Archive: Playing with history
HISTORY, as we’ve always been taught, is written by the victors. But in an age where social media, online connectivity, running commentary and constant information is bombarded at us;
in a world where celebrity affords you more power than knowledge or experience, how do we know what we’re really playing, or seeing online or what we’re listening to is true? And do we care?
Gaming, if not already, will have a huge impact on future generations’ reference points to historical events. They will incorporate and rewrite the events of the past to fit the tone, mood and narrative direction of the game.
We see this happening already. There are games that blur reality with history. Games like Assassin’s Creed that deals with major historical events. Or games like Call of Duty’s WWII and Black Ops titles that relive the moments in history that proved to be the most politically significant and challenging on a global scale. Games such as Sniper Elite and Ghost Warrior that deal with the stealth element of WWII in the case of Sniper Elite, and more complicated operational grounds such as Sarajevo in Ghost Warrior.
And then we have the games that are totally fictional, but slot themselves into historical events, blurring the lines of reality and entertainment. Games like Operation Flashpoint, Spec Ops: The Line or even games such as the Mafia franchise. These games are personal stories seen through the eyes of the protagonist, clearly. But what if these voices become the reference point for history?
With the overload of information it’s very easy to find a voice that matches yours, an argument that increases supports the ideals you hold dear. And we can pick and choose what we want to believe.
There is a worry that game development and story tellers within games can sex up and glorify certain moments in history. And with everyone now playing a game in some form or another; whether that’s on your phone, tablet, laptop, desktop or console, there’s always going to be an audience. Let’s not forget that gamification is also on the rise. Many companies and businesses, as well as major brands, are looking to make themselves more accessible to a wider and increasingly younger audiences. People are very aware of “gamification”, yet I don’t think the trivialising of complex matters of history when they’re inserted in a game has been properly discussed, argued or even analysed for the potential of further miseducation and misunderstanding of wider complex issues.
Take Assassin’s Creed. The first game, and I don’t care what anyone says, was brilliant. OK, it needed a bit of polish, however the concept was great. The story told of Templars versus Assassins. There was no context to the history, there was no attempt to explain why the Templars were in the Middle East. There was no explanation to Altaïr’s history and that Altaïr means the “one of flight” in Arabic. There was no historical context to the crusades, or which crusade it was set in. There were accurate maps of cities – to which I can attest the Damascus map was pretty spot on. Instead there was the Apple of Eden. It was the one thing everyone in power was fighting for. A relic, nay, an alternative to the Holy Grail, which had immense power. It transpired that this Apple of Eden had nothing to do with religion, or God (well it did, but it was really convoluted), but everything to do with aliens.
I know for those who don’t have a faith, it’s not important what the power was, or what the God is; alien, supernatural being or other. But in the greater context of things it really is important. Because what this does is completely ignores the whole backdrop to the actual events happening at the time and how they fit into history. Why they’re important and how it’s shaped our society even today. This isn’t about trivialising faith, but rather undermining history.
And this, I fear, is where we could end up. Books are becoming less read. Referencing happens online. When was the last time you opened an encyclopedia that wasn’t Wikipedia?
Of course, we’re in an age where history is being recorded every millisecond of every moment. And everyone is a commentator. And this is great for recording our human history. But it’s the quality of that recording. It’s the voices we choose to listen to. It’s the mediums we choose to immerse ourselves in that form our opinion.
YOU COULD ARGUE that TV, film or even books are no different. And I would agree with you, to
an extent. The difference is that as a viewer, reader or listener, you’re a passive passenger. When you’re in a game you’re invariably the protagonist, the key figure that’s changing the course of the game and, in turn, history. You’re empowered. The conversation isn’t about your interpretation of the story or film; it’s about how you did it differently to your mates. It’s about why you chose a certain weapon or class.
Developers of both media, news and entertainment have now a lot of responsibilities. It’s not just to make entertaining and exciting content. It’s now education. For like it or not, in a hundred years - probably less - gaming is going to be as important a learning medium as books, documentaries and news reports. Especially with the rise of virtual and augmented reality, we can make our own version of events real.
So, what’s the point of this article? Well, maybe nothing. But maybe it’s a creeping fear that we need to protect our history. To know where we came from. What realities we did face and had to overcome. And to not forget those things that we fought, died and had to learn from.