Blog Post

Historical Video Games: Fact vs. Fiction


This semester I have the privilege of taking a course in video gaming and history. With any representation of the past in the various mediums – aside from gaming, literature, drama, film, photography, etc. – especially in the West, there is a very intimate focus on staying true to the facts. Even in regards to books reproduced on film: there is always an outcry against the film for not staying true to the book (no matter if the book itself is factual or fictional), claiming the superiority of the books. Yet, at least in regards to history, film, video games, and so on, are representations of a particular understanding, methodology, or school of thought. In this post I will explore the tension in the West between fact and fiction, arguing that both are acceptable means for representing the past.

It is my unfounded opinion that this particular attention to factual accuracy, especially in regards to history, is a product of Enlightenment rationalism. In no sense am I saying that factual truth cannot be used to represent history, nor am I asserting directly criticizing the Enlightenment. I am simply saying that the Enlightenment produced a Western tradition of focussing on facts over inherited oral and written traditions, challenging the norm. In my experience, many have trouble conceiving that history can be represented through fiction. I believe this is founded on the belief that the past is a linear, factual account. This belief is inherent in Western culture and scientific knowledge. Yet romantic movements have historically challenged this tradition and it has been uprooted into the realm of other historical methodologies in the post-modern era. Fiction becomes a focus on feeling, representing emotion and that ‘sense’ of the past, albeit another form or representation vulnerable to the same coloured perspectives as all methodologies.

Thus, video games should not shy away from historical factual inaccuracies. In fact, many do not stay directly true to the factual narrative but follow a general outline. Take the early Call of Duty series – you may follow the general battles and movements of the Second World War, but specifically you do not recreate everything as it was. I admit though that the Call of Duty series is in fact a weaker case. A better and more well-known example is Sid Meier’s Civilization V. As I discussed in my previous post, there is an extremely vague/general factual relationship to the past in terms of famous leaders, monuments, and technological achievement but in no sense whatsoever is any factual narrative followed. (Admittedly the player could either try to follow as accurately as possible human progress or create a similar mod but this would take a lot of work.) The only loose accurate narrative is inherent in the technological process. In fact in order to win the game, you pretty much need to follow the general path of research and progress achieved in the actual past.

In a very post-modern sense a historical video game should be the truest representation of the past according to the creator. No video game will ever be championed as the best history game. Various historical methods of understanding should be pursued and explored. Thus neither fact nor fiction nor a mixture of both leads to the true history.


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