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When video games got history all wrong

Video games don't just entertain — they teach, too. For decades, educators have used games like Carmen Sandiego, Reader Rabbit, and Number Munchers to make learning fun. Well, kind of fun. These days, a whopping 78 percent of teachers use digital games in the classroom, a steady increase that shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

But not every game gets the facts right — even those claiming to be based on historical events. While the following games might be a blast to play, they mangle history in odd and often hilarious ways. 

We're not saying that this is a problem. We're just saying that, if you're considering firing up the PlayStation instead of cracking open that history textbook, don't blame us when you have to repeat the ninth grade.

The pope Vatican't do that

In terms of historical accuracy, Assassin's Creed is in a weird place. On one hand, a big part of the series' appeal is that it lets players roam around dead civilizations and important moments from real history. On the other, the games are certifiably bonkers. For example, Assassin's Creed wants you to believe that the Shroud of Turin contains the disembodied consciousness of a member of a long-lost race of super-geniuses who created humanity. 

That's shaky ground, historically speaking.

This is a long way of saying that, while Assassin Creed II's final boss, Rodrigo Borgia (better known as Pope Alexander VI) was absolutely a real person, he probably wasn't a member of a centuries-old secret society. He didn't have a staff that imbued magic powers, he didn't get in fist fights with assassins, and he certainly didn't become Pope because he wanted to unlock a vault filled with holographic projectors underneath the Vatican.

Not that the real Alexander VI was a peach, of course. Ubisoft used him as Assassin Creed II's villain for a reason. During his reign, Alexander VI allegedly threw orgies and had his opponents assassinated. He lived resplendently while the rest of Rome fell into squalor, and he might've fathered a child with his own daughter

When Alexander VI died from poison, some alleged that he'd been trying to kill his host and accidentally drank from the wrong cup. So, worst Pope ever? Probably. Head of an evil alliance of secret warriors? Eh, probably not.

Not everything it's nutcracked up to be

Manon Batiste, hero of Medal of Honor: Underground, isn't a real person, but she's based on one: Hélène Deschamps. Like the video game character, Deschamps joined the French Resistance after the Nazis invaded her home country. Soon she was working as a spy, relaying information about German airfields and troop placements to Allied forces and helping Jewish families escape. Deschamps' brother didn't die in the war, but her surrogate sister did. Deschamps even went on to serve in the United States' Office of Strategic Services, the intelligence service that eventually morphed into the CIA, just like Batiste.

DreamWorks Interactive and Electronic Arts were so dedicated to getting Deschamps and her story right with the character of Batiste that they even hired the former spy, who went by her married name by then, to serve as a consultant. When Medal of Honor: Underground came out in 2000, critics praised its historical fidelity, claiming the game "provides a meaningful historical context that's rare in most video games today."

Until the end, anyway. Medal of Honor: Underground's final "bonus" missions? Not entirely accurate. Firstly, Hitler's forces didn't actually wear medieval armor, which wouldn't stand a chance against modern weapons anyway. It's the dogs, who dance and wield bazookas. It's the robot soldiers. It's the zombies. By the time you get to the killer nutcrackers (which, believe it or not, actually have some historical basis), it's pretty clear DreamWorks Interactive treated the whole "reality" thing like more of a guideline than a rule.

Manifest dysentery

Today it's a meme, but for travelers on the real-life Oregon Trail, dysentery wasn't a joke. Historian Francis Parkman says as much in his book The California & Oregon Trail. In fact, diseases were the primary cause of deaths during the voyage (although cholera was a bigger threat than dysentery), and along with hunting accidents, they claimed the lives of one out of every ten travelers.

So, when The Oregon Trail depicts the trek west as a hard and potentially fatal journey, it's pretty accurate. According to historians, the game also does a pretty good job depicting the differences between different social classes (yes, bankers would've had an easier trip than farmers) and the role that hostile Native Americans played on the trip (not much of one, as it turns out).

The Oregon Trail doesn't get everything right, however. You couldn't really gun down thousands of pounds of animal meat in one hunting trip, mostly because the first people on the trail had already decimated the local wildlife population. Many people didn't have oxen, making the trip on foot, and almost everyone traveled in large wagon trains instead of going it alone. Finally, it wasn't absolutely hilarious when members of your party died grisly deaths and you gave them profane epitaphs. After all, on the real Oregon Trail, your friends and family didn't come back to life after the lunch bell rang.

All Ryse for the real queen of the Celts

Many critics slammed Xbox One launch title Ryse: Son of Rome for its basic and repetitive combat and its overuse of quick time events, but it turns out that an interesting premise isn't the only thing that Ryse's developers butchered — they took a sword to history, too. In Ryse, you play as Marius Titus, a Roman centurion who fights an army of Celtic rebels. Along the way, you'll defend the city of York, sword-stab the Roman emperor Nero, and capture King Oswald, the Celtic leader.

There's just one problem: Oswald never existed (Nero did, of course, although the fiddle playing he's famous for is easily debunked). The Celtic revolution was actually led by a woman named Boudica. When Boudica's husband Prasutagus died, Roman authorities moved in and took his land and belongings, then brutally abused Boudica and her daughters. Boudica vowed revenge, and spearheaded a revolt that ultimately took the lives of around 70,000 Romans and Roman allies.

Boudica appears in Ryse: Son of Rome, but she's portrayed as Oswald's daughter. In the game, Boudica also storms Rome itself and meets her demise when Marius cuts off her head. This is all made up. No one knows who Boudica's father is, her forces never left the British Isles, and she died by suicide, not in battle. At least the game got one thing right: in both Ryse and real-life, Boudica kicked lots of ass.

