Historical Attitudes in Period Games

I’ve been playing through Vampyr. To me, the player character Dr. Reid seems to suffer from the issue of “historic character with way too modern views”, but it got me thinking.

As a history buff, I love when period piece games go that extra mile to be authentic. I realize though that a game’s 1st job is to be entertaining, not educational, so I don’t fault developers for editing history a bit to fit the gameplay.

When you have a 1900s doctor, however, who has very 21st century ideas, it kinda pulls me from the narrative & you’re doing a disservice to the history by misrepresenting it. On the flip side though, if he spent the whole game dropping racial slurs & demeaning women that would put me off as well.

And I’ll admit, my historic knowledge of 1918 Britain isn’t as robust as my American history, so I could be way off base. Really, I’m just complaining that the “historic character with way too modern views” is one of my least favorite tropes, but I realize there’s a middle ground that these works should live in. Dutch from RDR2 is a little guilty of this trope as well.

I guess for engagement’s sake, I’m just curious how historical authentic should games go in regards to attitudes of the time? Is the best spot a character who is a neutral observer, or letting the player choose how far to take it either way?


I think it’s particularly difficult when it’s historical-fantasy (which it very often is) because it seems like the devs are simply selectively not caring about social issues/representation.

It’s difficult. Allowing you to play a problematic but otherwise affable protagonist without appearing to be in any way an endorsement of their views is certainly a writing challenge and a half.

I think it’s the kind of subject matter that deserves the full focus of the fiction - unlike Bioshock Infinite, for example, which unceremoniously drops it half way through. And not merely background for historical accuracy.

Perhaps the best approach for a main character in fiction, wherein it isn’t the focus, is to avoid any ambiguity-crushing statements either way so as not to burst the immersion bubble.


I’d agree with that. One of the things I liked about Mafia 3 was its depiction of the South during the Civil Rights & how it factored into your character. It wasn’t the main focus, but it was important. Then there’s something like LA Noire. Cole wasn’t racist, but also never really grandstanded about being progressive. The developers just avoid the issue when concerning Cole, or maybe they were going for a “justice is blind” motif.

Vampyr is about old-timey vampires, but it’s also about social interactions, so politics & religion will likely come up. If ideas of the time can’t be avoided maybe it’s best to go the Arthur Morgan route of cynical non-answers? With answers in the vein, “I don’t know, people are always telling me to believe different things that I just don’t bother anymore”?


I would keep in mind that we can find people who have similar thoughts at any point in time. I noticed this by reading older books, that actually people aren’t so different just because they’ve lived in different times. There will always be all kind of stances (progressist, conservative, etc.) and one would be dominant depending on time and place, but it shouldn’t be surprising that someone would naturally think about how other people are treated and not everyone just follows whatever is the norm during their time. I haven’t played Vampyr yet by the way :grimacing: so I’m not sure how the main character’s presented.


That’s a very good point! Just because a time period’s prevailing politics seem restrictive, no character outside of, perhaps, politicians in public, need to actually fall within the overton window necessarily. Certainly no problem with having exceptions.