Helen Young’s Keynote

Dr. Helen Young is a researcher in medievalism, critical whiteness and postcolonial studies, and popular culture. She has recently published postmedieval, Continuum, the Journal of LGBT Youth and Literature Compass, is the author of Race and Popular Fantasy Literature: Habits of Whiteness (2016) and Constructing ‘England’ in the Fourteenth Century: Postcolonial Approaches to Middle English Romance (2010), and editor of two volumes on medievalism and popular culture (2015). After time away from academia in 2016-2017, she is now a Lecturer in the School of Communication and Creative Arts at Deakin University, Australia.

Power Play: The Politics of the Real Middle Ages

Thursday, November 12, 2020
6:00 – 7:15 pm (EST)

Medievalism is a staple of video-gaming.  A substantial sub-set of the vast range of medievalist games, including fantasy offerings, represent a supposedly ‘historically authentic’ European Middle Ages as muddy, bloody, and white. Is ‘historical authenticity,’ then, a particular set of rules imposed on how we can play with ‘the Middle Ages’ as we re-imagine and re-purpose them? Examples of ‘historically authentic’ games include Kingdom Come: Deliverance (2018), Mordhau (2019) and Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla (forthcoming 2020). Lev Vygotsky’s theories suggest that such games enable desires for white power and purity, often linked to masculinity, to be violently played out in digital worlds. What happens when those worlds are constructed by producers and understood by players to have a direct, causal connection with past reality?

Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is slated for release days after the conference. Months in advance its credentials as part of an ‘historically authentic’ franchise are already being touted. It will be my central case study in an exploration of how ‘historical authenticity’ is constructed through publicity and paratexts, ludic, narrative, technological and representational elements of a game. Embedded within and constructed through the complex ecosystem of a game, historical authenticity discourse works to maintain white masculine power by making race, a socially constructed system of power relations, appear ontologically real. Through it, medievalist videogames become sites for generation and perpetuation of violent white racist fantasies, even when it is invoked to argue for inclusion of characters of colour. What, then, are the responsibilities of medievalism and medieval studies scholars? Can we be historical consultants without being complicit in white supremacy.