Photo:

Real Mythology That Inspired Video Games

Video games find inspiration in all kinds of sources, from the modern to the mythical. Featuring real mythology in video games adds an additional layer of meaning for sharp-eyed players to explore, and many games subvert some portion of the original mythos in their retelling. Whether it's a modern spin on an ancient tale, or a blend of several different cultures' stories, video game mythology often provides a unique take on a well-known story. On top of that, video games are an interactive medium, so games that are inspired by real-world mythology allow players to engage directly with centuries-old stories in a way that was never before possible.

Photo:

  • Until Dawn — Inuit And Algonquin Mythology
    Photo: Sony

    The story of the Wendigo belongs to the Native American tribes of the Great Lakes region, such as the Algonquin and the Inuit, with different variations of the tale appearing across the area. The creatures are characterized by their insatiable hunger, which drives them to devour humans. According to legend, a Wendigo is created when a person consumes human flesh.

    The creature makes an appearance in Until Dawn, a choice-and-consequences game in which the player makes decisions for a group of young adults vacationing together in the mountains. The Wendigo is one of the many enemies who haunt the teens, terrorizing them as they struggle to survive. While the game does take some liberties with its retelling of the folktale, the core of the story is there: cannibalism is a transgression that leads to corruption.

    • Released: 2015
    • Developer: Supermassive Games
  • Portal 2 — Greek Mythology
    Photo: Valve Corporation

    Portal 2 was praised for expanding on the witty humor and elegant puzzle design of the original, but it also introduces a bigger mystery: who is GLaDOS, and what was Aperture Science really working on? To answer some of these questions, Portal 2 chooses to parallel several Greek myths.

    A fan theory alleges that all of Portal 2's major characters line up with mythological figures. GLaDOS is Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods to give to humanity, and who was punished by having his liver pecked out by birds (when GLaDOS is turned into a potato, she becomes easy prey for a particularly malicious bird). Chell is Pandora, who grants Epimetheus (Wheatley) incredible power (in the game, Chell allows Wheatley to take control of GLaDOS's systems). Add in an oracle turret and a hidden painting of Aeschylus — an Ancient Greek writer who penned Prometheus Bound — and suddenly the events of the game take on a whole new meaning. 

    • Released: 2011
    • Developer: Valve Corporation
  • Okami — Japanese Mythology
    Photo: Capcom

    Okami is easily one of the most visually stunning games around, but it's also a captivating story told with references and influence from Japanese tradition. From the goddess Amaterasu — who players control as she transforms the world with a paintbrush — to the monster Orochi, most of the game's characters are carefully distilled figures from myth and legend. Instead of following just one story, the game combines multiple folktales together as individual chapters of a larger story.

    Players brush up against legendary figures at almost every turn, making the whole thing a sort of guided tour through stories that are important to Japanese culture. By combining these traditions with the East Asian art style sumi-eOkami is a celebration of Japanese history from start to finish. 

    • Released: 2006
    • Developer: HexaDrive, Ready at Dawn, Clover Studio
  • Max Payne plays it fast and loose with Norse mythology, but references to Nordic stories litter the franchise. Titular protagonist Max Payne is deep in an investigation of Valkyr, a designer drug indirectly responsible for the death of his wife and young child. The drug is named after the female warriors of Norse legend, who serve worthy souls in Valhalla.

    In the game, Valkyr is part of the Valhalla project, a government operation meant to create a super-soldier drug for military advancement. There are similar references to Asgard, the aesir, and Yggdrasil, all of which are features of Norse myth that are assigned new meanings in the game. While the story does not directly mirror the mythos, its reassignment of terms provides an interesting take on some ancient legends, and situates the plot in a more global history. 

    • Released: 2001
    • Developer: Rockstar Toronto, 3D Realms, Remedy Entertainment, Rockstar Leeds, MacSoft Games
  • God Of War — Greek And Norse Mythology
    Photo: SIE Santa Monica Studio

    God of War wears its mythological roots on its sleeve, or, in the case of Kratos, his lack thereof. The player takes on the role of Kratos, a Spartan — and for a brief period, the god of war — tasked with serving the deities of Olympus by slaying mythic beasts like the Hydra. Throughout the series, Kratos comes face to face with various mythological figures, such as Ares, the god of war, or Persephone, the queen of the underworld.

    While the franchise's story differs greatly from its mythic origin (Kratos is not a real mythological figure, so Ares was never dethroned as the god of war), most figures' attributes are lovingly recreated in the game. Like the myths, the God of War series explores the relationship between humans and gods, and tells a story that concludes in an archetypically tragic manner. 

    For the 2018 franchise reboot (which is simply titled God of War), the story moves from Greek to Norse mythology, and sees Kratos travelling from Greece to a pre-historical Norway, where gods and monsters roam freely. 

    • Released: 2005
    • Developer: SCE Santa Monica Studio
  • Never Alone is a unique platformer that adapts the Iñupiaq story, "Kunuuksaayuka." The game follows a young girl and her arctic fox friend as they try to bring balance to nature, encountering spirits and other elements of Iñupiaq folklore along the way. Developed with the input of Native Alaskans, Never Alone brings an underrepresented mythos to a wide audience.

    To accompany the story, the game also includes short documentaries that provide a more in-depth cultural context, and that allows members of the Iñupiat community to share their stories on their own terms. 

    • Released: 2014
    • Developer: Upper One Games