Like any good little RPG gamer, I have a notion that mana is some sort of magic power, perhaps derived from the land and channeled by mental or emotional focus. It’s typically a consumable resource, sometimes regenerating and infinite, sometimes finite. It’s neither creative nor destructive by nature, it is merely power, bent to the will of humans and monsters to varied ends.
Until last week, I had no idea that Mana is actually an Oceanic concept, and that the notions of mana that I’ve grown up with are somewhat mutated.
Of course, I knew that people have taken the concept of mana in different directions, whether it’s Larry Niven or SquareEnix. I just had the mistaken idea that the concept of mana was some gaming offshoot of Shinto beliefs. I guess that the concept of mana in the Final Fantasy games and the Mana series (of which Secret of Mana was one chapter, and is known as the Seiken Densetsu series in Japan) is somewhat influenced by Shinto beliefs, and the Oceanic concepts aren’t all that far removed conceptually, but seeing that there are Polynesian roots for the concept intrigued me.
It does make me wonder why we don’t have some games digging into the Oceanic roots of the concept. Then again, I wonder why we don’t have a lot of other cultural storytelling in games. Yes, Valkyrie Profile was good, but even that was filtered through Japanese notions. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I would like to see some more games built a bit closer to the source material, from many different cultures.
And yes, I’m probably missing some that are already made because they aren’t made in English. Russia is apparently hitting the world game stage harder a bit lately, with higher profile releases like King’s Bounty. Perhaps I’m just asking that American and Japanese devs look a little deeper into their sources, and treat them with more respect. To a degree, there will always be filtering, and to borrow a Trek concept, “it’s impossible for a non-Klingon to understand the Klingon soul”… but I do wish devs would try a lot harder.
I do like a well-crafted fictional world, just as much as any other child who geeked out on Tolkien and Asimov, but even those two giants put in a LOT of study and a lot of thinking about ramifications and consequences. Far too many game devs are content to employ generic fantasy tropes, using a few buxom characters and some addictive mechanics to make FantasyDIKU#157 or GenericJRPG/WRPG #08976-B. New games need not be historic real-world riffs, but we would do well to see why real-world legends have persisted through cultures (oft times only through oral history mechanics), and how they offer stability to their populace. Games need not be realistic, but plausibility goes a long way to suspending disbelief. Great game storytellers understand sociology, psychology, history, theology, art, politics and all sorts of other aspects of the human condition. There aren’t many great game storytellers, at least, if the evidence of their work is any indication.