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History In Video Games — a Closer Look 139

scruffybr writes "Whether it's World War 2, the American Wild West or ancient Greece, history has long provided a rich source of video game narrative. Historical fact has been painstakingly preserved in some games, yet distorted beyond all recognition in others. Whereas one game may be praised for its depiction of history, others have been lambasted for opening fresh wounds or glorifying tragic events of our near past. Games have utilized historical narrative extensively, but to what extent does the platform take liberties with, and perhaps misuse it?"
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History In Video Games — a Closer Look

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  • by RAMMS+EIN ( 578166 ) on Friday October 23, 2009 @03:18AM (#29843379) Homepage Journal

    What do we really know about history, anyway? You get different accounts of the same event by people who were actually there. Then, as the stories are propagated by those who weren't there, you get even more different stories. Eventually, things may be written down, and you may find evidence that fits with some stories but not others, but, in the end, what do we really know?

    Even in cases where there is agreement among people who have actually studied a historic event, what people at large believe about it is usually based on parroting what they hear from others. So, what we "know", then, is not actually what historians believe actually happened. And even that is only a belief.

    In that light, I see the more important aspects of games to be how much fun they are to play. Is the gameplay good? Is the experience immersive? Is the story believable enough? Feeling realistic and being in line with historic events (as applicable) is an important part of that, but I wouldn't say it is overwhelmingly important for games (it's different if you build a simulator for training, of course).

    And let's face it: if we went for total realism, there wouldn't be any game to play. There would be only one way to proceed, and that would be the way it actually happened in real life. That's not a game, that's a movie - and a specific genre, quite apart from the big hit movies. So let's not be too tough on games that deviate from history a bit more than others, given that none can possibly give a completely accurate account, anyway.

    On the other hand, if you are going to base your game on a historic event, you might as well faithfully depict the historic setting as we know it. Otherwise, what's the point? Unless you're making a parody, of course. :-)

  • by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Friday October 23, 2009 @03:20AM (#29843387)

    Where you don't have to pay royalties for the ideas. In that sense, in video games, it plays the same role as a franchises such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings. Just as with history, with them you get major characters, direction of story (a plot), costumes, backdrop, and "feel".

    Now, I know with anime, most games don't get 'canon' exactly correct. Why should we expect they get history correct? In the end, it's just attribute it to artistic license.

    Moreover, the important part about the study of history isn't specific facts about narrow things, but the recognition of repeatable patterns due to human nature, and avoiding the same mistakes twice. For some reason, most history classes ignores this part, and zooms in on meaningless facts (such as dates) and the teachers almost never are concerned context, or the greater lessons learned, etc. The interpretation of most lessons is almost always left with the students, many of whom won't consider anything but memorizing the basic facts to pass the test.

    I had one excellent history professor, he lambasted the history channel for their distortions and mistakes. Why should we expect anything more out of a purely entertainment medium such video games than an (entertainment) TV channel supposedly dedicated to history? The best lesson to learn here is simply not to believe everything you read, see, or what someone tells you to without verification.

  • hmmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wizardforce ( 1005805 ) on Friday October 23, 2009 @03:23AM (#29843401) Journal

    Video games can also grossly misrepresent evolution [spore.com], driving [wikipedia.org], archaeology [lucasarts.com] and just about anything else they're based on. They are for the most part a source of entertainment meant to create a virtual world that may or may not have anything to do with real life. That is the point. They're supposed to be fun. Sometimes the historical inaccuracy is the whole point; It can be fun to interact with a world that isn't historically accurate; alternate timelines for example.

  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Friday October 23, 2009 @05:26AM (#29843829) Homepage Journal

    People tend to actually take these things as fairly accurate depictions of what it really was like. Its just another one for nation of dum'.

    I think the worst case is when it's nearly accurate, plausible but wrong. In that case it might be better to fictionalise the names. Say it's a game where the battle of Hastings goes the other way, call them Anglics and Nordhommes. If the tactics and weapons were accurate, I'd say it was still realistic even if it is counterfactual.

    And I shudder what future archaeologists with do with our pop culture as source material ... any history geek will tell you how average Joes understanding of history nowadays was pretty fucked up Shakespeare & co

    And yet someone ois proposing that as an awesome new research method: http://news.slashdot.org/story/09/10/14/0042226/Explaining-Corporate-Culture-Through-The-Office [slashdot.org]

    What you can learn, or even think you can learn from second or third hand dramatised interpretations is a mystery to me. If the material (say, Band of Brothers) is accurate you're adding nothing that the original researcher did, and if it's economical with the truth (e.g. Shakespeare's Wars of the Roses series) then you're just propagating inaccuracies.

  • by AliasMarlowe ( 1042386 ) on Friday October 23, 2009 @07:41AM (#29844379) Journal

    Its amazing how many different versions of the same 'fact' there are

    For instance, the largest naval engagement of the First World War was the battle of Jutland. Apparently, both sides won... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Jutland [wikipedia.org]

  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Friday October 23, 2009 @08:01AM (#29844499) Homepage Journal

    True, but no mainstream historians think it was a victory for Venice over the Ottoman empire. That's to say there's a range of opinions, but there are limits and there's a core of facts that aren't disputed (even if it'ss only the place & date).

    And it is possible for both sides to win; tactically the Germans won (sank more ships) but strategically the British did (the German fleet ran home and never came out again).

To be a kind of moral Unix, he touched the hem of Nature's shift. -- Shelley