Hey, Gamers! This is the first in my Rewrite/Heavily Edited series, where I redo some older posts that I feel don’t quite have the level of quality that I want in my writing, and this first one is a rewrite. If you’ve been following me for a while, you might recognise some of the games on this list – or even this list in general. I originally posted this list during the pandemic, while I was studying history at university. It’s now no longer the pandemic, and I am no longer studying history. I do have a history degree now though, so that’s my qualification for being a ‘history nerd’. Regardless, I’ve been wanting to rewrite this post for a long time, and I figured that this is the best time to do it, so here we go!
In no particular order, we have:
10) The Uncharted series.
This one is on here for several reasons, with the main one being that Nathan Drake is a treasure hunter who often looks for historical artifacts. I have not played this series myself (I’m on team Tomb Raider), but Josh (my partner) has finished the first 3 so I’ve seen bits and pieces of it. Like Tomb Raider, the series uses historical legends, such as Shambhala or El Dorado, as well as using real people, like Francis Drake and Henry Avery, to make it feel like you’re following in the footsteps of historical figures to solve mysteries thought to be lost to time, as well as “picking up” a few priceless cultural treasures along the way. To be completely honest, I thought Nathan Drake was an archaeologist and was just about to write that before I checked with Josh, to which he said “no, he’s just a thief,” and my jaw dropped. Overall, this series is beloved by many and has very similar vibes to Tomb Raider, which I can comment on with some actual experience.
9) The Tomb Raider series.
Ah, my childhood. When I was a child, I was told that Lara Croft was my father’s girlfriend… and being an undiagnosed autistic child, I believed that. I remember the days where a boulder was chasing the pixelated woman on the screen while I watched intensely. The best days were when he would let me run around her mansion, climbing up the climbing wall and jumping into the pool. When my parents got me my first home console (the Xbox 360), they got me the 2013 Tomb Raider. Before this, I had no idea Tomb Raider was about searching for historical artifacts and mythical treasures. I just thought my dad liked being chased by boulders. But my dad and I worked together to complete the game, and I adored it. My love for history was there even back then, and I would have talks with my history teacher about Himiko and where I was in the game (because he liked Tomb Raider, too). A few years later, Josh got me Shadow of the Tomb Raider for either my birthday or Christmas… but I struggle to complete it without my dad (it’s a mental thing, I know). Since being with Josh, I’ve gained such a huge appreciation for Japan and Japanese culture so when it came to deciding what to do my dissertation on, I started looking into Japanese history. I was so shocked to learn that Himiko was an actual person in Japanese history.
I think gaming is a great medium for exposing people to history, and Tomb Raider does this thing that I think works really well; they find a real-life history, story, or artifact and makes it something completely different by adding mystical powers to it (Uncharted does this as well). I always like how it works out, and I love how gaming is a medium where you can interact with the world in situations like this. I think it always works out great because you feel the connection to our world while still having the difference of *gaming magic*.
8) Cyberpunk 2077.
This one might seem out of place, but the one thing that my history degree taught me above anything else is that history is what you make of it. Everything changes, nothing is set in stone. I think Cyberpunk 2077 embodies this idea. While on the surface, it seems like a really neat (and sometimes rather buggy) game about the future, I want to propose that it’s likely going to be interesting for history lovers, too.
You see, the reason most people I know like history is because it means you can make sense of what’s going on right now by looking at what went on in the past. It’s like a big puzzle. For example, looking at the abolishment of a monarchy – let’s say the French monarchy. You can look at all the issues surrounding that time period in terms of the way most people had to live, the economy, different policies that were made around the time and compare that to how the aristocracy were living, the media available to the general public at the time, different art (like satirical cartoons) that was published around the time and you can literally build yourself a road map for how and why the French monarchy is no longer a thing. That’s what so many people love about history. You can work out what happened, and why it happened, without being there.
And I think that that’s what history nerds would love about Cyberpunk. Sure, there’s details missing from the game but what’s so great about it is that there’s more than just Cyberpunk 2077. There are whole books about the history of this world that diverges from our own, and it’s so interesting to see the parallels. There are clear timelines, amazing characters with deep histories, and it’s not just Night City. It’s the whole world.
