Creating Fictional Cultures

in Opinion

So, this week’s sale in the RPG Maker Web store is on the wonderful Twilight Shrine: Japanese Resource Pack.


This pack includes a lot of cool stuff music, sound effects, graphics, for a Japanese themed or inspired setting.

Which got me thinking about how we create fictional cultures in our games. Outside of those set in the real world, our games include tons of fictional nations, cultures, and people. So how do we write them?

In general, when people create cultures for their games, they use an existing culture as a template. For instance, we could use Japanese culture for the template, which helps because, well we have these wonderful packs to use for it!

And on sale too! Hint Hint.

And on sale too! Hint Hint.

This is always a good start, but you really should come at it from the right direction. Are you just stealing the culture or are you respecting the culture?

I’m not going to delve too much into this, but just in general, make sure that you are being respectful, if you take a culture, put it in your game, and then portray their culture as corrupt and nasty (based on their cultural beliefs), then you are probably going in the wrong direction. Better to use a generic standin culture for that, rather than basing it on a real life one.

But being respectful doesn’t mean that you have to make the culture identical. You can change details, this is a fictional culture!

Your pseudo-Japan doesn't have to look just like this.

Your pseudo-Japan doesn’t have to look just like this.

The best way to do this is to understand the culture you are borrowing. Why did they become the way they did? Take the Japanese obsession with fish dishes. Of course, they are obsessed with fish dishes, they are an island nation! A culture that grew somewhere away from the coast, with similar beliefs, would develop different food.

Or take the creation of the folded steel of the Japanese Katana. The reason for this is the quality of iron found in Japan was not as good as the ore found in Europe. Because of this, they had to develop a method that would turn that iron into a higher quality steel blade. A culture that has rich iron mines would probably never develop such a technique.

The key to adapting a culture to your game is to A. Understand and Respect the culture, and B. Make adjustments based on differences in how they developed.

How would these kinds of shrines be different if the forces they represent had real measurable effects on the world?

How would these kinds of shrines be different if the forces they represent had real measurable effects on the world?

Think about how real magic, or an invasion by another culture, or literal gods walking the planet, or even just a different topography of the land they live in, would change the culture as it grew.

That is the key to making powerful, evocative cultures in your games. Do you have any tips for creating cultures?

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