If games can discuss history, can it also make history? How much is what we see in games historically accurate and what is done for game play?
Education and games are a partnership that is slowly but surely findings its foundations and adoption in the mainstream educational system however how much can we take away from games as a definition of fact, can games wrongly influence children into believing that everything present in games has some factual basis. I would honestly say no, children know the difference between games and real life same reason that violence cannot and should not be directed towards one media cause of another, it’s in the people from the start and if we want to do something come hell or high water we will typically do it.
Today I am here to talk a little about history and games, particularly those that place an emphasis on historical context to drive its own ploy and mechanics. I will only be looking at a few examples including Age of Empires, Civilization, Ryse and Assassins Creed as these are four games that have history as a plot point and have varying levels of historical accuracy to them. As a child I would pour hours (upwards of 9 hours a day) into Age of Empires (2 mainly) and even competed in competitive level becoming very highly ranked in the UK back in the days of Dial up. AoE2 took historical cultures and military units and strategies as its foundations, and okay sure there are some inaccuracies and errors i.e. Trireme, however it allowed me as a kid a gateway to learn. I would print off the culture history sheets from the game then cross reference these with historical records and cross out any mistakes or tweaks as I went along. I did a similar thing with Age of Mythology, even to this day holding a file of cross-referenced myths from around the world and connect links; these games INSPIRED me to research further, to push the knowledge boundaries PAST the play experience. Civilization also for me to a lesser extent taught me about historical progression of cultures however for me entered my life at a late stage so its impact diminished on a personal respect.
However we must take what is being told or the settings we are placed in as a wary step, games are by definition about mechanics and interactions as such history and facts can become marred and twisted to suit the games overall plot structure. Assassins Creed for example a Sci-fi game places you into different periods using map records (mainly for AC2) to recreate roughly the cities used for play however twist facts to suit the assassin theme. When a historical patriarch is killed the mysteries behind their deaths are edited, however as a game Ubisoft have pulled off something clever. AC2 being the best example allows you to read up on real historical figures such as the Borgia and from this made me want to find out more. Inspiring people to learn about history should not be about forcing it down people’s throats rather creating an opening for people to peer into; it is only once mechanics influence fact that things become more serious. History is not always as clear as a straight line however, taking inspiration then going in a completely unexpected direction can paint a different picture on the events that have happened and for future generations create misgivings.
Ryse is the worst recent offender, other than being one big quick time event game it also changes key points of Roman history such as bring Boudicca to Rome itself as an invading force. Okay there is a what if scenario one could argue but honestly is it not just a little offending to change history whereby this does not really have a major impact on the games overall tone or mechanical drive. How games will be viewed in the future and what our history be defined as, we typically in games look to the future and take inspiration from the past but not always consider fact over fiction or the careful balance that should be maintained. As an advocate of history and mythology, it too often concerns me when I hear the phrase based on true historical events. Inspiration is fine as long as its execution is clear and what is being presented is not defined at any point as fact.
So what are your opinions, do games do enough for historical portrayal or is it JUST a narrative tool to be taken lightly? (Take part in the poll)