By Andrew Elliott
Paper given at the 2016 International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds
Abstract: Of the 25 most popular video games, several take place within a medieval, or pseudo medieval, setting, such as Skyrim, World of Warcraft and the Assassin’s Creed franchise. This paper argues that rather than being distractions, video games can offer academic medievalists an exciting opportunity. Seen as a way of using win conditions to replicate the goals of medievalists, video games thus become not a means of teaching history, but an entry point familiar to many students, leading to sophisticated methodologies and an understanding of contingency and teleology. As tools used to teach not history, but historiography, they can be embraced as a powerful tool for medieval studies.
Introduction: These days, video games are big business. In 2008, for the first time, games outsold DVDs, recorded music and cinema sales, and seem to have held this lead ever since. Amid the explosion of popularity of video games witnessed over the past two decades, many historians have begun to recognise the extent to which games, themselves often rooted in past worlds (however putatively), can make a contribution to the broader understanding of the past through modern media.
Not only do many of the most popular video games take place in historical settings (the Call of Duty, Medal of Honor and the Battlefield franchises, to name only three notable examples), but of the 25 most popular video games ever, at least three take place within a medieval, early-modern, or pseudo medieval, setting, such as Skyrim, World of Warcraft and the Assassin’s Creed franchise. It is clearly timely to start exploring, as does Daniel T. Kline’s 2014 collection Digital Gaming Re-Imagines the Middle Ages, what relationship exists between video games and the medieval.