Tuesday 10 November 2020 – Rob Houghton (Winchester) – Playing A New Middle Ages: The Confluence of Medievalist and Gaming Tropes in Computer Games

This seminar is 5:30 pm – 6:30 pm, 10 November 2020, live on YouTube.

Session chair: James Baker

Abstract: The medieval period has provided a rich vein of inspiration for the settings, plots and mechanics of many videogames. In doing so these games have introduced their players to a substantial and varied range of popular perceptions of the period: their creators lean on the popular understanding of the Middle Ages and in doing so contribute to the evolution of these ideas. Hence the Middle Ages emerge in many games as a period of violence, ignorance, zealotry, and homogeneity. However, game designers and players are also heavily influenced by the traditions and restrictions of videogames as a medium. Games carry particular tendencies in their representations of conflict, progress, religion, and race which almost inevitably influence their representations of the past.

In this paper I will argue that this confluence of medievalist and gaming tropes has led to several trends within the representation of the Middle Ages within computer games. At the most basic, the tendencies of the medium further exaggerate the violence of the period, but it is possible to identify particular and perhaps unexpected emergent trends within this theme. Amongst other themes, such as technology and religion, the diametrically opposed tropes within medievalism and gaming create an entirely new perspective of the period.

Rob Houghton is a Senior Lecturer in Early Medieval History at the University of Winchester and is an editor of The Public Medievalist. His recent publications include ‘Hugh, Lothar and Berengar: The Balance of Power in Italy 945-950’ (2020) and ‘World, Structure and Play: Digital Games as Historical Research Tools’ (2018). He is currently working on the representations of the Middle Ages in modern games and on the utility of historical games as teaching and research tools.

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