Phil Hartup on the historical accuracy and omissions of video games:
“Historical accuracy becomes a trickier topic when games set their sights on a greater level of depth. One example of this is found in the Hearts of Iron series, which are three grand strategy games (with a fourth on the way), based in the period of 1936-1948. The focal point of the game is as you might expect, World War Two.
The version of the war that you fight in the game however omits several events that largely serve to define how the conflict is remembered. In the world of Hearts of Iron there is no Holocaust, nor is there any mention of the attempted ethnic cleansings or famines outside of Germany that also killed millions. Terror bombing of civilians isn’t allowed either despite being an explicit part of German and British air campaigns. The effectiveness of the campaigns themselves is debateable, but the logistical effort put into them was significant.
The choice to include or exclude atrocities from games touches on the core question of historical games, which is what do designers and players really want from them? What is the purpose of historical accuracy? Is a historically accurate setting there simply to give us a readymade frame of reference so that players can dive right in, or is there a sense of trying to get the player to connect with people from another era?”
He’s writing in response to Apple’s pulling of iOS games that featured a Confederate flag in the wake of the Charleston terror attack, then quickly changing their minds.
As someone who played hours upon hours of Sid Meier’s Gettysburg! back in the day, I also thought Apple’s decision was silly. But in the long-run, it’s even sillier for game designers to sanitize “historical” games by overlooking, say, the mass murder and/or bombings of civilians, or that whole 400 years of American slavery thing.
I think the idea is that a historically set game, as opposed to a fantasy or space opera slaughter-fest, somehow makes it more “true” or “real.” But Hartup’s correct — it’s capable of doing just the opposite.