What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Australia? Sun-scorched sand? Crocodile Dundee? That Simpsons episode where Bart trolls the entire country? If you conjure up these Australian stereotypes, you’re been gravely misinformed. The place I call home gets a bum rap in popular media, too often portrayed as a country of beer-guzzling surfers who keep kangaroos for pets – and that’s when we get mentioned at all. Sure, we might be a small fish in the global pond, but it’s still disappointing to see my home reduced to outlandish stereotypes.
Videogames haven’t exactly helped with our image. In Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, Sly and the gang travel to the Australian Outback. Kangaroos, dingos and scorpions roam harsh, rocky landscapes and cavernous opal mines. Though ostensibly based on the remote Northern-Territory town of Yuendumu, the level implies that it’s representative of Australia as a whole. It is not. Over two-thirds of our population lives in our coastal capital cities, surrounded by skyscrapers and a distinct lack of wild emus.
This cultural caricature crops up time and time again. Run Roo Run, a mobile platformer by 5th Cell (Scribblenauts), litters its Australia with kangaroo skulls and cacti and Akubra hats. LittleBigPlanet Portable treats surfboard-loaded Kombi vans and sheep-shearing contests as the bread and butter of Australian life. Even the Ty the Tasmanian Tiger games, developed right here in Australia, sell the country as a place of boomerangs and outhouses and cries of “Crikey!”
Ironically enough, the most reverent take on Australia comes from the most irreverent of games: Tony Hawk’s Underground 2. Its Australia stage is a riff on Bondi Beach, and aside from the koala statue, the shrimp jokes and the questionable inclusion of an Aboriginal go-kart driver, the imagery is fairly on-point. Too bad it’s hidden in a game built on absurdity.
Fortunately, Australia’s reputation looks set to change with Forza Horizon 3. As both the first open-world and first AAA game set entirely in Australia, it has the power to prove the stereotypes wrong. The Forza games know how to nail the tone of a place, even when it’s not a 1:1 recreation; the original Horizon was lauded for the accuracy of its virtual Colorado, and Horizon 2 received similar praise for its representation of southern Europe.
Judging from the trailers, Horizon 3 will continue this trend and break stereotypes. With a diverse mix of coastal roads, city driving, rural highways, and outback plains, Australia’s true beauty will be on full display. Finally, gamers across the globe will see that Down Under is more than just a parched wasteland ruled by enormous, poisonous wildlife. If all goes well, Horizon 3 could be one of the most important games in Australian history.