Coming from the Maldives, people often let out an astonished gasp when I inform them that we don’t live in luxurious resorts. Shocking, I know. The picturesque photos on Pinterest don’t precisely match our lifestyles and culture. I’m sure many of us can relate to this sentiment. If you’re from an obscure country, you’re often greeted with bewildering comments from someone who thought you lived in the trees. This was one of my biggest reasons for creating my final year project which is based on my dissertation that explores the idea of racial stereotyping in games along with the underrepresentation of Asian characters in media in order to create a game with a diverse cast of characters that show off their own cultures.
Representation in media is often an overlooked topic. Often being tossed out for aesthetic purposes or societal standards of beauty. After all, who would care about some pixels on a screen? Though these “pixels on a screen” are vital in today’s world, especially in terms of conveying information to an audience. These pixels of course are the idea that we artists are trying to convey to those watching. Thus as an entertainment design student, I did what I do best — draw! Well, a little more than that, so let’s jump into how I created a project that strives for inclusion and diversity.
After a heavy consumption of Bollywood movies during the conception of this project, I wanted to create something light-hearted and fun while still maintaining a level of depth so that it could be further explored in the future.
A rough overview of the story illustrates artefacts around the world that have gone missing. All that is known is that six individuals are a part of these mysterious robberies. On their biggest heist, they noticed that the artefact that should be standing before them is gone. The doors behind them burst wide open and they realise they’ve been framed! With only one option left, they decide to do the most logical thing, fight the guards and escape. Now on the run, they need to find out who are the real culprits!
The world these characters reside in uses their country’s access to magic as a class system, where the more access you have to magic the higher class you are. With many countries having lost their strength, some theorise that the artefacts being kept in museums are the key. These characters decide to take that risk and see if it is true by stealing their first artefact and returning it to a monument in Korea. In almost an instant, the land revived around them. Realising the truth behind their world, they make it their mission to return the artefacts and allow those countries who had been left behind to reach their full potential.
I created the the characters to be the highlight of the project I maintained my original statement that I create culturally inspired characters that meant I had to do an immense amount of research prior to their illustration. While exploring diversity in terms of culture I also made sure to keep them unique in terms of their body types, personalities, and other defining traits for each character.
Ahn Min Jun
The confident leader of the group is an elegant fighter always prepared for action.
Minjun was the first character I created over a year ago during my fourth semester. I moved him over to this project as his design was directly related to my topic. His development started by creating a graceful-looking fighter, someone who wields a sword and feels almost like a dancer when fighting. With this in mind, I used many references of figure skaters along with traditional Korean sword fighting methods during his posing and ability creation. He has many design elements taken from a traditional Korean architectural design,dancheong, often seen on Korean buildings.
The brave youngster in their group, in charge of explosives and all things cute.
Keiko followed Minjun in creation. They were created as an unlikely pair — a put-together and elegant scientist with his chaotic young sidekick. The youngest of the bunch at eleven years old, she is a loud, rambunctious, and powerful girl. When surrounded by a group of adults, she wants to prove that she is just as capable if not more capable than all of them. She is from Japan and thus wears a modified version of the kimono. She takes heavy inspiration from the Japanese folktale about the kitsune fox, using the large bow on her head to mimic the ears of a fox since she is joined by her familiar Mochi, a fox-dragon hybrid that accompanies her chaos and protects her from evil.
The nightmare-inducing assassin of the group. He gets his hands (and gigantic knives) dirty when nobody else wants to.
Making eye contact with him is like challenging him to a duel you will most definitely not win. Ripped apart and put back together by cursed dark magic, he uses trickery and deceit to get his way. His name, Reyy, means night or last night, as those who utter it often know it is their “last night” alive. His design stays true to the traditional outfit in the Maldives but is torn to shreds to display his risky behavior. Wielding giant knives and the ability to create shadow mimics of himself, it is best you don’t mess with him.
The bold locksmith of their group, Noor gets access to these museums using her elite connections.
Noor is the other Maldivian character in the lineup. Being from the Maldives myself, I wanted to ensure to represent both traditional outfits that we have. She wears a modified version of the dhivehi libaas that is worn by Maldivian women. Her design is heavily inspired by our traditional pottery called liyelaa jehun. She is a renowned jeweller, creating exquisite pieces worn by the wealthiest in the world. She is the only character that does not wield a physical weapon since she is able to casts spells. Her arm is adorned with detailed tattoos inspired by the designs seen throughout Maldivian culture.
The energetic fighter of their group, able to take on a hoard of people and still leave without a scratch.
Amrita was created with the objective of portraying a female character with a more diverse body type — specifically a more buff body type. She is strong and she knows it. Unafraid of confrontation, she is guaranteed to send her opponents into a new state of being with just a single punch. She is from India, heavily inspired by Punjabi culture. Amrita’s pose comes from the traditional Bhangra dance. A lively and energetic dance, it can easily lift the spirits of anyone. At this point, I could perform the Bhangra dance myself after having watched so many videos.
The stoic tank of their group, taking the hits and protecting the team from danger.
Zul is the last character in the lineup. He is heavily inspired by the Malaysian Tiger. and developed with the concept of an animal trainer in mind. During his earlier stages of creation I was advised to choose an animal and make it his main motif, allowing the character to show a clear connection to said animal. I was also very clearly told to avoid the cliche of making his weapon some form of the keris. Therefore I opted for a parang, a knife in Malaysia used for cutting tall grass that I felt was appropriate for him as an animal trainer. Finally, I took inspiration from the traditional Malaysian martial arts called “silat”.
And with that, followed by many other obstacles…the project came to an end.
This project became so much more than just something I did based on my dissertation. It became something that showed me that representation does matter. The number of people that approached me during the exhibition to tell me that they felt seen was beyond heartwarming. It made me want to take this further so that we can be a part of a world where media is a tool rather than an obstacle for minorities struggling with representation.