I like to think of myself as someone with a slight interest of History. After all I did pursue the subject at a GCSE and A-Level level back when I was in education. I even surprised myself by being slightly talented at the subject. However a large reason to why I love the subject of History so much is because of video games.

When I was young and started getting into video games in the late nineties’, I played games predominately on my father’s laptop. The games I mostly played apart from children’s games and the dreaded educational games, were strategy games. It didn’t matter if it was a “Real-Time Strategy” or “Turn-Based Strategy” I loved it. Games such as “Age of Empires”, “Stronghold Crusader”, “Medieval: Total War” and “Shogun: Total War”  were some of my particular favorites. I wasn’t that good at these games, but I had a really good time playing those games. I still fondly remember those Sunday afternoons, in which I spent hour after hour on these games. But what interested me the most about these games was the settings of these games; they were all historical. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but these games would be the foundation for my eventual love of the subject of History. Of course there would be bumps allng the way, such as believing most of the historical factions in the original Age of Empires were fictional. But hey at least I knew the countries and clans in the Total war games were real countries. Well, apart from the Holy Roman Empire, but that name was really misleading for a then 5-year old boy.

But the game that would Really interest me with the subject of History, was “Rome: Total War”. The graphics blew me away as a child. The vast campaign map of Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia where I would spend hundreds of hours plotting the domination of Rome, the epic battles between hundreds of 3D models of humans, horses, and war-machines battling over deserts, forests and fields. While I often played as one of the factions of Rome, because Rome was the only faction I knew, the non playable faction Macedon intrigued me. I had never heard of Macedon but I loved their historically inaccurate black and orange colour scheme and in-game, they would be a friend of Rome before declaring war on them. This would encourage me to do some research on Macedon and I would soon fall in love with Macedon and their past grreat leader; Alexander the Great, whom I would love just as much as the Romans. I would later install few modifications to Rome: Total War such as “Europa Barbaroum”, “SPQR”, “Roma Surrectum”, and the level of historical accuracy and depth in this modifications fascinated me. I would learn the meaning of many words and phrases, both English and Latin, because of those Rome: Total War and it’s incredible modifications.

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Seeing thousands of soldiers present on a battlefield in 3D blew my mind as a child.

Also on TV near this time period was the show “Time Commanders” in 2003, which used a specially made version of the Rome: Total War game engine to reenact historical battles where a team of four commanding one side of the battle. While the was all about the contestants and the  strategy they used, what really caught my attention was the video game graphics used in the show. I had followed the buildup of Rome: Total War before its release in 2004, and being able to see the graphics in a preview like format was great. Those graphics were the reason I watched the show so intensely, and during the reenactments of the show, a pair of military specialists would rate the contestants on their performance, explain how the battle actually occurred and would show the actual weapons and armour the soldiers would have used. Using video game graphics on a TV show intrigued enough as a child I even bought the tie book “Time Commanders: Battles of the Ancient World” which featured more details about the battles that appeared in the show. I like that book quite a lot as a child, not just for the pictures, but for the details of the battles discussed in the book. Battles have always been my favourite part of History, after all, the sword is cooler than the pen. Another TV show that utilized the Rome: Total War graphics engine to depict historical battles was History Channel’s “Decisive Battles” which first aired in 2004. I also watched this as a child, and was again enthralled by the use of video game graphics to represent battles on TV. It didn’t take much to grab my attention as a child.

There was a brief period of time as I got older, in my early teens that I thought History was “uncool”. I know looking back at it, it seems pretty stupid, but when you’re young you want to “hip” and “cool”. Of course I had no idea what subjects were “hip” or “cool”  and even now I’m sure there are no classes that fit those categories, but alas I was young and stupid. But as I spent time playing “Medieval II: Total War”, After its release in 2006, I realised I rather liked History, enough to warrant being “uncool”. The tutorial of Medieval II: Total War was the famous “Battle of Hastings” and as an Englishman that was pretty cool. To be able to take part in one of the most  influential battles over the course of  English History. The campaign mode that allowed me to play as a post-Hastings William the Conqueror also appealed to my fledging love of English History. The expansion pack “Medieval II: Total War Kingdoms” further appealed to my particular interest of English History in which one of the new campaigns featured a campaign based on the series of wars fought on the British Isles during the 13th Century; the Welsh Conquest, the Irish Invasion, the Scottish-Norwegian War, the Scottish Independence War and the Baron’s Rebellion. It was like a dream come true.

The graphics from a Total War game once again impressed me, even if this game was only two years older than Rome. To see a gritty European battle as soldiers found themselves covered in blood and dirt as the battle wore on, and watching the chaos caused by catapults and trebuchets as they smashed into formations of troops. It was great. I must admit that hearing the pre-battle speeches of the English generals in particular, voiced by corny voice actors, still manages to brings a smile to face.

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Rome: Total War’s successor; Medieval II: Total War managed to look even better despite being released only two years later.

It wasn’t just Total War strategy games that would start my eventual love of History. The “Grand Strategy” genre of games by Paradox Interactive that would convert me fully, to the subject of History. These Grand Strategy games had elements of RPG’s in them, which greatly appealed to the RPG lover that I am. Games such as the “Crusader Kings” series, “Europa Universalis: Rome” and “Sengoku”, in which I was able to play as either as a historical ruler or create my own fictional ruler and then control the heirs of these rulers, to create a dynasty the like of which the world has never seem. To conqueror the world, or simply rule a humble county with no desire for war, the sandbox nature of these games granted my freedom to do whatever I wanted in a historical setting. Crusader Kings 2 had a rather neat little feature that anyone who was a real historical figure, regardless of rank or fame (if applicable),  had a link to their Wikipedia page by their in-game portrait. I would spend quite a bit of time reading up on many people I did not know about, just because I could. Remember kids, knowledge is power! Even if that knowledge is about a random courtier of Charlemange who never did any thing of note.

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An example of Crusader Kings 2’s Wikipedia feature for historical characters.

If you told me many years ago that I would eventually have a GSCE and an A-Level in History, I probably would have laughed in your face. But thanks to video games creating an immerse, interesting environment in which I could learn History, re-live History and potentially change History and then see the consequences of my actions. However its not just because of these grades and qualifications to which I’m grateful to video games for making History interesting. I enjoyed  History not only because I enjoyed the subject, and because I was lucky to have good teachers teach me, but because I grew as a person because of them. I made friends in these History classes, I became more confident as a person, as a result of writing and acting in short plays and later presenting slideshow presentations, about History topics in Secondary school, which I became rather popular for, if I do say so myself. Writing essay after essay improved my English skills, and is probably a factor to why these posts are so well written, right? I’m sure there more to be grateful to History for, so as a person I am in debt to History for making me a slightly functional, socially adept human and for that I have to thank the video games that brought me here in the first place.

Stay tuned for the next installment for this three part special about video games and the subject of History. Next time: “How Video Games Taught Me Oriental History”.

The final installment of this three part special is now available to view here: “How Video Games Taught Me Western History”.

Do you think I’m being melodramatic or do you agree with my sentiments with a similar subject close to your heart? I’m interested to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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