Death of the Critic

Historical Accuracy vs. Entertainment

Written by: Tom Blaich

If you’ve ever gone to YouTube after a big movie came out, you’ve no doubt seen dozens of videos picking apart why it was actually a bad movie because something was included that wasn’t invented yet or a character’s backstory is incorrect or some other minor detail is wrong.

The same can be said about games, with the inclusion of weapons, vehicles, or personnel that might not fit the setting perfectly. We like to make a big deal out of details like this, for some reason. Maybe it makes us feel smart, or maybe because we get to contradict the majority opinion about a piece of media, something that teases a deeply contrarian part of our brains, because what is mainstream and popular is almost necessarily uncool.

I fall pretty to this temptation rather often myself, but I try to avoid it. Because most of the time, it just doesn’t matter. If is one thing if an entire film hinges on a plot point that is rooted in false history. It’s way less meaningful if a character wears sunglasses before they are invented, because they look pretty damn cool.

The more important a detail is, the more it matters. Especially if the film or game purports to be “realistic”. If the movie
Lincoln told us that Abraham Lincoln had a magical axe and was assassinated by vampires, it would be a bad movie. But when Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter shows us that he is basically 1860’s Batman, we are completely fine with it (even if it is a dumb premise).

It is all about the suspension of disbelief. I don’t care if Jamie Foxx shouldn’t be tossing around dynamite at the end of
Django Unchained, because by god is it cool, and it ultimately doesn’t matter. What does it change about the movie? But finding this line, where some things are acceptable, and some things are not can be extremely difficult.

It differs for every property, as a player wants something different out of
Call of Juarez than they do out of Red Dead Redemption. It is affected by tone, by subject matter, by writing, and ultimately even by who is watching it. I’m sure a civil war historian has different views on Lincoln than I do, but that doesn’t make it a bad movie.

The problem comes when we get too caught up in the pursuit of accuracy over all else. It can bog down the rest of the production in the minutiae that ultimately most people won’t notice, or even care about. This is where the “Rule of Cool” comes into play. “The willing suspension of disbelief for a given element is directly proportional to its awesomeness.” Who cares if an average soldier in the civil war would only fire 3 bullets per minute? That isn’t fun in a game.

We don’t want that much downtime where we are just loading an old rifle/smoothbore musket and firing at a line of visually similar enemies, waiting to get wounded and die of infection. So what if soldiers in Vietnam didn’t get kidnapped and brainwashed by Russians. It’s way cooler to have a guy running around at 40 miles per hour with a rocket launcher than it is to have the perfect military uniform, down to the sizing of the buttons.

It is impossible to have a piece of media about times gone by be perfectly accurate, because we are just relying on research and evidence and we can’t really know. We have to be willing to take liberties, as we can’t say that every movie has to be perfectly accurate or every game 100% historically correct.

Because it isn’t fun or entertaining.
Battlefield One may contain a bunch of experimental weapons and vehicles that never saw production or combat, but the game is more fun for their inclusion, and they technically existed at the time. But it’s still not “historically accurate”.

Would we have had more fun if they weren’t included? Would we be better off if Django never had his sunglasses? You can make great and faithful [pieces of media (like
Red Orchestra or Lincoln), but by adding more “unrealistic” elements, it allows for greater variety. Quentin Tarantino blowing up in Django Unchained might have been unrealistic, and so was people getting thrown across the screen by gunshots (neither of those is as bad as his accent though). But they don’t make the movie worse. They make it more fun.

We are selective in our application of our nitpicking, but what does it really ad to the experience? Do we increase our enjoyment or the quality of a piece by complaining about handguns and standard equipment? Or do we just want to feel superior?


Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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