I think that’s what I find most intriguing about this game (even the series as a whole). Sure, Cyberpunk 2077 takes place in Night City but the changes throughout the world are what is shown. You can work out that what happens in the game wouldn’t just impact Night City. For example, setting of a nuclear bomb is probably going to have an impact on most of America. I think that it’s so interesting that the history of the world is involved in the game, and the game is involved in the history of the world. Very few games do that, especially open world games. I have found that open world games tend to say “this is the map, this is the only part of the world that’s relevant” but Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t do that and I think that’s what attracts me as a history nerd (and before I get any comments, I’m not saying that this is the only game that does it- but hey, feel free to drop suggestions in the comments because it interests me!).
My last little point about Cyberpunk 2077 is something that always needs to be brought up when talking about this game: it’s release. The only game launch I could possibly compare it to is No Man’s Sky… but I am starting to believe that Cyberpunk 2077 did the turnaround better. I might be a bit bias because I don’t enjoy No Man’s Sky, but the utter amount of issues Cyberpunk 2077 had at launch, compared to the game now is… so shocking. It’s so different to the point that I want to get my mother to play the game, just to show her what it was like at launch to see her reaction. The turnaround that CDPR managed to pull with that game is phenomenal and, in my opinion, historic in itself.
7) The Assassin’s Creed Series.
I think it’s safe to say that the Assassin’s Creed series is the one that most people think of if you’re thinking of a history game. While I myself have a lack of experience in these games, it’s not from lack of want or trying. So far, I’ve just been bad at the games. I think I’m going to try again very soon, because I’ve been practicing being sneaky in games so hopefully my stealth skill has levelled a bit.
For anyone who doesn’t know, this series has multiple games focussed on several different historical periods and locations. The series uses real historical figures in their games, which personally, I think is awesome. I think we, as a society, have worked really hard at either demonising or deifying historical figures to the point where we often forget that they are human. The Assassin’s Creed series does an amazing job at humanising these historic figures that we don’t get to see humanised much. This is something that I personally feel is very, very important because these figures were human, just like us, and history has taught us to either act like they’re the devil incarnate or they’re this untouchable deity that’s been placed on a pedestal. By humanising them, we can be critical and constructive of their role in history, which is always something we should work on.
6) The Call of Duty Series.
The Call of Duty Series isn’t one that I thought of much until they brought out World War II. For anyone interested, WWII is one of my main interests in history (I think a lot of historians say that) because of… well, every aspect of it. The politics, the technological developments, the loss of life, the home front. But something that I think has come to the attention of a few historians recently is that series like Call of Duty are taking these historical events and priding themselves on historical re-enactment when they don’t really have the knowledge to back it up.
During my course, I did a module on public history and the way that history is portrayed to the public and it was actually one of my favourite modules. We talked a lot about gaming and other media (like film, TV, etc) and had many discussions on historical accuracy over entertainment. After doing research for an assignment, I discovered that in ‘historical’ games, there’s very little credit given to actual historians. That led me to the conclusion that they don’t actually care much about accuracy and making sure they got things as ‘right’ as possible (although as history is a very multi-disciplinary subject, there is no ‘right’ thing… it’s more based on what evidence you can find and what you can infer from that). I know it might be weird for me to call out this particular series, but this is literally the biggest one I looked into. I remember it sparking a lot of academic debate.
So, you might be interested in this series because it’s sparking a lot of academic debate. It’s always best to know what you’re talking about actively rather than through reading about it, at the end of the day. But also, it’s the type of game that can get away with it. Let’s talk about why, because a distinction needs to be made between games where accuracy isn’t really important and games where accuracy is important in the world the game is set in.
I’ll be talking later about the Red Dead Redemption series. That’s my main example of when accuracy and historian research would have been beneficial to the world that the games are set in. Right now, we’re talking about the Call of Duty series. Respectfully, these games are not primarily targeted towards history lovers (in my opinion). Yeah, they were first based during World War II but that doesn’t mean that it automatically attracts people who love history. Its primary audience are those who like FPS (first-person shooter) games. There are so many games like the Call of Duty series that have this audience that don’t particularly care if the dates match up or if this gun was actually used during that war. It’s much more about the experience than the facts.
The reason I think that this game series will still be interesting for history nerds is because of the immersion. I would scream it from the rooftops if I could: the level of immersion used in video games should be used to teach history. This is the hill I will die on. I believe it so strongly. It’s such a refreshing, adrenaline-pumping way to learn about what experiences were actually like for the people there. I know a lot of people think of World War II and think of the big political figures, of the big battles and the huge number of casualties but games like those in The Call of Duty series shrink these huge historical events down to the soldiers who were fighting, and I think that it’s such an interesting perspective that isn’t often explored in public history.
