Can video games really be historically accurate?
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A little historical embellishment has always served writers of fiction well – Shakespeare is a prime example, but the practice is familiar to all of us, even if we are unaware of it. Writers have been altering documented history for as long as history has been documented. But does this mean that it should go uncriticised in the 21st Century? Most recently, Red Dead Redemption has sparked conversation about historical accuracy in video games. Other AAA games like Battlefield V and Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey occupied a contentious position for a while, too, in very different ways. The former was berated for its supposedly liberal agenda of featuring a woman in its promotional material despite being set during World War II, and the latter for dialling down the historical accuracy in favour of a more player-driven story.
Dishonored, for example, does a good job of portraying the plight of the underdog at odds with an oppressive regime twisting events to fit in with its narrative.
This is by no means the only kind of discussion surrounding video games and the past, however. The ways in which video games interact with and borrow from literary canon is another curious route into these dialogues. Andreas Inderwildi often writes about such intertextual instances, exploring a medieval reading of Monster Hunter World, as well as looking ahead to how video games might be someday historicised. After all, video games will someday be another historical artefact for the future to interpret – and misinterpret.
All this to say: video games’ relationship with history is not as straightforward as one might expect – and this article barely scratches the surface. For a more in-depth discussion of these ideas, check out M. W. Kapell and A. B. R. Elliott’s Playing with the Past and Adam Chapman’s Digital Games As History.
Image Credit: PixabayVideo games in academia
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