History, especially in the video game format, has a funny way of conflating itself with war and the most atrocious moments in human history. While war and history aren’t mutually exclusive, there hasn’t been a long time where humans aren’t trying to kill one another. Because of this apparent lack of compassion for each other and the “idea” that history is behind and not ahead, most of the best historical games have some aspects of war, but not all. With that said, historical facts and figures will always capture our attention, especially when we can connect with those past moments by interesting and interactive means.
Take my hand, historical time traveler, and gaze through the ages at 5 great historical games.
1. Victoria Series (Paradox Interactive)
Paradox Interactive has a lengthy lineage of historically based grand-strategy games that have you leading your chosen country to great heights or, on a bad day, eradication. Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis, and Hearts of Iron all have excellent historical depth and addictive gameplay, but when it comes to complete control and immersion, none stand taller than the Victoria series.
So much of our modern foundation was set in those turbulent years of the 19th century…
By accessing the spiritually destructive yet modern world building event of the Industrial Revolution, the Victoria series deals with the most important era for modern man. As you take your country from your humble, pre-steel, pre-electrical, pre-penicillin days, wholly useless as a modern human, you will find the driving force behind your country to advance –all in the name of capital and nationalism. So much of our modern foundation was set in those turbulent years of the 19th century and because of this Victoria is as relevant as it is challenging.
2. Assassins Creed II (Ubisoft)
It’s difficult to pick one title from the “Assassin’s Creed” series, but because our historical cause demands it, Assassin’s Creed II is the most rewarding, historically, of the series. Assassin’s Creed III and Assassin’s Creed IV have beautiful vistas entwined with engaging and addictive gameplay but Assassin’s Creed 2 had me longing to be wrapped in some Venetian cloth as I strolled down to the local duomo for a quick shout out to family in purgatory.
The gameplay’s balanced on a concealed knives edge, slipping between fast and fluid combat and white knuckle, urban climbing. With the help of the frequent codex alert, AC2 invites you to look upon great historical structures, cultures, and people in a fresh light as you meander down the narrow alleys, alive with fast talking commoners or overly protective royalty, enticing gamers with the prospect of living in a reconstructed past.
3. Rome: Total War (Creative Assembly)
Ancient Rome has no shortage of histories, plays, and other forms of artistic representation. With Rome: Total War, we are allowed to conquer the lands of proto-Europe and at the same time advance the noble cause of Romanization. With every unit, building, faction, and philosophical advance, you can read a small pamphlets worth of information that might teach you a thing or two about those ol’ imperial Romans. It’s like being in history class but without a teacher or fellow students to warn you not to enslave an entire town. What do they know? With Rome the real historical fun comes from the choice to sack cities and then crucify their entire male population. Those were the days…
4. The Oregon Trail (Mecc)
Who didn’t want to be the leader of their family as they crossed rivers and fought off venomous snakes
Oregon Trail works on so many levels of historical goodness. First off, a large majority of gamers and non-gamers alike played this game at school; reliving one of the most harrowing and endemic parts of the American narrative. Who didn’t want to be the leader of their family as they crossed rivers and fought off venomous snakes, or had to stop trail side for a few days while your daughter’s dysentery calmed down — it’s what making your way out west in a covered wagon was about. Oregon Trail is that beautiful blend of player interaction with a strong historical narrative; teaching the player about American history through difficult choices and thoughtful gameplay.
5. Civilization Series (Firaxis)
Sid Meier’s games might slowly whittle our lives away, one turn at a time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn something in the process. From that one more turn philosophy, you slowly start you to realize the destiny of your nation. Civilization has always prided itself with real world leaders, architectural wonders, and military units. What would happen if Genghis Khan and the Mongolian people started on a tropical island abundant in bananas and sunshine? These are the types of questions that lead to a deeper historical inquiry, and if you want real world application the game lets you read a rather large civopedia that has historical information on all things within Civ. Oh Leonard Nimoy, your dulcet notes are a wonder to my ears.with real world leaders, units, building, wonders, etc… within a sandbox world.
History will always be a great avenue to stroll down when the wellspring of game ideas has run dry. Although almost all of these games are PC and strategy exclusive that doesn’t mean that great historical games aren’t available in other game genres and consoles.
What did we learn? For one, history class is for the birds, especially with such a great wealth of gameplay focused on Western history out there. What can we really learn from history other than humans have magnificent moments of enlightenment followed by horrid moments of exploitation and destruction. Oh yeah, and we can have fun doing it.