5) Pokémon Red and Blue.
This is going to be a much shorter entry because Pokémon isn’t about history, it is history. The Pokémon series is iconic in several ways, and the way it’s been ingrained into the global culture is unseen by anything else. The Pokémon series is so huge that even kids who don’t play video games like Pokémon. Red and Blue are obviously the first games for us in the West, which is why I suggested those particular titles. It’s what started the global craze over Pokémon, so you might as well go back and play some history!
4) The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Skyrim is actually on this list for a similar reason to Pokémon, but also has the added benefit of being a fantasy game with a medieval setting. Skyrim is filled with history, as well as being a huge part of gaming history. So many open worlds that people adore were inspired some way by Skyrim – Elden Ring, for example. Skyrim is one of only three games to win Game of the Year in four of the most prestigious award shows, those shows being The Game Awards, the Golden Joystick Awards, the DICE Awards and the Game Developers Choice Awards, and the other games to accomplish this being Elden Ring and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Skyrim has been released over and over again, and there’s clearly a reason that people keep buying it. While I’m not the biggest Skyrim fan (I’m trying my best, okay?), Josh is and he has spoken so much about how cool Skyrim’s history is (which is odd; he doesn’t like history like I do but when it’s fictional, he’s all over it).
The best thing about Skyrim is that it is the 5th Elder Scrolls game. History of this world has been built over 5 whole games, meaning that it’s rooted into the fundamentals of this world. World building is integral to most games – particularly open world games – and Skyrim is a great example of it. That being said, it’s impossible to ignore the presence of the other Elder Scrolls games in this world. It’s such a special thing, to be able to build history up over the course of several projects. It makes the world much more believable and much more interesting.
3) Red Dead Redemption 1 and 2.
I think one moment in my and Josh’s relationship that really stands out is when I told him the reality of how lame real-life cowboys were, and I did that because he was playing Red Dead Redemption 2. He despises me bringing it up, but it makes me giggle from time to time, so I have to.
There are several great things to do with history when it comes to these games. Personally, I believe that the immersion that these games bring is fantastic for history lovers to get sucked into. If you’re looking for an immersive historical experience, this is a great one.
I vouch for video games in educational settings so much (can you tell by this post?) and these games would be a great example if they got used. However, the lack of historical research in this game feels painful. It could have been such an amazing experience where people learn about history through the world. It’s not like history has a lack of interesting stories to tell. I wish that games based in historical times hired actual historians who specialised in the time period and place while developing the story and the world. From what I could tell, Rockstar didn’t do this and it’s not a common thing for game companies to do. It just feels like it makes so much more sense to me, for games about history to be… y’know, historically accurate to the best of its ability without ruining the story. I actually found the article that I used during my time at University to talk about Red Dead Redemption II (it will be linked at the end of this post), and it makes some great points about historical accuracy in video games.
Overall, the Red Dead Redemption games are great for immersion in a historical setting. It loses points due to its wasted potential to be historically accurate (for what feels like no reason).
2) Kingdom Come: Deliverance
I am intimidated by how this game immerses the player in the world of this game. This game is great because you get to experience a completely different life, not because that life is good. It’s based in the early 15th Century in the Kingdom of Bohemia. It’s an open world RPG that uses first person perspective to immerse the player in the historic environment.
At the start, there’s no traditional tutorial. Why? Life doesn’t have a tutorial. The character you’re playing as doesn’t know anything, so you don’t either. You play as a peasant, so you cannot read any of the in-game books until someone teaches you how to read, the combat system has nuances that you’ll only be made aware of after a skilled swordsman teaches you how to fight It gives you such a unique experience of a historical setting and story. It includes real life history and is actually based on a true story (according to the official website of the game). Many of the characters in Kingdom Come: Deliverance existed in real life, so it’s extra cool.
What’s extra interesting about the history of Kingdom Come: Deliverance is that the main character, Henry of Skalitz, starts off as the son of a blacksmith. Why is this so interesting? Documents back in 15th Century Bohemia barely mentioned lower class citizens. It brings to light something I absolutely adore about history – you can never be certain what happened because we only have records of people who could document it. So much of the population of history failed to document their lives, and all we have is the thoughts of the people who deemed them unworthy. I just think that’s so interesting. Also, the game has a difficulty mode above the standard mode that, upon starting a new file, has like a 90% chance of giving you an instant game over, along with an explanation for why Henry didn’t survive long enough to reach the start of the game, which is hilarious.
