I am one of the many who are eagerly anticipating the upcoming medieval RPG from Warhorse Studios; Kingdom Come: Deliverance—for many of the reasons outlined in this previous Reaxxion article; Will Kingdom Come: Deliverance be the most masculine game in 2015?
However I do have one historical reservation in regards to the broader discussion of “Fantasy versus Realism” as it is currently being (mis)represented by some.
Whilst we all understand that the high fantasy, uni-sex, progressive elements of games like Dragon Age and TES: Skyrim can be ridiculous and artificial insertions—one should not make the mistake that the “real” medieval world was some dreary, uninteresting, uninspired existence where “magic and mystery” had no place. By projecting a modern, scientific-rationalist view onto this time period, we engage in the same artificiality as SJWs and will likely damage the playing experience if the creators are forced to take this to its extreme.
Are you prepared for a realistic experience?
To put it simply, the overwhelming majority of people in the middle-ages DID in fact believe in ghosts, monsters, witches, curses, sins, redemption, demonic spirits, alchemical magic, gods, goddesses, religion, heaven, hell, purgatory, etc. Understandably, this metaphysical view is hard to conceive for us in the modern world, so I would point to works like Hamlet, Macbeth or Arthurian legends in order to see how fantastical elements weaved their way into the fabric of everyday medieval life without becoming overtly “full fantasy”.
So the clear danger here is that in hyping realism, we might lose the authenticity of experience—and a dry, completely rational adventure could be the worse possible compromise.
Now I don’t believe that Kingdom Come: Deliverance will fall into this trap but there was an instance (seen below) in the recently released alpha playthrough that illustrated the problem the writer faces. In the awkward scene, we learn of the death of the protagonist’s father, and the local Bishop brings up the rules of purgatory (hallowed ground) and relevant concerns about the soul’s journey—to which the Lord and other Knights reply with mockery and irreverence, while the main character doesn’t know how to react.[note: i. the voice actors and scenes used are placeholders—not the final cut. ii. Relevant Scene begins ~12:00 ]
Well for anyone that understands this period well, that kind of “open” conversation is verging into dangerously absurd territory. It makes sense that “we” would think/speak this way but “they” wouldn’t and never in public. The greater problem here is that in terms of immersion, you have characters existing in a world they don’t actually take seriously! If the characters don’t revere their own metaphysics—then how can we the player do so?
In Skyrim, people actually believe in the Dragonborn legend and they believe in dragons and magic and gods—while in the Middle-ages, people’s lives were channeled completely through the Lords, Knights, Bishops and the multitude of legends that went around. There just wasn’t a high proportion of hipster-sceptic-atheists running around (ed. no offense intended) just as there were no SJWs and uber-warrior chicks having lesbian adventures.
To illustrate the problem the game designers have with the current dumbed down public, I recall a Q&A where the inevitable question is asked, “Why can’t the story be about a female character who becomes a Warrior Knight?”…The designer responds (tactfully) that it would be cool but be a different story—referencing two characters from Game of Thrones. In truth, he could just say “This is a realistic game that takes place in the Holy Roman Empire–not Fairybuckland of Middle Narniros you imbecile!”
Authenticity > Realism
One film that captured this difficult historic balance, (so far no game has) was The 13th Warrior; where an emissary from the Sultan goes on an adventure with a band of Vikings to find the source of terrible monster-like creatures. Here the mystery of the universe is generally maintained without any post-modern intrusions; symbolized perfectly at one point where the emissary joins in the Viking prayer/incantation to their ancestors before battle.
He doesn’t do it to conform, or because he’s switched sides or out of desperation—he does so because he’s genuinely “immersed” in that reality and can feel some mystical force that connects ancestors with descendants. It’s a place and time Horatio, where there are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Now just imagine these characters had spent the whole film deriding their own beliefs… it would be ridiculous and inauthentic! While I am neither Viking or Muslim, in that moment I was right there with them—because that is immersion.
He’s done it before…
Daniel Vávra, the lead designer of KC:D, previously created a brilliant engaging narrative in Mafia and Mafia II (despite not actually being in the Mafia as far as I’m aware). What made it work was that the mafiosi characters “believed” in their own world; their own codes, their own loyalties, traditions and methods. [Spoiler: this is what made the ending to Mafia II so tragic and brutal as the conflict between loyalty, friendship and business came to a head.]
“Don’t expect any hipster meta-reflection from me boy.”
In truth, the medieval period is the most difficult era to recreate authentically given modern sensibilities and political implications. Frankly, it’s easier to go for the high fantasy, allegorical world of Skyrim and Middle-Earth because you won’t offend anyone in this age of POCs.
Now consider; a young girl (in the middle-ages) who gives up her virginity before marriage is considered a damaged, ruined slut and this will offend the SJW crowd. OK, but likewise, if I see pro-realist neck-beard atheist (ed. again, no offense) complain because characters are saying prayers, or there is demonic possession, or god forbid, weird miraculous things happen without clear explanation—then I will know that we are not truly ready for an authentic medieval experience.
None of these issues are deal breakers for me as I completely understand the writer’s conflict here. In my mind, Warhorse are undertaking one of the greatest challenges of our time when it comes to this game. I just hope that fans are aware that pushing ultra-realism from a modern perspective will restrict the creative possibilities because a demystified world is NOT the middle-ages—and the challenge in actually bringing that time period to life is one I fully support.