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Ancient Egypt in Asian Gacha Games: A Successful Method for Drawing Players in?, by Esperanza Macarena Ródenas Perea

Ancient Egypt in Asian Gacha Games: A Successful Method for Drawing Players in?, by Esperanza Macarena Ródenas Perea

It is undeniable that both anime and manga have progressively entered Western media over the last decades, and it is here to stay. Likewise, videogames with manga aesthetic have also become extraordinarily popular in the West, and with the technological development of Smartphones, their capacity to support lengthy and more complex games has increased in the past years: Such is the case of gacha mobile games.

Gacha is the short form for gachapon, famous Japanese capsule machines or toy dispensers where the consumer can introduce a coin, rotate the crank and get a prize, which is normally a small figurine, keychain, etc. The relationship between mobile gacha games and capsule machines relies on the idea that consumers/players have to use coins/in-game currency to obtain a ‘prize’ (or summon a playable ‘character’ in the case of mobile games), and that the result depends on luck. In the case of gacha games, both in-game currency and money transactions can be used, normally without a guarantee of obtaining such a prize. This issue has sparked quite a lot of controversy on the Internet since gacha games are very popular nowadays, but at the same time, they are being accused of encouraging gambling.

What relationship do gacha share with Ancient Egypt? Quite a lot, actually. Ancient Egyptian and Egyptianising traits and characters are constantly used in gacha games. Within these games, usually set in fantasy worlds, two groups can be established: gacha which draw directly from Ancient Egyptian mythology and/or historical characters, and gacha which indirectly use Ancient Egypt as an inspiration for their worldbuilding.

In the first group, we find games such as Dislyte, an urban mythological RPG where gods and heroes are reincarnated into people[1]; Fate/Grand Order, where different historical, literary and mythological characters are summoned by a mage in order to protect Humanity; Mythic Heroes, where such gods are summoned to stop the advance of dark forces; or Granblue Fantasy, where the protagonist summons them as primal beings. However, it could be argued that many of these games are based on different world mythologies and Ancient Egypt does not play the key role that others do. In fact, the number of Chinese, Japanese and Greek mythological characters is usually greater than the Egyptian ones[2], probably because the targeted market relates more to their native mythology (gacha games are normally produced by Chinese, Japanese or Korean developers) and are perhaps more familiar with Ancient Greek heroes in opposition to Egyptian mythology.

Fig. 1: All Egyptian characters in Dislyte according to its Wiki. Screenshot taken by the author.

The second group is more enlightening. Whereas in Genshin Impact Ancient Greece is behind the development of Enkanomiya, an old secret region inspired by Atlantis, and it is also perceived in the terminology related to gods and elements[3], Ancient Egypt also plays an essential role in one of the game’s main nations: Sumeru. Sumeru is known as the ‘Nation of Wisdom’ and is inspired by an orientalising melting-pot of cultures from the Near East, North Africa and Southern Asia from different time periods. Within this imaginary place, Ancient Egypt is often used for the geographical-narrative, mythological and character construction of Sumeru. As such, we see Egyptian-like characters, such as Cyno, whose design and skills closely resemble Ancient Egyptian culture[4], or Egyptian gods, such as Amun, a pseudonym for the desert people’s god, also known as King Deshret. But Ancient Egypt also leaves its trace in Sumeru’s geography, where we find spaces such as the Sobek Oasis or the Setekh lands, where an enemy depicted as a huge snake called Setekh Wenut can be defeated in order to farm materials. Lastly, huge structures resembling pyramids, statues and obelisks can be found in Sumeru’s desert. In Epic Seven, a Korean fantasy gacha, there is also a zone known as Savara, a large desert area. Although the story does not show explicit Egyptian allusions like in Genshin Impact, several characters from Savara are depicted with Egyptianising features too.

In my opinion, this intended use of Egyptian motifs in gacha worldbuilding evidences a number of defining elements. Firstly, they provide an excellent resource for players who, largely captivated by the popular depiction of Ancient Egypt’s as a land of ancestral wisdom, exoticism and mysticism, are inclined to play games that contain such features (and to spend money on them). Secondly, many of these games rely on sexualizing their characters in order to catch the eye of some players, and for this, Ancient Egypt’s “erotism” proves to be an effective tool [5]. Last but not least, Egypt is used as a cultural and narrative framework for fantasy worlds that do not question this exotic portrayal and want to give off a similar image, especially when it comes to portraying a land as ancient and wise but also as corrupted and declining, which undoubtedly recalls orientalist ideas.

Fig. 2: Cyno at the Sobek oasis area. Screenshots taken by the author from Genshin Impact.

[1] Dislyte is also known for producing modern-like music, and some of its albums are clearly inspired by Ancient Egypt themes, like those dedicated to Ollie-Osiris (“Osiris the Lone Star”: Link here) or to Zora-Amunet (“Bloody Hunt”: Link here).

[2] For Dislyte, the ratio is more balanced: 33 Ancient Greek characters compared to Ancient Egyptian 28 characters. More striking is the difference in Fate/Grand Order, with 35 Ancient Greek characters as opposed to 7 Ancient Egyptian characters (including Ptolemy I Soter), or in Mythic Heroes, with 4 Ancient Egyptian characters as opposed to 22 Ancient Greek characters. In Granblue Fantasy, both Ancient Egyptian and Greek characters appear as summonable characters, but while characters such as Zeus, Poseidon, Europa or Hades can be directly recruited, Egyptian characters are more difficult to obtain since they need to be defeated first in a high-level mission called the Ennead Raid, which features Atum, Tefnut, Bennu, Ra, Horus and Osiris.

[3] The main gods are called Archons in Genshin Impact. Likewise, the world’s elements all come from Ancient Greek (e.g.: Anemo for Wind, Dendro for Nature).

[4] Cyno uses skills such as the “Featherfall Judgment”, alluding to the judgment of the dead or the “Authority over the Nine Bows”, alluding to the enemies of Egypt. Likewise, one of his constellations is called “Raiment: Just Scales”, again alluding to the Afterlife judgement.

[5] Sometimes, players can buy an alternative outfit (or “skin”) for their characters. We find some examples of Egyptianising “skins” in gacha like Fire Emblem Heroes or Alchemy Stars, although not all of them are sexualised.

Further readings:

“List of Espers by Mythology”, Dislyte wiki, Fandom Game Community (Link here).

Rich, N. (2021): All About Gachapon, All About Japan (Link here).

 

Author: Esperanza Macarena Ródenas Perea, Becaria FPU, Universidad Pablo de Olavide (Seville).

 

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