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Rage Against Nothing: The Astroturfed Outrage over Historical Games

Written by: MigsDC

 As much as I’d like to believe at times that the “critiques” of Sid Meier’s Civilization are somehow isolated cases or exceptions to the norm, reality’s a different story. It seems as though historical games at large have become battlegrounds in a wider culture war. This is thanks in no small part to outrage-stirring hit pieces, both from activist commentators and games journalists alike.
As with the ideological spiels against Civilization, this isn’t an entirely recent phenomenon. As early as the 2000s articles had already begun popping up in academic journals and games media outlets decrying the perceived racism and historical injustices in certain historically-themed titles, among other grievances. For instance, Gamasutra contributor Beth Dillon used her review of GUN in 2006 to accuse the developers and publisher of a “serious misstep in social responsibility;” a piece by the same author for Eludamos: Journal for Computer Game Culture in 2008, lambasting Age of Empires III for signifying Western “colonialist” designs, also quoted other similar papers. Since then, such misleading works have grown more heated and nigh inescapable.
Within the past couple of years alone, more than a few manufactured “scandals” emerged. In 2018, Eurogamer lambasted Kingdom Come: Deliverance in its review for reveling in dark age mentalities and racism, as well as excluding women and minorities in its “romanticized” view of 15th Century Bohemia. Never mind that Warhorse Studios, the studio responsible for the game, did extensive research into giving an authentic experience or that the region now known as Czechia was, and still remains, largely homogeneous. Red Dead Redemption was also smeared by non-profit activist group INDG for enabling racist rhetoric. All the while, strawmanning and misconstruing the notion of “historical accuracy” as being a veneer for toxic gamers. While in 2019, Polygon tried to stir outrage over how the Man the Guns DLC for Hearts of Iron IV was “problematic” for allowing players to revive the Confederate States, never mind how it also opens up new options for decolonization.
Such narratives have become vocal to the point of influencing some developers into doing a disservice to history itself. As The Last Night’s Tim Soret discovered, Assassin’s Creed: Origins Discovery Tour not only censored antique statues but also edited pieces of art and elements of Hellenistic Egypt to be more politically correct. Meanwhile, Battlefield V has come under further criticism, despite the apologia thrown its way by the likes of the AVClub, for how its campaign crassly indulges in historical revisionism in the name of inclusivity but also at the expense of quality. This is especially evident in how the heroic sacrifices of British and Norwegian commandos were transformed into a mother and daughter drama straight out of a hardline feminist spiel.
In the face of such trends it would seem as though releasing an historical game now, especially one going against the ideological mold, would be even more of a risk. Yet despite all that, I have cause to be hopeful. Despite all the backlash, it’s common knowledge that Kingdom Come and RDR continue to be well received by gamers at large. The significant sales for both alone indicate that the supposed outrage is really much ado about nothing. And it may well be for the best that more developers take note. As always. feel free to comment, like, share, tweet, or whatever other thing you kids do on your social media these days.

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