Hello, my name is Mark. I study Ancient and Medieval History at university, I do historical re-enactment and I love historical accuracy in my gaming. It’s a very clear divide: those who whine about the accuracy and those who who don’t care. The most common answer is ‘why does it matter? or why do you care?’. And I want to explain why we do care. Why it does matter.
I wasn’t always this way; I started out as most other people do; I hated it when self-proclaimed historians ridiculed at the inaccuracies that they saw in films and games. I hated it when someone disregarded a game I enjoyed simply because it wasn’t up to their exact standards. And when I entered into my degree, I vowed to never be that way.
Last week, I watched Kingdom of Heaven with a group of my friends and I laughed at it and mocked the version of ‘history’ it proclaimed. I go to re-enactment events and criticise other societies kit and gossip under my breath about wrong colours and out-of-period helmets. I’ve become that which I hated. And I’ve realised why we do it.
The epiphany came whilst I was reading a rather boring article about the inheritance customs of the Normans. The article stressed that William the Conqueror’s inheritance to his son was not down to any system set in place, but because he chose who inherited what. And I thought: ‘why can’t I do that in Medieval II: Total War? I want to choose who inherits the kingdom, rather than letting the game choose my eldest son by default, because that’s how William did it. I was disappointed that a game I loved so much wouldn’t allow me to follow in the footsteps of a great historical figure.
And that’s the root of the grievance. As a gamer, I expect to be drawn into a world and I expect to feel like a part of it. That’s basic immersion; that’s what all fictional media attempts to do. The problem is that as I learn more history, I expect the same games to live up to my new expectations, and as I learn more and more I notice more and more of what doesn’t fit; what’s out of place; what isn’t accurate. And that breaks the immersion and I no longer feel as snugly in-universe as I did.
I’m now disappointed when I start Civilization V as Alexander III of Macedon, and get Athens as my starting city. Sure, I could change that, but that’s not the point. That’s not what makes me sad. Not only can I not follow in Alexander’s footsteps and start from his true origins, but I’ve been broken from the experience that I could be Alexander the Great.
And that’s where modding communities come into their own. There are always a bunch of people out there who are willing to spruce up the authenticity of a game. The Stainless Steel mod for Medieval II; mods that let you have a correct starting location in Civ V… stuff like this fills me with glee and breaths life back into a new game. And it’s not because I’m anal about the whole thing, it’s because I care about my own experience in the game: I want to follow such great historical figures and see if I can better them. And when a game doesn’t allow you do that to the best of your knowledge it’s frustrating to the point where your immersion and experience in that world is tainted.
So please, the next time you see a ‘historian’ complaining about the level of realism, take a step back from the standard response and think about what he feels is missing. I’m not saying not to tell him to STFU, I’m just hoping you understand more about why he feel it’s important. I’m just asking not to type that sentence.
‘Why does it matter?’
Don’t agree? Lemme know in the comments section.
Until next time, game well.