I’ve mentioned “Orientalism” before when discussing a game, but “Persian Nights: Sands of Wonder” is one of the more blatant examples of using another culture—or the Western fantastical narrative of that culture—as setting for a story. I use the word setting not merely as the physical space where the story plays out, but as a visceral backdrop, a design element that informs the plot and characters of the story. And while in my previous invocation of the term on this site it was merely as accent to an otherwise enjoyable game, “Persian Nights” relies on its exoticism as an excuse to deliver an amateurish hidden object game (HOG) with little to no challenging elements.
Your character is Tara, outlined in the beginning exposition as a local healer trying to discover the source of the blight upon her land. I use local lightly here as she is portrayed as an American-accented white woman, at least in her voice and the few moments where we see her hand. Soon she teams up with the blue-eyed Darius, also trying to keep a magical talisman away from the evil Zaved, a bearded grand vizier to the ailing king. We’ve seen elements of this story before, done better if not done more accurately.
When Jake Gyllenhaal was cast as Dastan in the Prince of Persia film, there was some talk of white-washing, but the full force of that critique would come for later films as we all became a little more aware of the way entertainment continually plays to the lowest common denominator: a white guy. Author John Scalzi once said: “In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.” Developers decided that their main demographic was and always would be white men, who either wanted to play a hyper-masculinized version of themselves, or as a female character whose body was up for continual critique. Game creators still make those choices today, sometimes making the default-white-male intentionally as a provocation to what is deemed a loss in status; aloss that largely exists within their own minds.
However, in the widely ignored realm of HOGs, the demographic appears to be the white female. So often these games, particularly on the Big Fish Game platform, have a curious vanilla woman in the protagonist role. Her actions are nearly always reactionary as she stumbles from room to disorganized room to reassemble one puzzle or another to rid the land of evil. “Persian Nights” falls into this category as well, giving Tara no larger roles than nursemaid to Darius and the figurative laundry-picker-upper of a world in disarray. The exoticism of the scenery, the “Other” nature of the villain, even the fantastical creatures, all serve to allow this woman to have some culturally-adjacent adventure and join her male companion in becoming the white savior.
As I have mentioned before, you may argue that I look too deeply into a $7 game few people will hear of, let alone play. Yet, I need to emphasize that it is sometimes the “lowest” forms of a medium, those most accessible to the most people, that require the greatest scrutiny. There are enough people critiquing the world of AAA games—some much better than myself—but on this site, I have to look at these middling games, because what begins as casual soon becomes conventional and even small games should do better.