“People are different from the place they live. No matter what flag flies above the buildings, good people everywhere are good people - who love to fish.” - Drew Scanlon
Culture is defined as the ideas, customs, and social behaviors of a particular people or society, and is represented through arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement. Without fail, anyone, from anywhere, can find some commonality with someone else. Whether that be in faith, in the capacity for love, or in expressions of joy, there will always be something. One such commonality, is that without fail every society plays games.
In honor of Zeus, once an Olympiad (every four years) a truce was stricken between the city-states of Greece for the observance of physical challenges that widely impacted the geopolitical landscape. While today less a platform for spreading Hellenistic theology and more for driving international rhetoric, the Olympic Games have evolved into a worldwide spectacle of a shared love of competition through physical play. The games continue to inspire generations of athletes to race their friends, attempt breathtaking stunts, and claim gold medals.
But, games take many forms. Football, Monopoly, Street Fighter, and thumb-wars are all various forms of “play” - they are all games. Gaming is a boundless topic, as it is closely tied to and takes as many forms as art. The discussion of gaming is often through one lens or another, typically split between those of an athletic and intellectual sort. That isn’t to say Basketball requires no intellect, or that Call of Duty requires no athletic ability. Broad strokes for the sake of categorizing.
As mentioned above, games primarily requiring physical ability for victory have been well documented across national boundaries - as have video games and chess through televised (or streaming) international tournaments. Yet, that is typically the representation of how those games are played on a shared stage. What about domestically? What about removed from the spotlight? Play is, after all, born of imagination; and, imagination is its own audience.
Play and imagination are intimate activities that are inevitably morphed into performance, once put under the microscope of a worldwide audience. Televised or streamed competition isn’t so much play as it is, well, competition. And while we’ve all heard the phrase, “games are supposed to be fun”, really games are simply meant to fulfill. In an attempt to demonstrate that very fulfillment in the lives of the various people who play games, Cloth Map is (in their own words) “exploring the people, places, and cultures of the world through the lens of games, and making sweet videos about it.”
I’ve followed Drew Scanlon, creator of Cloth Map, since 2009 when he joined the team at Giant Bomb as a video producer. As Drew became a prominent member of the group his excitement for discovery, investment in practical knowledge, and generous demeanor invited those who shared his love of flight simulators, travel, brushing your teeth with warm water, and chugging Coke in record time. After nearly a decade, Drew left the company to begin something he had sort of already started.
While visiting Iceland as part of Giant Bomb, Drew filmed a travelogue to explore the culture of this place video games had brought him to. And so, the seeds for Cloth Map were planted.
Since the project’s inception, Drew has traveled to the Ukraine to explore the livelihood of the people currently affected by circumstances eerily reminiscent of their past. Documenting settings such as Chernobyl and its surrounding Exclusion Zone, Cloth Map delivers realities of shared humanity, hospitality, generosity, and a love of fishing.
Aside from chess, there was not a wide culture of gaming in the area, so Drew was able to enjoy the vast cultural exhibits and local pass-times of the Ukrainian people: attending Eurovision, enjoying local dining, playing with (sort of) local radioactive puppies, and touring a nuclear missile base. Audiences are able to witness, many for the first and only time, the expansive life and history of a people often only associated with their history.
Cloth Map recently traveled to Brazil to explore the unique gaming culture that has developed in spite of the general unavailability of equipment, due to economic restrictions. The existence of a “video-gaming black market”, tales of corruption and drug crime, and the tenacity of the Brazilian people make the series a must see.
Cloth Map’s trips to the Ukraine and Brazil can be seen on their YouTube channel. You can follow Cloth Map and Drew on Twitter. Visit their Patreon for behind the scenes content, various contribution opportunities, and the ability to influence where Cloth Map goes next.
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