Wolf Hall is a television miniseries that unfolds slowly. The BBC’s adaption of Hilary Mantel’s novel of the same name (and its sequel) has a plot which takes times to develop. Set in the court of Henry VIII, it eschews traditions entrenched by other ‘court drama’ shows like The Borgias or The Tudors. Where they insist on complex plots unfolding at a breakneck pace and in particular dialogue which is more like a ping pong match of quips, Wolf Hall is remarkably silent. Its characters pause in conversation, say only what they need to say and Thomas Cromwell, the principle character, is particularly notable for long silences.
I have been aiming to write a review of the recent documentary series Napoleon on this blog for some time. It doesn’t fit with the otherwise PC game themed content but it’s a compelling documentary. I’m not terribly interested by its content (which is mostly military and political history), but it has an impressive ability to clearly argue a particular viewpoint about Napoleon and his empire. This is surprisingly rare among history documentaries, most of which stick as closely as possible to ‘the facts’ and are usually either boring or misleading as a result. They’re boring because they devolve into a string of dates without the focus an argument provides and often misleading because they bolster the misconception that historians are primarily concerned with ordering events rather than arguing about them, their consequences, their causes, their significance. The advantage of an argument, then, especially if it’s a controversial one is that it forces you as a writer to state a case, which is always more lively than reciting a list. Arguments are stimulating to write or to read (or in this case to watch) so it’s refreshing that Andrew Roberts, historian and presenter of Napoleon, clearly has such strong, positive opinions about the titular character.
This is all to say that I haven’t written that review, but I have come across a related and exceptionally good piece of writing which ties the paragraph above to videogames. The essay “How Thinking Like A Historian Can Help You Understand Games, From The Witcher 3 To Assassin’s Creed” by Robert Whittaker has just appeared on Rock, Paper, Shotgun and it’s a wonderful read. Whittaker beautifully illustrates how our interpretation of the past is in flux, how it change over time and most of all how the absolutes we read about so often when history is brought up in the context of videogames are utterly useless. Judging from the comments, people haven’t bothered to read the article and are instead arguing in the exact way the article warns against, which is a shame. Still, it’s an excellent piece that’s worth a read for anyone interested in history and videogames.