1) The Witcher Series.
Okay, I lied. This list is partly in order, because this one is my favourite. While I have not completed all of The Witcher games (yet), I fully intend to. I have all three games, I have read all the books and I just love these characters so much that their significant changes in the Netflix show both angers and saddens me. Actually, at the time of writing this, I’ve just started Thronebreaker, too! I’m trying my best to be unbiased here, but I know I’m not the only one who thinks what I think: The Witcher series is the best in terms of historical atmosphere. If you’re interested in the Dark Ages in Europe, this is the series for you. Honestly, my historical interest is not in that time period, but The Witcher 3 and what I’ve played of the first game really gave me a boost in my interest. The Celts are what got me into history, and since I was a teenager I’ve been more into modern history (18th-20th Century, although there are historians who argue fairly that modern history starts in the 15th Century, my interest really starts in the 18th), so playing The Witcher 3 and then reading the books and beginning to play the rest of the series helped me appreciate an era of time that I never expected to gain an appreciation for.
On my course, we did a lot about local history and what that means; I think The Witcher 3 is great at demonstrating what we informally called ‘the little people’. That means people in history that simply just lived their lives. Some of them were boring, some of them were a little interesting, some of them were entertaining… but none of them did anything. They weren’t politicians, kings, famous writers or anything like that. You can look into the lives of these ‘little people’ and realise that they’re just living their lives, just as most of us are today. I think you get a really good grasp of that with The Witcher 3, especially through the contracts and side content. I spend a lot of time thinking about who the ‘big people’ in The Witcher 3 would be. For example, everyone would know Geralt because of Dandelion’s ballads (and the fact that even before that, Geralt did a lot of work to make a name for himself in his own right, so a lot of people knew who he was) and by extension I think the majority of people would know about Yennefer (but maybe not all, because she hasn’t worked to make a name for herself in the same way Geralt had, so for Yen I’m just referring to Dandelion’s ballads). But what about Ciri? Lambert? I think we know from The Lady of the Lake (the last chronological book of the Witcher series) that Triss was well known because of a famous painting that was made of her (yes, I’m trying to be as vague as I can because I strongly encourage anyone who wants to read the Witcher books to do it, so I am avoiding spoiling what Triss did and when). That being said, would people know who she was while she was still alive, or was it a thing where you honour someone by sharing their story?
I hope my point is getting across here. The Witcher series (specifically The Witcher 3) is amazing for characters, atmosphere, and little details if you like history. Even people you help out have their own histories and I think that’s so great. Without spoiling too much of this fairly old game, there’s someone you can help that when you do help her, she only has 7 years to live. You can then see her around the world, making the most of those 7 years. If you pass time by 7 in-game years… you can find her dead. That is so cool to me.
I just love this so much and I think a lot of other people who are interested in history in the same way I am would also love this game series (and just the series in general) a lot. That’s why I had to make it my number one spot on this list, because I could talk about the historical aspects of this series for hours.
History is a wide subject. It’s multi-disciplinary and wonderful in all its different aspects. While writing this list, I was reminded about so many of the different types of history and the different conversations we can have about it. I will always be here to vouch for historic video games, and I will always request that they be as historically accurate as they can be (as long as it doesn’t interrupt the story). History just makes everything so much cooler to me. Even if it’s just a historical setting, it still makes the whole game so much more interesting (and it’s especially great for world building!). I adore the addition of historical figures, and I would love to see more of them integrated into the plot of wonderful video games (especially if the plot involves a historic event).
I adore history, and I adore that we will forever be making history.
That’s it for this post, Gamers. I hope you liked it. I wanted to give a quick shout out to Josh for editing this post, and for helping me by talking me through the games he has played, that I haven’t. He’s a good egg, guys. See you next post!
Quick sidenote: I know there’s a bunch of games that could have made this list. Metal Gear Solid 3 (Cold War plotline), Animal Crossing: New Horizons (pandemic sales, creating community)- there’s so many. These are merely the ones I thought of. Feel free to let me know in the comments what you can think of, but please be respectful of my choices.
Quick edit because I forgot to add the link: