Saturday, October 20, 2012

What's with Kingdom battling Empire? Part 1 of a look at in-game politics.

at 3:57 PM
A major plotline in two of the games I'm playing right now, The Witcher 2 and Yggdra Union, revolves around a conflict between a kingdom (with hereditary rule) and a conquering empire. In each game, the kingdom serves as the "good guys" and the empire as "bad", most characters falling clearly on one side of the black-and-white conflict and being designated heroes or villains accordingly. That players are supposed to parrot the patriotic sympathies of the main characters has always been baffling to me - then again, so are American politics and the willingness to toss individuality to the wind in favor of partisanship. Still, it's a pretty stupid plot device, and I'll explore how after posing a historically motivated question that will receive no answer because this is a blog and not a yahooanswers.com.

So where the fuck in history does this come from? Everyone knows that political conflicts in fiction all come from political conflicts in history (some more specifically than others), because Fantasy is essentially Period Piece with Dragons. I'm not saying it's not real, I'm saying I don't know and am curious, because it seems well-enough known that game developers so commonly employ it. The kingdoms in the examples I'm thinking of are pretty feudal, so it would have to be post-Rome and pre-Renaissance (in the West, where these games are ostensibly set). But when I think of feudalism, I think of the world divided into tiny pieces, and pretty much an empire-free period where all conflicts were localized. Sure there's the Holy Roman Empire, but every history book and its brother will tell you that was 99% a name and 1% a real political entity. Then if I forget about feudalism for a second and think empires, when was there ever a big emperor versus kings showdown? Rome was always fighting it out with barbarians and other empires (Carthage etc.), Britain was more about enslaving the third world, one village at a time, and... everything else I can think of was too different a time or place to serve as inspiration for this kind of fantasy.

Well I guess I probably could post it to Yahoo Answers. Okay, BRB. Will update you when I hear the word on that. 

Kinda now feeling like going on a tirade about whatever dickhead decided fantasy had to include king and queen politics. Tolkien never did none of that bullshit, and since the rest of fantasy is just a matter of plagiarizing him, I have to wonder where it came from. Oh well. I'm saying it here, now, for all eternity. No one gives a shit about King & Queen politics; it isn't Shakespearean, it's boring.

Maybe it's a difference of opinion and upbringing in the country of origin for these games, but in the States we tend to have been taught to frown upon monarchy as a generally unjust, unbalanced, and cruel system of governance, where those who inherit power do so by chance and their quality of rule is just as random. I can't say that my education has predisposed me to view empires and kingdoms any differently. As a matter of fact, the notion usually was that the most patriotic thing a people can do is depose a dictator. So when a game like Yggdra Union or Odin Sphere (Mercedes' quest) wants me to jump behind a hereditary princess and help her to the throne to replace a tyrant... my immediate desire is instead to kill the tyrant AND the young tyrant-in-the-making princess. As a matter of fact, the emperor who seized power actually seems to be the lesser of two evils, as he apparently earned his title through political motivation and ambition. The princess only is such because she had the right parents. Do players in the 21st century view that as just cause for a war?
Hopefully you can tell from those heels that she's Queen material, because
the game isn't about to give you any other reason why she's the hero
The best these games can do is tap on misplaced patriotism, and the worst they can do is incite it. Loyalty, honor, the will of the gods; these are archaic themes that are despicable to see pandered to an impressionable audience who ought to in turn spurn this type of content. But instead they want a flag to wave, to be able to forget their identities and fall into lockstep with a dictatorial ideology, whether fantastic or real.

EDIT: Since Andrew WAS SO UNHAPPY about my Japanese examples: Skyrim. That's only the most popular/acclaimed game of the last five years.

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