So, for my last post, I covered a similar type of thing (but with mental health). This post, however, actually came into my mind months ago as I had a lecture about it. Since then, I have been on several rants (to the people in my class and my partner) about the topic, and I have finally come to a conclusion.
Before we jump in since they are so similar, my mental health post is linked here:
So, this might be a sensitive topic, and I want to stress that by no means do I mean to offend anyone. I am purely stating my view as a history student and a gamer. Some things I am going to write will, undoubtedly, upset some people. While I understand that, please read the whole post to fully understand it from my perspective, and do not be afraid to leave comments!
There are so many games based on historical events, and that include historical figures. Wolfenstein, Assassins Creed, Call of Duty WWII. The list goes on and on. But there are several questions that need to be asked. These are real-life people or events. They actually happened. People were affected by these events/ people. Most of the time, people died because of these events or people. So, is it really morally right to use them in video games due to the effect they had on people? Is it okay to portray them differently to provide entertainment to the audience? My answer, with some debate, is ultimately- yes. Here is why.
History is subjective. It is, despite what people think, not just facts. History is always written by the victor of a war. Winston Churchill famously said, “history will be kind to me, for I intend to write it”. In history, there is this thing called historiography. As a second-year history student, I am still a little unsure as to precisely what it means but here is the gist of it: when looking at history, you must always look at who wrote it, why they wrote it and when they wrote it. This is because perspectives change. For example, a lot of Germans in 1933 likely thought Adolf Hitler was alright. So if you take a source written in 1933 and compare it to a source – maybe even by the same person – in 1950, their perspectives would have likely changed significantly. History tends to be written as if it is fact, even though there is significant debate on the topic. Actually, there is even debate about if history is an art or science, but I won’t get into that right now.
Let’s discuss historical events first because that is probably the less controversial part of this post. So, I sat in my history class of 30+ students with my severe anxiety, basically screaming that it was a good thing that historical events are included in video games. I understand that they can be seen as insensitive. However, it is history. Kids are so much more likely to learn about history through a video game than reading a textbook in a classroom. I honestly feel, as someone who also wants to teach history to high school kids, that video games are the best way to teach kids about history. I will let you in on a little secret here: so, my uncle was in the cold war. He’s told me story after story (he goes on and on when he’s had a bit to drink and since I’m a history student, I’m stuck with it) about what it was like, the events of the cold war, all of that. But you know who knows more about the cold war than me? My partner, who did not enjoy GCSE history at all but severely enjoyed the Metal Gear Solid games. We talked about it quite a bit because it’s history, I am obviously going to be interested. However, he starts it off every time with an “I’m not sure if this is exactly how it happened because I learnt this from Metal Gear but…” and you know what? That, to me, shows interest. That is ultimately all it takes for someone to go off and do their own research. For example, this is not about history, but it applies, I live in the UK, so I don’t know much about the Mexican/American border. When I played Life Is Strange 2, there was a massive thing about it. I streamed the game on mine and my partner’s YouTube channel and felt like I was a little ignorant of the situation. Therefore, I went and researched it. I found out about the situation on my own merit because a game had made it interesting.
So, the counter-argument to this is that games are not accurate. Games have a purpose of entertaining the audience and therefore, often spread misinformation about historical events. So, to anyone who is interested in this post because of the history and not the gaming, let me make this very clear. Gamers know that the games they play are fiction. There are often disclaimers at the start of the game saying that the game is fiction. However, if a historical event is brought up, people are going to be more interested in playing through that event than reading about the event. Like I said before, history changes on the daily. There is rarely a right answer. So, that is why it is so difficult to portray historical events accurately. But that is okay. Gamers always know, as everyone should, that they need to take the information that they are given through media with a pinch of salt. But it is the immediate interest and the experience of playing through the historical event that is most important.
Now, moving onto something that I am sure people are going to be mad at me about: historical figures. I have gone back and forth with my opinion on this for a while but ultimately came to a decision. So, my partner’s brother recently got the Jack the Ripper DLC for Assassins Creed Syndicate. When he told me about this, I cringed. I originally thought that it was a bit insensitive. However, I thought long and hard about it, and then I thought about the lesson I mentioned earlier where I was screaming at my classmates. The thing is, society has a way of dehumanising historical figures such as Jack the Ripper, Marie Antoinette and Adolf Hitler. From my perspective, it is almost to distance themselves from people who did terrible things. However, it is my strong opinion that it is wrong to dehumanise people who did bad things. Instead of trying to distance ourselves from the mistakes from the past, we should admit that it could happen again and find a way to avoid it. Just people some people did terrible things does not mean that they were not human. It is important to remember that these people are human, just like you. The actions of these people could very well happen again if society keeps dehumanising them because it is a passive way of not admitting that these things could happen again. So, when you learn about the secret life of Black Beard in Assassins Creed, just keep in mind that for all we know, he could have acted the way he acts in the game. History documents what society wants it to.
In conclusion, I think we as a society could learn a significant amount if more historical events and figures were in video games. It will also encourage us to accept that these things happened and encourage us to find ways to avoid them happening in the future.
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