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How Mulaka reflects a culturally respectful development process

The Mulaka developers discuss how communicating with members of the Tarahumara community, whose folk lore inspired the game, helped portray an accurate representation of their culture.

“That’s when we stopped and said ‘You know what, we really need to talk more to these people,’ so that was basically the process.”

- Mulaka developer Edgar Serrano speaking to Variety about getting to know their subject. 

There's a fine line when it comes to taking inspiration from different cultures and reflecting them into games, and in an interview with Variety, Mulaka developer Edgar Serrano stresses how important it is to remain respectful throughout the development process. 

It's a topic that some indie devs run into when considering the content of their next game, and Serrano offers a unique insight into his experience getting to know the indigenous Tarahumara of northern Mexico whose folk lore would inspire Mulaka. 

Serrano suggested developing an adventure game set within Tarahumara culture after wondering if it would be viable to create his own IP as opposed to chasing down work opportunities.  

"One of the organizations that work with cultural stuff here in Mexico, we started talking to one of those guys and he told us if we had an idea for something cultural, maybe we could lock in some funds to make that happen," he explains.

Thus sparked the process of communicating with members of the Tarahumara community, which took Mulaka's development team about two years to accomplish. Because the community didn't have a group of representatives, they spoke to as many people as they could.

Marcelina Mustillos, the cultural governess of one of the biggest Tarahumara communities in the state, was the first to tell the developers she approved of their work. It was a step in the right direction.

“She was all for it because she does have that vision of ‘Whatever you can make to help us not be forgotten, then that’s good,’” Serrano says. “She pointed us towards other respected members of the community to get further blessings.”

As the developers became more informed of their subject matter, it was easy to develop mechanics and narratives that accurately reflected the culture they were learning from. 

"Mulaka fought a bear in a cave and that was a big red light because, as we now know, the bear is a big demigod for them so they would never purposely harm a bear,” Serrano notes, referencing the error from the initial prototype.

“That’s when we stopped and said ‘You know what, we really need to talk more to these people,’ so that was basically the process.”

“In Mulaka, most of what you’ll find is a lot of those myths and legends taken as is and maintained as is,” lead writer Guillermo Vizcaino adds.

“There’s a very serious loss of culture going because of the whole globalization process and a younger generation of Tarahumara, they don’t really know any of those legends or any of those myths so we wanted to keep those as they were told in the original folklore.”

The Mulaka team were speaking as part of a longer interview around respectfully designing games inspired by indigenous cultures, so be sure to read the entire piece over at Variety

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