Would St Andrews make a good video game setting?

At first glance, this question might sound absurd. Video games are so often portrayed (not wholly accurately) as violent, dangerous, tawdry, and anti-intellectual. These are qualities St Andrews unequivocally does not possess. Yet there is something to be said, in relation to video games, for its medieval and gothic dimensions. Point-and-click adventures such as Myst, RPGs such as The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, or action-adventure titles such as Castlevania all take place in overtly gothic settings, complete with castles, dungeons and monsters. Insofar as St Andrews is steeped in medieval and gothic folklore of its own, it is not inconceivable that a game could be set in a derivative, magical version of the town (the logo of this very newspaper is a medieval ruin, after all). In such a magical St Andrews, the University could function as a sort of ‘Mages Guild’ or ‘Arcane University’ a la Oblivion or Skyrim.

The obvious problem with that, though, is that the Mages Guild is very much a minor, take-it-or-leave-it aspect of both Oblivion and Skyrim. The University of St Andrews, on the other hand, dominates the town. Another obvious problem is simply that a derivative, magical St Andrews just isn’t St Andrews, despite all of the incorrect suggestions that we inspired Hogwarts. At least, one has to draw a line between a St Andrews that is too magical and one that is too realistic. A highly realistic game set in a town that literally revolved around studying and drinking (or popping to Morrisons on a Monday if your character was older) probably wouldn’t be any good.

A better strategy, then, might be to look back in time, to the real medieval St Andrews. Could some sort of detective or murder mystery game be set amid the castle and the surrounding medieval town? Perhaps even incorporating the surrounding villages? If the mystery genre sounds dull, it’s worth remembering the brilliance of murder mystery titles such as 2011’s L.A. Noire. L.A. Noire sat atop the games chart in the UK for over a month, and received five-star reviews from The Guardian among other publications. Its premise was a series of murders and other crimes, the investigation of which would uncover clues, which themselves formed part of a much larger narrative.

Now, of course, L.A. Noire was set in 1940s LA. Though the general premise obviously does not depend on any particular time, St Andrews probably suits some periods for gaming purposes better than others, and the architecture of the town might be less well suited to a 40’s detective game than New York, for instance. How about, therefore, a sort of medieval detective title, where you play as a guard, or a monk, or just a civilian who investigates a string of gory murders? The town’s remoteness, ruggedness, and general eeriness (that is, when it isn’t overrun by students) would perfectly suit such a title. From a first-person perspective, a la the recently-released medieval St Andrews app, things would be even more immersive. This sort of murder mystery might combine well in St Andrews with the horror genre, particularly if one were to encounter the ghosts behind the grisly stories of the ‘PH’ on North Street or the cross on Market Street.

If that sounds far-fetched, then perhaps an old-school, non-violent, puzzle-based adventure game would better suit the town’s (supposed!) peacefulness. With game titles near-universally incorporating some degree of violence, or at least action, St Andrews would be an excellent setting for a game that doesn’t revolve around aggression. Venturing into the university to complete academic-related puzzles might be fun, perhaps mixing with the sort of platforming of The Swapper or the shrines in Zelda: Breath of the Wild? That said, the puzzle-based adventure genre (as opposed to the action-adventure genre) is notoriously niche these days, with most additions to the genre coming from independent developers or crowdfunded projects. It is hard to imagine any puzzle-based adventure game set in St Andrews appealing to a wide audience and making much of a profit, especially if money was spent on faithfully recreating the town in all its visual splendour.

If none of these genres sway you, there’s always one back-up: setting a golf game in St Andrews. Experience all the joys of golf without ever setting foot in the rain! Your character could train and play at the Old Course, with a few other Scottish courses thrown in for good measure, to which you could travel quickly rather than by bus. Heck, perhaps your character could even play pool in the bars afterwards, a la Grand Theft Auto (though hopefully that’s where your GTA behaviour stops… if you know what I mean). But whether its murders or birdies, one thing’s for sure: there’ll never be a St Andrews GTA. Why? Well, mainly because it’s far too peaceful and small, obviously. But even if St Andrews somehow became a metropolitan hotbed of crime, there still wouldn’t be a St Andrews GTA. Because most of the GTA games are made in… you’ve guessed it… Dundee.

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