The other possible past: simulation of the Middle Ages in video games
By Juan Francisco Jiménez Alcázar
Imago Temporis, Vol.5 (2011)
Abstract: The video game phenomenon is marking our current and future the perception of the medieval past. The simulated setting, the contents this requires and the possibility of manipulating the past are the elements needed to generate entertainment set in the Middle Ages. What is important is that among future generations, this will condition the image of these centuries and their cultural background, both as the origin of most European nationalities and the polarised values of barbarity and refinement.
Introduction: In a recent work, I reviewed video games related to what we nowadays understand as the Middle Ages: the phenomenon as a leisure activity, its development, the conditioning factors, the elements that make it up, its market and the evolution of the games to date. However, a further step was needed into what the world of the video game really means for to the perception of the Middle Ages and, especially, what it represents, as it allows two basic responses: control of the past and simulation of what this medieval past could, or might have been. If we add the possibilities of the contents offered by the game script, apart from the historical sequence itself, an enormous balcony opens up for the medievalist to look down from (or to throw oneself off, depending on the a priori attitude to this new medium) to obtain a view of the Medievo.
The title of this study is based on one of the most interesting characteristics video games can generate. Not only a possible past, that can be altered virtually, but even the divine and omnipotent position from which the player (including all categories of video player) has the opportunity (the power) to do anything in this virtual setting: from managing worlds to planning the life and the death of the characters. In fact, the common denominator is manipulating (in the literal sense of handling) something until now impossible, namely time and events that have already happened, taken as events with a beginning and an end. For example, the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa took place in 1212 in the Iberian Peninsula and was won by the Christians. Up to here, fine. The video game gives us the possibility to alter this fact, with the Almohad sultan managing to win the battle. This is one of the battles that can be played in XIII Century: Death or Glory. This is the novelty. One plays at supposing, as we have always done. However, what this medium proposes is the contingency not to suppose anything, but rather to see and provoke it. What we have done is to change the event intrinsically. We play at being gods.