For much of my life I’ve been an avid gamer and this is something that is currently really helping me to get through the current lockdown situation the UK.
I enjoy gaming for its escapism and I love becoming invested in a story; it stimulates my imagination and problem solving and is fun at the same time. Whilst working from home and with our heightened focus on digital content, I wanted to research some well-known and personal favourite games, characters and creatures and see how they relate to real objects from our vast collections. These links may reflect real-life inspiration for the digital creation, sharing of meaning or symbolism or other interesting and intriguing tidbits of information I find.
Animal Crossing and the Booth Museum
To kick off, I wanted to focus on a game that a huge proportion of gamers across the world are playing currently and one you most likely will have at least seen on social media if you’ve looked there at all over the last few weeks. Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons! This relaxing game which involves moving to a deserted island and creating a thriving community of friendly animal villagers couldn’t have come at a better time, providing a space for calm, gentle escapism. One of the main focuses of this game from the very start is actually populating a museum with the huge number of fish, insects and fossils that can be found on the island, with varying ones found depending on the time of year (the game mirrors our real-time days, months, seasons). It feels almost like curating your very own Booth Museum, minus the shooting and collecting of birds that our Mr Booth was so fond of in the 1800’s. The Booth Museum’s collection includes a number of specimens also found in Animal Crossing, including wasps, butterflies and moths, spiders and dinosaur fossils! We don’t have any staff quite like Animal Crossing’s Blathers though…
Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ museum
Booth Museum interior featuring some collection displays
Dark Souls’ Moonlight Butterfly
On the subject of insects, let’s look at the Moonlight Butterfly from one of my personal favourite game series – Dark Souls. Contrary to almost all other bosses in these games, the Moonlight Butterfly isn’t really known as being especially difficult to beat, but is certainly one of the most beautifully designed aesthetically. Butterflies are ectotherms, which means that they rely on external heat sources and aren’t able to generate body heat themselves, which is why you see so many of them basking in the sunshine on a warm summer day. As this basking is vital to the butterfly’s survival it needs a way to deal with attention from potential predators whilst it raises it’s body temperature – this is why butterflies have the variety of patterns on the wings that they do. It may be to help them blend in to their environment when their wings are spread or to scare or confuse anything that may want to eat them. The Moonlight Butterfly from Dark Souls is a kind of antithesis to our real-life butterflies – it lives in the Darkroot Garden, with little access to light and yet radiates a glorious green glow and heat rather than soaking it in. It is also the largest and most powerful creature in the area, possibly a predator rather than the prey.
Moonlight Butterfly from Dark Souls
Butterfly from Booth Museum collection.
Now to move on to mythical beasts: Dragons! Anyone who has been to the Royal Pavilion before will have surely noticed the huge number of dragons in its interior. They are featured in sculptures, painted on to wallpaper, carved in to furniture and can even be spotted in the faux wood grain on some of the panelling. Dragons have appeared in folklore and myth from across the world for thousands of years, as far back as 4000BC in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. From Hebrew’s Leviathan to Fafnir from Norse mythology and the Wyvern and Hydra from ancient Greece – It’s no wonder they’re so widely recognised now and are probably the most visible of any mythical creature, being featured in a huge amount of pop culture. They also play a key role in a couple of my favourite games: as main characters Angelus and Mikhail in the Drakengard and Nier series created by the dark-storytelling mastermind Yoko Taro and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim features many dragons both friendly and hostile. You can also find them in the Dragon Age games, Legend of Zelda, Fire Emblem, Call of Duty, Monster Hunter, Tomb Raider and of course, the Spyro series, to name just a few.
Angelus the Red Dragon, heroine of the 2003 game Drakengard which later spawned the Nier franchise.
Dragon holding up the chandelier in the Royal Pavilion’s banqueting room.
Pyramid Head and representations of death
Pyramid Head from Silent Hill 2 is probably one of the most well known antagonists in gaming, along with being one of the most dread-inducing. Similarly to Mr. X from Resident Evil 2 and Nemesis from Resident Evil 3, Pyramid Head appears at several points in the game with the sole purpose of hunting your character down and making you (as the gamer) fall to pieces in panic. Masahiro Ito is the designer of this particular subject, his aim was to make Pyramid Head as disturbing as possible – the juxtaposition of mechanical and humanoid, metal and flesh. The huge industrial metal helmet that covers the entire head and face of Pyramid Head appears painful and torturous to wear; his obvious strength and huge blade make him a formidable opponent as well as an intriguing manifestation of the main character’s guilt and a punishment for his actions against his wife Mary. Representations of death in art and other media often have religious links, as does Pyramid Head within the Silent Hill storyline; a number of objects in our museums’ collections also have this similar theme.
This piece by Albrecht Durer entitled Knight, Death and the Devil (1513) from the fine art collection shows a Christian knight riding past figures of Death and the Devil.
In The Ride of Death, by Stefano della Bella (1648) the representation of death is much more literal, but this is another example where it’s used to symbolise violence, threat and horror.
Pyramid Head illustration by Ito
Our real world flora and fauna is obviously a huge inspiration for game designers and for this final section I wanted to look more specifically at new creations which seem to be an amalgamation of a number of real animals. The latest game from Sony’s Team Ico, The Last Guardian, features a huge creature named Trico as one of its two main characters. In the game you are not able to control Trico directly but you must interact with him and your environment (as an unnamed boy) in order to progress through the game. To enable Trico to assist the player in a wide variety of scenarios within the game’s narrative the developers made it up of a number of creatures, making it seemingly half bird, half-mammal. This gives it a sense of familiarity to us and allows us to develop empathy for both Trico and the boy. Some other examples of hybrid creatures in games include Carbuncle from Final Fantasy VIII which appears as a mystical rodent; Guardian of the Talion from Tomb Raider 2 – a human/bird hybrid and Echidna from Devil May Cry 4 which hybridises human and plant forms. We even have a merman on display at the Booth Museum. This strange object from our collection is actually a victorian con – people would construct these fabrications using parts of other animals in order to trick people out of money, persuading them that they had a genuine merman! Even in this case, though its intentions are very different, it shows how people enjoy being enticed by, and revelling in the fantastical.
Trico from The Last Guardian
Merman from the Booth Museum’s collection
By Rob White, Marketing Officer, Royal Pavilion & Museums
Animal Crossing – Nintendo – Museum image – http://www.nintendolife.com/news/2020/04/a_real-life_aquarium_is_streaming_educational_tours_of_animal_crossing_new_horizons_museum
Dark Souls – From Software & Bandai Namco – Moonlight Butterfly image – https://darksouls.wiki.fextralife.com/Moonlight+Butterfly
Drakengard – Square Enix – Angelus image – https://drakengard.fandom.com/wiki/Angelus
Silent Hill 2 – Konami – Pyramid Head image – https://silenthill.fandom.com/wiki/Pyramid_Head
The Last Guardian – Sony – Trico image – https://teamico.fandom.com/wiki/Trico