Video Games and the Hyperreal

Ahead of his time postmodernist Jean Baudrillard gave us his controversial theories on hyperreality decades ago, the concept of images or simulations which depict a distorted image of reality, but comes to be accepted as the reality. Or, to (perhaps overly) simplify, the way in which preconceptions, stereotypes and misleading ideas can seem closer to the truth than the actual truth itself. Even though Baudrillard wrote these theories and ideas only at the start of the digital age, they have become increasingly relevant in today’s society. Hyperrealism is an important concept when it comes to the impact of ‘fake news’ which has been dominating headlines due to its supposed influence on incredibly momentous events and elections. Due in part to this, hyperrealism is being re-examined by individuals such as myself and the ways in which it can apply to modern media. Hyperrealism in film, TV and even the press is increasingly coming under scrutiny and now finally video games are also starting to get some attention.

Hyperrealism in video games is something that has been looked at by a few scholars, but none from a historical perspective and even in general there is not a huge amount of work done on the area. In part this is due to a lack of interest and scholarly work combining postmodernist principles and historical video games as whole. But also this could be as many don’t even consider video games as hyperrealism except for some specific niche cases (If you want to see just how debated Video Games as hyperreality is, have a look at the discussion regarding their inclusion in the hyperreality Wikipedia page Studies revolving around MMORPG’s as examples of hyperrealism and even games such as Counter-Strike have been carried out. But people have yet to examine solely historical video games as they are not considered as hyperrealistic.

However, it is my opinion that the definition of hyperrealism is evolving to include what people expect to see, peoples ideas of truth which are not based upon fact but instead based upon preconceptions. For example, if playing as Poland in Sid Meir’s Civilisation, you expect what the Winged Hussar cavalry unit will look like and that they will be the dominant cavalry unit of their period within the game. Or, similarly you may expect that when you select Elizabeth I as your chosen leader, you expect her to be portrayed within a certain way such as with a pearl necklace fanning herself. Regardless of the factual accuracies of these examples, as they conform to the idea within people’s minds they become more real than real, they become hyperreal. Rather than conforming to fact these historical video games conform to the players ‘truth’. As each individual truth is subjective based on what the person expects and preconceives.

For historical video games, these games are often a portrayal of expected ‘truth’ rather than necessarily fact; while it is not necessarily factual that Catherine De Medici was an evil, scheming woman full of intrigue and guile. Due to her black legend, this is what players perceive to be the ‘truth’ and therefore what they expect within games that portray her. When things go against the ‘truth’ of the players it can ruin their immersion and experience within these video games. A lot of the negativity surrounding the Assassins Creed game series has revolved around elements of the game deemed totally unrealistic, even within the parameters of a video game. As mentioned in a previous blog post, when King Jadwiga was chosen to lead the Polish in Civilisation VI, there was an uproar as many did not view her as one of Poland’s greatest monarchs even if scholars and academics class her as such. The way in which historical popular culture is portrayed within these video games is a great study on hyperrealism. Also, national identity is again a great way to examine the hyperrealistic within video games. Especially how people assume the national identity of nations not perceived as existing anymore, but appropriated by others. Such as people assuming the identity of the Aztecs, Macedonians or others.

Overall, hyperrealism and historical video games is a fascinating field of study which hopefully I can pursue academically in the near future. It is my hope that scholars pick up and enter into this area, particularly as it can shed some valuable insight into the effect and impact these video games are having on the knowledge, ideas and preconceptions of those playing them. As studies have already shown that video games can have quite a large effect on those playing them.

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