Kingdom Come: Deliverance came as a complete surprise to me when it launched earlier last week — seeing as I’m a role-playing game fanatic, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard about this intriguing recreation of the feudal 15th-century lands of Bohemia. The game exploded in popularity, and after seeing how strongly the gaming community sings praise for it, I bought a copy for myself and got playing.
30 hours later, and I absolutely love the game as most people seem to. But as I browsed the internet to see what the Kingdom Come community had to offer, I came to discover that the game is afflicted with controversy. Specifically, the game is accused of “whitewashing” (removing people of color from places they should be present) medieval Bohemia. Some websites have refused to cover the game outright, and progressives have condemned it.
In this article, I aim to explain my feelings on this topic, as well as comment on the difference between the setting stories take place in and what the creators of those stories believe. I think it’s crucially important that we understand that difference.
Realism Is At Kingdom Come’s Core
Before delving into the controversy in further detail, it’s critical to establish the fact that Kingdom Come: Deliverance puts realism, both in its mechanics and in its historical depictions, on the forefront.
Between this 16-minute trailer that highlights the game’s mechanics to this interview where Warhorse Studios’ public relations manager Tobias Stolz-Swilling highlights in detail just how much extensive research the developers did in order to make the game as realistic and accurate as possible, it’s undeniable that Warhorse has put painstaking effort into making their game authentic.
It isn’t just visual, however. All of the major people within Kingdom Come aside from the characters involved in the fictional story actually existed or were based on real people. The personal tale of Henry (the protagonist) and his allies and enemies never existed, but the events and setting where his story takes place did. From politics to social life, what we see in Kingdom Come is a faithful, accurate recount of medieval civilization. But what’s relevant to this discussion is demographics.
It’s Not Racist to Refuse to Revise the Past
Though it’s true that people of color contributed to many medieval societies and were a notable part of them, this is not the case with the Kingdom of Bohemia. Aside from the native Czechs, the region was also dominated by Germans. Both of these peoples were white skinned, as were the minority groups like the Poles, Slovenians, Hungarians, Italians, and Romanians.
It simply was not an area where people of color lived.
Some may argue that games should be as inclusive as humanly possible in order to appeal to a wider audience and make everyone feel like they’re represented, but I disagree and reject that notion. While I do think representation is important, I also believe that it has its place. Being forced into an otherwise incredibly accurate recreation of a historical civilization is not that place.
The choice of the developer to sacrifice social inclusivity for historical authenticity does not make them racist. If anything, it makes them determined and strong-willed, especially in today’s social and political climates. I commend the developers for not bowing down to the backlash like others have and choosing to preserve their game’s realism and accuracy. Assassin’s Creed: Origins should take notes.
A Setting Does Not Reflect What Creators Believe
In closing, I want to talk about a common misconstrusion that I see many people make, which is the idea that the setting of a story always reflects the personal opinions of the one who created it.
This is something that I discussed in my rather lengthy piece on Blade Runner: 2049; people accused that film of sexism because of the way women were treated in the cyberpunk, dystopian setting. Yet, in doing so they missed the point of the narrative itself, which was that the society in that world is wrong and the characters in it were beginning to see that.
Though this isn’t the case with Kingdom Come: Deliverance (the story is much more about Henry’s personal adventure then it is about Bohemian society) it’s important to highlight the that both 2049 and Kingdom Come show us what a setting truly can do for an experience. Ranging from playing a critical role in writing, from simply being a cool, intriguing backdrop for a personal adventure, settings can be used in so many different creative ways. By suggesting that a setting used by a creator is always reflective of his or her views and that what we create should always represent an ideal society rife with diversity and equality, you stifle the possibilities of what settings can be used for.
Consider this: imagine a Hunger Games universe without the oppressive, tolitarian Capitol. Imagine a Star Wars without the anti-alien Empire. Imagine a Game of Thrones without the political backstabbing and use of sexual power.
None of these universes would be the same if they didn’t show us the darker, undesirable qualities of human nature (and why we shouldn’t give in to them), and plots would have to be completely rewritten. Other types of settings, like those that aim to show us our past (such as Kingdom Come’s) would be robbed of their impact by this, too. You can do this imagination exercise for just about any entertainment universe and find that policing what is and isn’t allowed on screen or on the page would probably ruin that media.
Is it possible that people can use their mediums to push harmful agendas? Yes. When they do, we rightfully call them, and only them, out on it. But that is not happening in this case. There’s no dialogue in the game that promotes hatred towards people of color. The closest the game ever even gets to racism is when the Czechs in the game condemn the invading Cuman armies, and in their defense, I think you would hate a type of people too if they burned down your villages.
I found Kingdom Come developer Daniel Vavra’s comments on the controversy moving:
“I grew up in a country dominated by a communist regime after being occupied by the National Socialists. The Nazis killed over 300,000 people alone in the territory of today’s Czech Republic. My grandfather was imprisoned in a labor camp from which he luckily escaped. After the war, the Communists confiscated my family’s home and business and repressed our freedom for another 40 years. I am not a friend of any kind of totalitarian rule and consider the accusation that I am a Nazi or close to any ideology that even remotely goes in that direction, therefore as absurd, even personally offensive and offensive. Anyone who follows me on social networks will know that I cherish the antifascist movement of our past, and the people who follow me always remember our past or honors for our ancestors who were fighting against this regime , I do this to remember the history of our country and its fight against two unjust regimes so that my fans – especially young people – will not forget them.”
— Daniel Vavra
It seems ignorance knows no bounds. It’s insane to me that we’ve devolved to the point of calling people Nazis just because they made a historically accurate recreation of their own country.
If there’s one thing to take away from my argument here, it is this: art does not always reflect what the artist him/herself believes.
Thanks for reading! I’m interested to hear what people think of this whole ordeal. Let me know either here or on Twitter.
That’s all for now, folks! Thanks again for reading, and I’ll be catching you all on the flip side soon with more content.