The recent release of Kingdom Come: Deliverance has made me think about historical accuracy’s place in video games as well as my own opinions and feelings about how factual I want my games to be. I don’t know if my love of history came from fantasy and historical games or vice versa, but there’s no doubt that the two are related, and have been for the past 18 years of my life.
One of the touted “features” of KCD is its faithfulness to historical accuracy and the events that were taking place in the Kingdom of Bohemia, which in 1403 was an imperial state of the Holy Roman Empire. KCD is indeed a thoroughly researched game, something I as both a history buff and a college history major, appreciate, but is there a point where “historical accuracy” as a feature affects the playability of the game? My experience with KCD is limited, and I haven’t personally had any problems, but I’ve also seen mods on the Nexus fixing “problems” with the gameplay, like the save system or the bathing element.
I can usually suspend my disbelief when it comes to video games. After all, if I wanted something with solid historical facts I would read a book or watch a documentary. Video games are meant to be an escape, for the most part, although I solidly support their use as educational tools; Oregon Trail comes to mind. Those sound effects still scare the crap out of me.
That being said, I don’t want the history part of my history game interfering with my enjoyment of said game. Mods can fix that, yes, but certain mechanics that are hard-coded into the game (like KCD’s very well researched combat) are a bit harder to solve.
On the other hand, some of the more outrageous elements of fantasy and “historical” games really get on my nerves. In addition to very much liking history, I very much like arms and armour, and there is nothing more frustrating to me than historically inaccurate items. Don’t even get me started on boob cups on breastplates. Not historically accurate and actually very dangerous. Armour that doesn’t cove the vital parts of the body is also historically inaccurate and very dangerous.
The same goes for games that play with history like the Assassin’s Creed games. I love them, very much, especially 2 and Black Flag, but sometimes the sheer number of famous figures they shove in just because they were around during that time period annoys the hell out of me. AC Origin’s educational Discovery Tour mode has taken some of the sting out of that. Specific niche games like Total War and Crusader Kings do a fairly good job of staying historically accurate as well, to an extent. You can still do ridiculous things in both, but its fuelled by fact. Both games are also part of modding communities full of history buffs like myself who have made magnificent mods to scratch those history itches.
The most egregious offenders (for me at least) tend to be games that involve the vikings. Considering that the study of Vikings and Anglo-Saxons is what I plan on doing my masters on, I know a fair bit about them. Fun fact: they absolutely did not wear horns on their helmets. Horned helmets are stupid ideas. Vikings were also more than just raiders. Unfortunately, a lot of the written information we have on them was created after the peak of the Viking Age or from the perspective of the Christian monks that were their victims, and changing that popular image is a chore. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is the best attempt at exploring the Viking culture that I’ve seen in recent years.
I’m not saying that these games haven’t been well researched (and doing that is one of the reasons I want to do consulting work when I’m finished my degree), but sometimes the things that need to be overlooked to make a good game can push my buttons, even if it’s for the sake of gameplay.