Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Response to Yourself's "In-game Politics: Part One"

at 8:03 PM

In answer to Yourself's question about where the Empire vs. King narrative occurred in history: 

Other than the resentment that a few monarchs had towards the Byzantine Empire, there is no real Emperor vs. King conflict in the medieval period, because, again, the Holy Roman Empire does not count. Fantasy games are simply re-appropriating a narrative constructed in a later era and imposing it on a medieval setting. The Empire vs. King archetype came from the American Revolution where a democratic group opposed a mad controller of an exploitative empire. All fantasy stories have to be set in the middle ages because that is when Lord of the Rings took place, so in order to use this narrative that is instilled into the American character, fantasy games always portray the king/queen/prince/princess/frog-princess as being a monarch of the people, thereby making them seem like they are "democratic" and sympathetic. No medieval monarch was ever like that, because they were not raised to think that their peasants were worthy of rights or food for that matter. Fantasy stories stretch the truth in order to make it applicable to a modern audience who were raised to love when Democratic underdogs take on an evil empire. 

Yourself might claim that this narrative is boring and black and white, but there is a lot of evidence which suggests that this narrative is loved and valued by Americans:

1. America's decision to join World War I. There was no real difference between Emperor Wilhelm II and any other monarchs, but we convinced ourselves that the German Empire was evil, so that we had the moral grounds to enter the war. We had an obligation to join the other pseudo-democratic powers, like England, to combat the "totalitarian" empire because of this narrative. 

The Once and Future Jedi
2. The democratic minded Princess Leia and her struggle against the Empire. Star Wars is set in the past (well the future, but you know what I mean) but we still keep the story of Empire vs. King the same. Tolkien did not use this narrative in his stories, because he was not American, but in our fantasy stories we do.

This is not to say Yourself is wrong in his assessment of the genre. I can think of exactly zero video games who are able to take this narrative and apply it to a medieval fantasy setting successfully, and can think of about a billion that do it poorly (looking at you Fire Emblem!). To be fair to the industry, it is a bit difficult to make this story work in a medieval context, and difficult things are hard to do!


  1. Yahoo Answers' response to Yourself's question will be better than this post.

  2. Good point about Star Wars. That was in the back of my mind in case I had opportunity for an Emperor Palpatine joke, but I wasn't even thinking about Princess Leia's role. That's a pretty archetypal example where royalty is presented as a heroic leader of the people.

    As for the history of the First World War... it's always seemed asinine to me the way people draw good/evil lines for that war parallel to where they are in the Second. It's a great example of Americans' misunderstanding (or modern revisionist history's misrepresentation) of the notion of good and bad monarchs. Everyone in WWI was the bad guy; it was a stupid war with stupid causes and horrendous aftermath (can anyone say Nazi Germany? Thanks, Treaty of Versailles!).

  3. Sine the majority of games you all have mentioned are Japanese I'm going to go out on a limb here and say you should probably look for parallels there...I certainly don't know Japan history very well but considering they had a similarish feudal period that then transitioned to empire...yeah that. Or maybe yuan dynasty has stuck around in their collective memory. I definitely dont know.

    1. Been there, done that, there's nothing to remark because they didn't have kings. Late feudal (Edo-period) Japan was one unified entity under a figurehead emperor. In the preceding warring states period, conflicts still generally revolved around supplanting those in power, not conquest. The post-Meiji Restoration imperial Japan is the world power we all know and love.

      I've watched like a million Japanese samurai/war/crime movies
      -End Bibliography-

      The Mongols probably *are* the closest real-world example, though they aren't as associated with revolution and have historically been illustrated more as occupiers than conquerors.

    2. Yeah, Japanese games like Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy rip off of American fantasy tradition though, so I think it is reasonable to include them into this argument.