Geek Trivia

The Concept Of Video Game “Mana” Has Its Origins In Which Culture?

Which Of These Things Is Paradoxically Difficult To Measure Accurately?

Answer: Polynesian

For decades now video gamers in a wide variety of video game genres have refilled their characters’ magical tanks with mana. You horde mana potions (or “pots” as they’re often truncated) to face off against big bosses, you curse when you’re low on mana after grinding away against minor enemies, and in some games you even go on epic quests to save mana trees, stones, and other artifacts rich with this mana stuff.

The word and the concept, a sense that there is a magical essence in the universe that humans can tap into, comes to us courtesy of the Pacific language group. The term appears in dozens of languages in the region and can be traced all the way back to the Proto-Oceanic language group that preceded modern Pacific languages. The term mana and the accompanying concepts of spirituality and supernatural power are especially prominent in Polynesian cultures.

Despite the word and concept existing for untold millennia in the region, the term mana didn’t make the jump to common use in English until it was introduced by fantasy writer Larry Niven. He used “mana” as a natural resource that wizards and magic users tapped into to cast their spells in his 1969 short story¬†Not Long Before the End, and then continued to expand on the idea of mana-as-magic-meter concept for the rest of his writing career. Other writers, role playing game creators, and video game designers adopted and carried the concept forward. Some forty years later, the concept of mana as a magical energy in the universe that can be harnessed, used, and even depleted, is firmly enmeshed in our culture.