This Filipino VR Game Draws on Every Pinoy's Childhood Terrors
Paolo Villanueva has always been fascinated with Philippine mythology. He was the kind of kid who kept on asking more questions whenever people told him stories about kapre, manananggal, and dwende. “The details were so scarce. I never knew how to defeat a monster, or what’s inside a kapre’s tree. I wanted to see more. For manananggal they told me they only hunt pregnant women, and I always wondered what would happen if you found the half and hid it or did stuff to it. I had all these questions,” he says.
Today, he’s channeling that fascination into his thesis project for his masters degree in design and technology at Parsons School of Design, by developing a virtual reality game about Philippine mythical creatures.
In Tales of the Aswang, players can immerse themselves in Philippine folklore by encountering different creatures and exploring different settings. They’ll get to solve puzzles, find items, and discover hidden narratives.
The story begins with Juno, who returns to his village after it’s struck by a typhoon. There, he rediscovers the folk tales of his childhood, and his adventures cause him to contemplate his decision to leave.
But the game is more than just a romp through Philippine folklore. Villanueva hopes to get people thinking about different social issues like climate change, human rights, and immigration by weaving them into the narrative. The game is composed of different episodes, and the first episode will tackle the issue of mining.
“There are a lot of mining issues that are happening in Mindanao. I’m pretty much against the whole mining thing, and that was one of the biggest advocacies of Ateneo de Davao [where Villanueva once worked], so I decided that would be the focus. So I went and used the kapre as one of the central monsters where there narrative would revolve around that,” Villanueva explains.
In the first episode, the kapre loses his eyes, and it’s the player’s mission to help him recover them. “The eyes serve as the metaphor that the kapre cannot see beyond what’s happening in his forest, and upon giving his eyes he sees several things that move past him. This of course escalates, and we do this sort of flash back, flash forward thing where you get to see the ramifications and effects of destroying our natural resources for the sake of modernization,” Villanueva says.
For the purposes of the thesis, Villanueva is only making the first episode. After all, creating a VR is a pretty big undertaking. While Villanueva is producing and building the game on his own, he has a team of friends who are writing the storyline with him, including Ateneo de Manila literature majors, communications students, and anthropologists who are doing research on IP communities in Mindanao.
So far they’ve outlined four episodes, and after his thesis showcase this May, Villanueva hopes to get the funding to expand his writer base and build all the remaining episodes. “I really, really want to publicly release this on Steam,” he says. We certainly hope he gets that funding, since we’d love to try this game out.
CORRECTION: The original headline erroneously stated that Tales of the Aswang was the first Filipino VR game. It has been pointed out that Nightfall: Escape (Zeenoh Development Studio), which also features Philippine mythological creatures, was first released in 2016. Other Filipino companies have also been developing virtual reality games for Google Cardboard since 2014. We apologize for these errors.