Early in God of War II, after using a ballista to launch him onto the Colossus of Rhodes’s face, Kratos and I begin working our way through its insides. It’s the an inversion of that last great video-game-related-giant-hollow-statue sequence, when the Statue of Liberty is controlled by an NES Advantage. Here, we’re draining the electric blue light life force, there they’re covering the inside with a pale pinkish goo. The Divine versus the Mundane. And if Liberty’s construction was inspired by the Colossus of Rhodes, it makes sense that the Colossus’s alternate-history-destruction be the inverse of the Statue of Liberty’s animation. Or maybe I’m reaching. Either way, I’m having fun.
After we destroy the Colossus, I save and quit. I think for a minute, “What if this had actually been what destroyed the Colossus of Rhodes? Not an earthquake and Arabian traders carting off the rubble?” It’s not quite the same style of alternate history as “What if the Nazis had won World War II?”, or “What if the Russians invaded New York City and the resistance was lead by two plumber-brothers, but not THOSE plumber-brothers?”, which I guess is more of an alternate-present (sans walking Statues of Liberty).
Now, “history” is a loaded term – it’s not just about recounting facts. It’s interpretation, explanation – it enforces the idea of the now based on what came before – defining the effect via cause. It is world-building. But it’s not world-building in the way that a Bethesda or Bioware codex entry is. Those are world-building by creation – history is world-building by selection.
Some games pick and choose which parts of history to keep and which parts to rewrite for different reasons: Borgia becomes Pope, but the circumstances surrounding that event are modified for Assassin’s Creed II (Unless…they’re not…) so the game can exist. George Harrison plays the guitar solo on While My Guitar Gently Weeps in Beatles Rock Band, because it saves resources (no need to design and animate an Eric Clapton model), licensing (don’t have to pay to use Clapton’s likeness), and it fits with the overall theme of the game (The Beatles were always happy and having fun and making beautiful music and they rode an escalator into a sky peopled by a pastiche of Indian iconography, surrealism, and psychedelia and we don’t speak ill of the dead, especially not when they’re worth this much).
Games, with their creation of rules that determine (and limit) causes and effects have some challenges when it comes to portraying history that other media don’t have to address; evenly matched opponents aren’t exactly a naturally occuring phenomenon, and doesn’t the game need to be fair? But on the other hand, maybe it doesn’t need to be fair, just feel fair. But on the other other hand (for the sake of this argument structure, consider yourself Goro and free yourself from the binary), there’s something to be said for an experience that is superficially unfair, making your ultimate triumph that much sweeter. But on the other other other hand…