Grunt’s Grumblings: History 101

Alright class, would you kindly open your textbooks to page 176? Today we will be exploring how interesting it is for games to use real world history as part of their setting. Robert, I see you back there trying to…oh, I’m getting carried away here. Now that you are probably flashing back to your school days, let’s get started, shall we?

Near the start of the month, I attended a local Renaissance Faire (and my first one too, they’re kinda fun) and naturally this gave me a bit of a desire to go back and work on my RPG I may or may not have mentioned once or twice on here. Long story short, I got sidetracked while researching some stuff about the Middle Ages and jumped down the rabbit hole that is the Knights Templar. My general fascination for history aside, I found some of the information that I was learning about the Templar organization really interesting. Once I had finished my research for the night, I started to think about how weirdly accurate the Knights Templar are in the Assassin’s Creed franchise.

Yes, I know, Ubisoft has most likely used historical advisors on the series since probably the beginning so their chances of being true to actual historical facts are higher. I really had no idea how true to those facts that the game actually was though until I started my aforementioned research. From simple things like whom the Templars considered enemies, to whom the prominent Templar Grand Masters were. Or, on a bigger scale, to even the locations where the Templars had a major presence until their eventual downfall. It really is so perfectly intertwined throughout the various games and historical timelines that they have spanned. Which is great for providing that “what if…” question in some fictional games.

If you have ever played an Assassin’s Creed game and have actually paid attention to the story, you have probably finished the game and sat back for a second and thought “What if that did actually happen during the American Revolution?” While I highly doubt there actually was (or is even) a war between the Templars and a group of Assassin’s going on globally, wouldn’t it be pretty cool to think that maybe it could have happened? Ok…well, I guess having an artifact that takes away the free will of mankind wouldn’t be that cool now that I think about it. If you take that fact away and look at the reasons why the Templars and Assassins were fighting and combine that with how well interlaced that story is amongst the historical timeline, you can easily see how there is that “what if” factor. Of course, that is also a benefit of it being a game with its own fiction to work around…and the fact that no one playing these games was alive in the 12th to 19th centuries but that is beside the point.

Something that a decent amount of people want in games is realism. Realism for games can mean anything from prettier looking clouds, to weapons that sound more like their real-world counterparts. In this context though, I’m talking more so about including real facts into your games’ story or lore. Does anyone remember Medal of Honor: Warfighter? One of the biggest reasons I liked that game was the fact that some of the missions in the story were based loosely on events that happened that the consulting SEAL’s were actually a part of. Of course, this spawned a “controversy” (though I wouldn’t call it a controversy, more of a “someone messed up” moment) with the game but that is beside the point. When you combine real-world facts into your story or the lore of your game, it can really help cement that added touch of realism that some people want from a game. Sure, MoH may not be the best example to use as we may never truly know if those missions actually happened or how closely they resemble what happened, because redacted.

Last week, I stopped by a stream of Ubisoft’s that was showcasing some of the new features and extras that are going to be in Assassin’s Creed Origins. One of those new features is something called “Discovery Tour”, and from what I was able to gather it basically strips out all of the combat in AC Origins and lets you tour the Egyptian game world at your own pace. On top of this, it also takes the landmarks that you see in each city/town/village and turns them into some kind of like virtual tourist destination with a few historical facts thrown in. It sounds like a cool feature in general, but also kind of helpful to some extent.

Which leads me to my next point. The belief that games can be used as learning tools. The typical stigma of video games is that they are not good for much of anything. You sitting in your parents’ basement, eating your favorite cheese coated snack and yelling profanities at random people over the internet. Noobs anyhow. Right, getting back on track. The above feature coming to AC Origins is something I feel that can give a gentle push in helping get games recognized as possibly being learning tools as well as entertainment. Already, there have been some schools that have started to use Minecraft to teach kids how to build simple structures and how games work; thus, spawning the Minecraft: Education Edition and program. While I highly doubt you will learn many mind-blowing facts when playing through all of the World War II themed Call of Duty games, maybe it will encourage you to look more into the subject if it is something you find yourself enjoying.

What is the takeaway from this article? The fact that I really enjoy history? The fact that I like games? The fact that I love when history and games interact with each other? The fact that when the two do interact with each other, it’s kind of cool? Or is it the fact that I absolutely nerd out over this when it happens? The answer, yes.

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