Nordic Cool: Viking Americana and the Future of Video Games

Scandinavian developers Kristoffer Touborg and Saku Lehtinen discuss Nordic video game influence and the future of the entertainment industry.

[This is the second part of a look at Nordic Cool's Game Design: Behind the Screen discussion. Read part one here.]At the Nordic Cool festival in Washington, Finnish game developer Saku Lehtinen identified how the region's relationship with US popular culture enables ideas to “echo back and forth over the Atlantic” and showed the use of Americana in Max Payne and Alan Wake as examples of that connection. He suggested that this is the development conduit which enables Nordic game development to cater for the international market whilst still including the cultural distinctiveness of Scandinavia. He cited Max Payne as an example of writing which, whilst clearly rooted in US culture, contained many parallels with Norse mythology.When asked if there is a temptation to deliver a game that is uniquely Nordic, Kristoffer Touborg, Lead Designer of Iceland-based CCP Games, interjected with “...if we ever make Viking game I'll die from shame.”When looking at the rise of video games as part of pop culture, Lehtinen charted his involvement in what began as a modest hobby culture in the latter part of the 20th Century, with parents who would chide the young bedroom coder to "get a proper job”, at least until it led to his successful “dream come true” career working in “a medium where you can interactively talk with people.”Touborg recalled his revelation at university that “video games are the new movies” and held up Trion's Defiance, a TV series coupled to a video game, as an example of how the two media are fusing to deliver modern entertainment. He talked about video games as a “super flexible medium”; “Movies haven't really changed that much in the sense hour and half long - you can watch them at home or at the movies. Games are a completely different beast. You can sit on the bus and play an iOS game, you can go home and spend 15 hours on World of Warcraft - don't do that, I think that might be overdoing it a little bit. Pace yourselves.” “It's so flexible: you can do it multiplayer, you can do it alone, it's just a medium that I feel has done very well in reaching all kinds of different people in all kinds of different situations. That alone is a gigantic advantage.” A question from the audience asked for a prediction of the future of the industry. Between them, Touborg and Lehtinen offered a number of key predictions; device integration as exemplified by Defiance and the EVE/DUST link, social revolution (Touborg hopes League of Legends championships will push baseball out of sports bars), and digital distribution allowing small developers direct access to consumers.As the innovation and drive of Nordic game studios continues to influence the video game industry, anything is possible. After all, these are a people whose ancestors explored further and thrived in ridiculously harsh environments. There is a foolhardy spirit of adventure in their blood. It is perhaps not a coincidence that the proverb “nothing ventured, nothing gained” comes from Njáls Saga in Viking literature.Skål! [For more detail on what Kristoffer 'CCP Soundwave' Touborg had to say on the subject of EVE Online et al, check out Freebooted, your gateway to the EVE Online blogging community.]

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Broken paramedic and coffee-drinking Englishman whose favourite dumb animal is an oxymoron. After over a decade of humping and dumping the fat and the dead, my lower spine did things normally reserved for Rubik's cubes, bringing my career as a medical clinician to an unexpectedly early end. Fortunately, my real passion is in writing and given that I'm now highly qualified in the art of sitting down, I have the time to pursue it. Having blogged about video games (well, mostly EVE Online) for years, I hope to channel my enjoyment of wordcraft and my hobby of gaming into one handy new career that doesn't involve other people's vomit.

Published Mar. 4th 2013

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