The first Dying Light was one of the most diverse games of 2015. The parkour zombie adventure takes place in a fictional Middle Eastern city called Harran just after the start of an international sporting event similar to the Olympics. This meant you were always bumping into characters from all over the world. Dying Light 2, however, changes that up with a new European-city setting — but that doesn’t mean you should expect an all-white cast.
During a question-and-answer session at the Electronic Entertainment Expo trade show in Los Angeles last week, Dying Light 2 lead designer Tymon Smektała, explained that developer Techland wants to tell the story of the last European city that is still standing. That may necessitate a slightly whiter game in terms of character ethnicities, but he also said that it wouldn’t make sense to exclude people of other races — even if it won’t look like the megapopular Dying Light 1, which has surpassed 13 million copies sold and still has 500,000 monthly active players.
“The thing is, the city is fictional, but it’s a European city. That’s one of the things that makes it different [from Dying Light],” said Smektała. “This is perhaps the last human settlement fighting to survive. You can imagine that after 15 years, there’s a huge change that people from other places in the world have [moved] to this city. That’s the idea we’re playing with. So yeah, there will be diversity.”
Techland is a Polish studio and it is certainly taking inspirations for its fictional European city from that country and the surrounding region. Racial homogeneity is common in that part of the continent, and people in Poland are only recently growing accustomed to seeing people of color as the Polish tourism industry grows. But Techland isn’t suggesting that should translate into no or even rare people of color in Dying Light 2 — even if the studio wants to tell a story from a European point of view.
“I think the setting is very important for us,” said Smektała. “It is Europe, so Americans want to go there [when their society falls].”
That diversity will come from people moving into the region, and it is the result of the theme of Dying Light 2, which writer Chris Avellone describes as “the modern Dark Ages.” Avellone is one of the most accomplished writers working in games, and his credits include Fallout: New Vegas, Divinity: Original Sin 2, and Into The Breach. For Dying Light 2, he’s focusing on a world where small factions fight for power — and that should give him plenty of opportunity to bring in people who were not native to Europe before the dead began to walk.
At the same time, when I asked Smektała about diversity in the game, he gave me the impression that he was primarily imagining white Europeans and Americans playing Dying Light 2. I can understand that to a point — he and I are white Europeans and Americans, respectively. The player character is also a white American. And it feels like that is the perspective that Techland is thinking about first and foremost.
“The context of 15 years later into the modern dark ages — that gives it a different spin,” said Smektała. “It’s something you kind of know, but you still want to discover. It’s not threatening for you. You feel quite comfortable because you know these places, but then they’re put in a completely different context. That’s the reason the city is like this.”
If you’re not white or white-passing, though, a European city may seem threatening and you may not feel comfortable. You might associate it with radical right-wing white supremacy, but that doesn’t seem like something the narrative of Dying Light 2 is going to explore.
And it’s OK if Techland wants to tell the story of an American seeking refuge in a setting he considers familiar and comfortable. But that is a departure from the first game, and it’s one that I find less appealing.
But it’s possible Dying Light 2 has more going on than that. After I posted this story, Smektała reached out, and I wanted to present his full response for you below:
It was great seeing you at E3, and thanks for writing about our first Dying Light 2 demo at the show.
That being said, I feel like there are a couple of blanks we should fill in for you and explain the questions of diversity in the game that you’ve raised. Perhaps we didn’t manage to deliver and present the whole picture of Dying Light 2’s diversity.
As you pointed out in your article, Poland is a very homogeneous society in general. However, this in no way affects our perception of the rest of the world. The Techland team consists of people from all around the world – we have devs from the US, Mexico, Italy, France, Brazil and Russia, amongst others. They all bring something to the table when it comes to diversity and experience.
We can assure you that Dying Light 2’s main protagonist will not simply be a “white guy in Europe” – we will have more to reveal regarding character customization as well as the overall story in the months ahead, so stay tuned! On top of that, the world of Dying Light 2, has been created with Chris Avellone, one of the top narrative game designers of our time, who is known for creating very diverse worlds and complex, unique characters.
The game setting is based in post-apocalyptic Europe, where the city is the last bastion of humanity. The in-game society is based on the current diversity of modern Western European countries (in terms of skin color, religion, etc.), given that humans are the new minority. In the final version of the game, players will definitely see people of different ethnic backgrounds, religions, members of LGBTQ community represented. At Techland we find it very important to be inclusive, and we find diversity important and necessary.
Please keep in mind that what we presented at E3 was just a very small portion of things to come, and it doesn’t sum up the entire game we are currently working on. There is still plenty of things to be discovered when it comes to Dying Light 2, in terms of the world, design, and story.
E3 is hectic, and the question I asked was just one of many that Smektała faced during a rapid-fire question-and-answer session. So it’s nice to get such a thoughtful response from him after the show. The most notable thing I take away from Smektała’s statement is that Dying Light 2’s protagonist isn’t “just a white guy in Europe.” That’s a new and important piece of information. Again, it’s fine if the game was just an American guy trying to survive in Europe — I was just personally less excited about that than the wildly diverse setting of the first game. But it sounds like the studio has more to say about this, and it’s just waiting until it’s ready to talk about how character customization and player expression may wor.
As for Smektała’s other points, I think he’s right. Poland’s homogeneous society obviously wouldn’t prevent Techland from making something with a global worldview — just look at the first Dying Light for evidence of that. And Avellone absolutely has credibility as a considerate and insightful storyteller who is capable of writing diverse characters. That is one of the aspects of Dying Light 2 I’m most looking forward to.
And that’s what it’s about for me. I liked Dying Light a lot, and the diversity was just one of the reasons I found it so refreshing. Techland can play around with that element in a European setting in some fascinating and relevant ways, and Smektała has made it clear that is something the studio thinks about. And so I still can’t wait to see more from Dying Light 2.