Recently, we as a culture have been enamored with period pieces, both in film and in television. Widespread success of the Showtime series “The Tudors” and the emergence of the History Channel as mainstream entertainment shows that the public is interested in settings that are not “traditional.”
As a history major in college, I naturally feel drawn to many forms of entertainment that take place in settings unfamiliar to a large portion of the public. As a gamer, I find that a lot of what we see in games is an invented reality, perhaps on other planets or parallel worlds. Some game designers, however, have used historical periods as settings for their games.
Bladestorm: The Hundred Years War is an example of this. While the game itself is rather dismal, I found the idea of a game set in a realistic Medieval Europe fascinating. While it naturally embellishes the historical characters to flesh out the plot and maintain continuity, it does keep many of the battles and situations intact.
If the execution had been better, the idea may have caught on. Something like Jeanne D’ Arc is also worth mentioning, even though the history is not particularly important. The characters are real, but the world they inhabit is not.
God of War, however, is another interesting example. While the Ancient Greek world that Kratos inhabits is mythological and not historical, the creators have used an existing framework in which to tell a story.
Most people know some of the Greek gods and goddesses, along with a fair portion of the mythology. I find this intriguing since the developers did not have to use their resources to create a new world, but rather found an existing world that fit their criteria and used it.
Assassin’s Creed and Assassin’s Creed 2 fit more into the historical mode. They take place in the Crusader States and Renaissance Italy respectively, and use the environment to determine how the story goes.
The environments themselves are pretty accurate, although the reactions of the people walking around while people are murdered is rather comical. I don’t care how stealthy you are, it gets a bit ridiculous.
Anyway, I think this idea is only rarely tapped, and that more period pieces in gaming would be beneficial. I would submit that the following eras would be perfect for videogames.
The Wars of the Roses:
Much like the Hundred Years War, the War of the Roses is a time of dynastic upheavel. Lancaster and York beating each other brainless while intrigues and scandal erupt everywhere would be perfect for either a strategy game or a political mystery scenario. Final Fantasy Tactics is essentially ripped from the War of the Roses (and it isn’t a bad thing…War of the Lions/Roses, it’s all the same).
Gangster games are nothing new, just like at games like 50 Cent and Yakuza. The 20s and prohibition, however, offer an interesting time frame when violence and corruption were at their peak in American history.
The FPS fan in you could enjoy walking around at night in Chicago trying to make a bootlegger’s deal, or prevent one for that matter. Add in an option to play as the police force, and you’ve got an interesting concept.
The U.S. Civil War:
This one may be more controversial, especially because to choose the South would perhaps open you up to unpleasant accusations which I won’t write down. I think, however, that the period is interesting. It would be very difficult, but I think a game that utilized the Underground Railroad in a non-stereotypical way would be fascinating.
Not only would the sense of tension and drama that we often look for be inherent, it could also be used as an educational tool if done correctly.
The Age of Exploration:
I know what you’re thinking already. “I already have Age of Empires or Civilization, what else could be done?” Well quite a lot actually. By having the opportunity to view the situation through the eyes of native populations or the conquerors, it would be an amazing narrative aspect.
Can you imagine an Assassin’s Creed style game where you need to prevent the death of Montezuma II by the Spaniards? It might be worth taking a look.
World War I:
I can’t speak for you, but I am bored to tears of WWII. I get it, Nazis are bastards. I’ve destroyed them plenty enough in my lifetime already. But politically, WWII was basically just an extension of the end of WWI. An RTS or FPS game involving WWI style tactics and equipment would certainly catch my interest.
Valkyria Chronicles was a good start, but it was kind of a mishmash of the two conflict. Fabulous game, but more can be done.
How about you all? What historical period(s) do you think are under represented in gaming? What would you envision as a great place to have a game in? Am I crazy to even think this way, or would you rather have creative storytelling in a different world?