Medieval video games – are they getting it right?

person in blue denim jeans holding black game controller

Imagine finding yourself in a medieval siege. The boulders raining down from the castle battlements splitting skulls all around you. The boiling oil cooking soldiers in their armour. Arrows flying through the air like a blizzard cutting hundreds of men down. The shrieks and cries of the wounded. So – do medieval video games capture any of this?

Well, some do and some don’t. But the developers have worked hard and come very close in some cases to getting it right. Let’s look at some of the best games out there! And then let’s compare them to real life gore and horror on the medieval battlefield!

Medieval video games – best of the bunch!

There’s some awesome medieval themed video games out there. Chronicles of Elyria takes you on a journey from being a lowdown scumbag up to being the king! The look and feel of it is very medieval and great fun to play. I tend to dislike the medieval games that try and be more goofy and silly. For that period of history, it’s got to be dark and serious. Very Game of Thrones!

Total War has been going for a while and tests your strategy skills. It focuses on Chinese wars. I think it’s good for gamers and everybody to be aware that medieval history wasn’t just about Europe. There was a whole world of warfare with great civilisations in Asia and the Americas.

I’m going to give Mordhau a big shout because this looks like MY idea of a medieval siege. Plenty of axes and swords getting swung around. A multi-player game that I think will rally immerse you in real life warfare that even the Knights Templar would recognise.

Games like Darkborn take you into a fantasy world. In a way, I don’t have a problem with this. Many folk in the Middle Ages believed in supernatural creatures so the game gets into the head of a medieval person. This was a world where people were scared of the dark and what lay in the mysterious beyond.

Do medieval video games reflect the medieval reality?

Let’s look at some real medieval sieges that actually happened to see how they compare with the video games?

Sieges involved some pretty gross tactics. How about the lobbing of the severed heads of captured soldiers over a castle wall – in either direction.  This might include a messenger sent to the other side with surrender terms. Might have his head chucked back with the offending message nailed to it. Point made! We’re not surrendering today!

In 1344, the English were fighting to hold on to Gascony and one of their soldiers tried to break through the French lines with a request for more assistance.  He was captured and the poor man was catapulted alive back in to the castle he had sneaked out of.

At the siege of Nicaea in the First Crusade, the heads of Saracens were impaled before the city walls by the crusaders and others catapulted over the battlements.

Executions in front of the castle walls – nice 

It was quite common to execute prisoners in front of the enemy with a mass hanging calculated to dent morale.  Louis VI castrated and disemboweled captives and floated them down the river on barges to be met by their former comrades in besieged Rouen.

One Byzantine emperor blinded a captured Bulgar army save for one in every ten men – who kept a single eye, to lead the others back.  When this appalling spectacle returned to the Bulgar king, he apparently dropped dead on the spot (according to the Byzantine telling of it of course).

A similar tactic was used by De Montfort in the crusade against the Albigensian heresy.  He cut off the upper lips and noses of a captured garrison and blinded them – leaving some with an eye to lead them to the next castle as a warning of what happened if you resisted De Montfort.

Even seen this in medieval video games?

If the enemy began to ram the walls, then they might be discouraged if captured prisoners were dangled – alive – in front of the attacking army.  One medieval king attempted to protect his siege towers from attack by mangonels on the city walls by tying live prisoners to the front of the machines.

DISCOVER MORE: Medieval battles – the blood, guts and fury!

We talk about ‘human shields’ now in warfare but in the Middle Ages, they were very, very literal.  Apparently, this ruse did not work and the siege towers came under renewed attack.  One account says that the youths tied to the siege towers died very slowly and “miserably, struck by the stones”.

Those throwing the stones at their captured comrades did so with tears in their eyes.  They were horrified at having to attack these young soldiers being used as a human shield.  “They crushed their chests, their stomachs and their heads and bone and mushy brain were mixed together”.  One can imagine that the defenders might have even tried to hurry the deaths of their comrades by taking special aim at them.

Real medieval sieges were truly awful – so do medieval video games capture that reality?

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