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The Greek Mythology Renaissance in Video Games

greek mythology video games
The Heraion of Samos as seen by players of the ”Odyssey Assassin’s Creed” video game. Credit: https://twitter.com/ArchaicWorlds

Greek mythology has found a new outlet through the world of video games. As video games have grown in popularity, so have themes surrounding ancient Greece and the 12 gods and goddesses of Olympus.

With new games consistently being released that pay homage to these periods, such as the hugely popular “Assassin’s Creed Odyssey” (2018), “Hades” (2018), and the recent release “Immortals Fenyx Rising” (2020), it is no wonder that Greek mythology seems to be inhabiting the minds of many across the world!

Greek mythology in video games

The steadily increasing popularity of Greek mythology in video games has not gone unnoticed by gamers the world over.

Stella Skepetaris, a Greek-American gamer with almost 10,000 followers on the streaming platform “Twitch,” spoke to Greek Reporter about her experience with games based on her country’s rich history.

“I haven’t played the new Assassin’s Creed due to the price tag, but I do keep in touch with the actual gameplay of it just to have a feel on what’s going on. Being from Greece, I really liked the detail that they put in ‘Odyssey.’

“Also, my brother is like a big nerd about that kind of detailing — he actually compared the official map that they had for Odyssey, and an old map of Greece at that time. And they had even included the tiny little villages that don’t exist anymore,” Skepetaris revealed, showing how much care goes into creating video games that harken back to the past.

However, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is not the only game released in recent memory that immerses players in a world built to resemble ancient Greece.

In the game “Okhlos,” released in 2016 by Argentina-based studio Coffee Powered Machine, the player is a scholar who doesn’t see eye-to-eye with the Greek gods and sets out on a mission to destroy them, recruiting a mob of angry Greeks to fight along with them.

An educational impact?

The impressive level of historical accuracy that goes into a lot of video games based on Greek mythology, when combined with more fantastical elements, can truly make a game come to life. It is also one of the reasons that many credit games with creating a “Greek mythology Renaissance” within younger generations similar to that spurred on by Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson” book series in the 2000s.

“I think it’s good that it’s popular because through historical games, and mythological games, a lot of young children especially, and even just people my age or older, get interested in mythology through the way the information is communicated.

“Then they might google the actual story, and I think that also shows the amount of impact that video games actually have on people,” Skepetaris continued, echoing claims by many that video games can have an educational impact on top of their primary recreational function.

Greek mythology video game
A screenshot of a beautiful Greek landscape from the 2020 game “Immortals Fenyx Rising”. Credit: Twitter/@misthiosvp

Nick Konstantoglou, a co-owner and artist at a Greek indie game developer named “Kickback,” shared another potential reason with Greek Reporter for the prominence of games based on Greek mythology.

“If there is any increasing popularity from Greek developers … I can explain that one to you — it’s because of recent popular Greek funding programs that have requirements of having Greece as a setting.

“I believe they have modeled them after UK’s IGDA funding programs, although they have made them even more restrictive and Greece-centric,” Konstantoglou shared.

The initiative Konstantoglou was referring to was launched in 2019; it involves giving video game developers cash rebates and tax deductions for “cultural and educational digital games.”

The incentives include a 35 percent cash rebate, with no cap, as well as a 30 percent tax deduction. It was decided by a joint Ministerial decision by former deputy Minister for Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media, Lefteris Kretsos, and former Deputy Minister for Economy and Development, Stathis Giannakidis, concerning the “Call for boosting the production of audiovisual projects in Greece involving cultural and educational digital games.”

Skepetaris agrees that video games can keep Greek history alive and inspire a whole new demographic to learn about the country’s past.

“It’s nice because being from Greece, even up to today — a good thing about our educational system is the fact that they make us go through mythology, and they test us on the Odyssey and Iliad.

“Those are well-known mythological scriptures, and it’s nice to see how (Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey) kind of took their own look at it, because it’s so open to interpretation. And it’s really fun — when you do it right, and you really appreciate the times and the beliefs that existed during that era. I think a lot of good things can come out of it,” Skepetaris elaborated.

Part of a wider trend

Greek mythology is not the only historical theme that has been re-imagined in the form of gaming. Another popular setting is Norse mythology, as seen in the most recent addition to the “God of War” franchise which was released in 2018.

Greek mythology video game
A screengrab from the newest God of War game, based on Norse mythology. Credit: Twitter/@laura_press_go

Although the original God of War games were based on Greek mythology, it is fascinating to see how video games are expanding on the historical subject matter they explore. There are concrete reasons for why these themes, including ancient Greece, are so popular in gaming.

“I think it kind of makes sense that games use mythology. They love to add the belief system that was once there even if it’s talking about the Norse gods, the Egyptian gods, the 12 Greek gods or whatever — they love to add that little dose of magic.

“I mean, I haven’t seen a game yet where the characters are just really realistic; they always have belief systems, and the games incorporate tiny little actions that push the story where, if you believe that it’s a sign then it’s a sign, right? So I think that’s one of the most popular things (in game design) that they almost always tie mythology with magic, or just something unexplained,” Skepetaris said.

Regardless of whether video games choose to incorporate Greek mythology or any other belief system from thousands of years ago, it seems clear that the ancient world is a perfect source of inspiration for game developers.

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