagonist of the fourth game in the series: Assassin’s Creed Black Flag. The game takes place in the 18th century, and our main character, named Edward Kenway is a Welsh pirate from Swansea (funnily enough he also happens to be voiced by a welsh actor who is from Swansea as well, Matt Ryan). The best, and most unusual thing about Kenway isn’t that he is Welsh, it’s that he is proud to be Welsh and even gets angry when other characters in the game mistake him for an Englishman. He is a great, sympathetic protagonist (again, a fan-favourite) whose Welshness does not feel like an afterthought.
The second instance of a significant welsh element in an Assassin’s Creed game came with the franchise’s latest entry, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. To put it as short as possible, the protagonist, Eivor is a Viking raider trying to establish a new home for their clan in what is now England around 875 AD by securing various alliances. The main quest takes us, the player, to the region of Glowecestrescire [3] at the beginning of Samhain. The most interesting part of the quest, for this article anyway, is probably the part which has our protagonist participate in the Mari Lewyd tradition see a more detailed explanation. The Mari Llwyd tradition has been revived in Wales in recent decades, and is very much still in practice, but, like many welsh traditions, is not really widely known outside of the country. Actually, a major game featuring it is an interesting way to spark curiosity around it internationally.

Game development in Wales and conclusion

There are other examples of welsh characters in games which would be fascinating to talk about, like the main antagonists of Vampyr. There are too many examples to put into a single article, however.
Finally, this article would be incomplete if it did not at least mention Wales Interactive, a relatively new, award-winning video game and interactive movie publisher and developer based in South Wales. One of their main goals, as stated on https://www.walesinteractive.com/about, is to put Wales on the videogame map. In fact, their best-known work is a single-player horror game, titled The Maid of Sker, which is based on the Welsh tale of Elisabeth Williams.
So, in conclusion, representation of Wales and the welsh seems to be improving, both in games and behind the scenes.

Notes

[1An informal greeting, in the Welsh language, similar to “hi! what’s up?” in English

[2“Blaidd” is the Welsh word for “wolf”, also worth noting: it is pronounced correctly in the game

[3Modern-day Gloucestershire, is now part of England but borders Wales

Published 7 June 2022
  • by Margaux Legavre is a first-year student of the Celtic Studies Masters at the University of Western Brittany.