Space erased

In "Executive Order," Call of Duty: Black Ops' fourth mission, players must infiltrate a Soviet facility and destroy the Soyuz 2, dealing the U.S.S.R's space program a major blow. It's an exciting and fun level. It's also completely wrong. On October 25, 1968, the Soviets launched the unmanned Soyuz 2 spacecraft. Everything was fine. In fact, the launch went so well that the Soviets launched the Soyuz 3 the next day, and while overall mission failed — despite his best efforts, the cosmonaut on board the Soyuz 3 didn't end up docking with the Soyuz 2 — nothing exploded.

Now, a little earlier, a Soyuz rocket failed, but that had nothing to do with saboteurs. Before launch, an inspection revealed a whopping 203 structural problems with the Soyuz 1 rocket. The Soviets went forward anyway. Allegedly, everyone was too scared to tell Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev that the launch should be postponed. Naturally, the Soyuz ran into problems immediately and was recalled to Earth, but the parachute failed on re-entry. The craft fell from the atmosphere and slammed into the ground, and cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov earned his place in history as the space race's first official victim.

Some real baller moves

According to Koei Tecmo, Guo Jia is fans' favorite Dynasty Warriors character. It's easy to see why. The commander and master strategist has been a series mainstay since Dynasty Warriors 4, and made his playable debut in Dynasty Warriors 7: Xtreme Legends. In the games, Guo Jia is handsome, playful, and charming, while his weapons — a scepter and some brightly colored floating orbs — certainly help him stand out among Dynasty Warriors' varied and extensive cast.

But in reality, the real Guo Jia wasn't much of a fighter, and he certainly didn't use flying spheres to decimate his enemies. He relied almost entirely on his mind. As advisor to Cao Cao, a warlord best remembered for his ruthless political machinations, Guo Jia helped his leader take down rival Lü Bu. He encouraged Cao Cao to sow dissent between rival brothers Yuan Shang and Yuan Tang, which ultimately made both easier to defeat in battle. According to historical sources, the real Guo Jia wasn't all that likable, either. He was a snob who looked down on uneducated commoners, and made many enemies, including the well-liked warlord Sun Ce.

Of course, the main source of information about Guo Jia's life, the wildly popular 14th-century novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, is full of folklore, urban legends, and out-right fabrications, so who knows? Maybe Koei Tecmo knows something we don't. Maybe Guo Jia really did throw balls at his enemies. However, given what we know about history — and, like, everyday physics — we're gonna say probably not.

Going, going, Gandhi

"Nonviolence is a weapon of the strong."

Gandhi said that. You know what else he said? "I believe that nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence," and "a rifle this hand will never fire."

Do those sound like the words of a man who's eagerly waiting to pull the trigger on nuclear weapons? Uh, no. But you wouldn't know it from playing Sid Meier's seminal strategy game Civilization or its sequels. Every one of them all depicts the Indian civil rights leader and the world's most famous pacifist as a nuke-happy warmonger. Gandhi was Civilization's go-to bomb dropper when the franchise debuted in 1991, and he's stayed that way up through the most recent installment in the series, Civilization VI.

At this point, "Nuclear Gandhi" has become a running gag among Civilization fans, but it didn't start that way. Originally, Gandhi's love of all things nuclear was a simple bug. In the first Civilization, characters had numeric ratings for various personality traits, including "aggression." Gandhi, a pacifist, had an aggression rating of one, the lowest possible score.

However, when Gandhi adopted democracy, the game lowered his aggression by two more points. Because Civilization's stats system didn't support negative numbers, the attribute looped back around to its highest possible value as a result, making Gandhi super-hostile. The developers thought it was funny (because nuclear war is always a great source of comedy), and Gandhi's nuclear ambitions have been a franchise staple ever since.

You (can't) see LA

L.A. Noire's big selling point was the MotionScan motion capture system, but that wasn't Team Bodi's only attempt at giving the game an unparalleled sense of realism. The developer also tried creating the most accurate depiction of 1940s Los Angeles ever. They consulted real city maps to ensure the city's layout was authentic, and used aerial photographs to recreate contemporary buildings, cars, fashions, and traffic patterns.

And yet, during the day, L.A. Noire's sky is powder blue. If you've ever spent a balmy summer day in the real Los Angeles, you know that's wrong. Los Angeles is filled with smog, as Angelinos are reminded every time that they set foot outdoors.

Don't blame the time period for this inaccuracy, either. In fact, in recent years, Los Angeles' smog problem has actually seen considerable improvement. In the '40s, however, its skies were a mess. In 1943, smog's sudden appearance made Los Angeles residents think that they'd been gassed by the Japanese. In 1947, the year L.A. Noire takes place, things got so bad that the California governor created the Air Pollution Control District. In 1955, a mere eight years later, Los Angeles suffered its smoggiest day ever. L.A. Noire might deliver some of the most realistic facial expressions in video game history, but when it comes to pollution? Eh, not so much.

Domesticated violence

Nobody remembers what it was like back in the Mesolithic era, but that didn't stop Ubisoft Montreal from doing its best to recapture humankind's caveman days in Far Cry Primal. All of the game's music was recorded with instruments made out of materials that would've been available at the time. During production, Ubisoft recruited linguists who invented in-game languages based on actual Proto-Indo-European speech.

However, early humans couldn't learn the whereabouts of rival tribes using owls, for example, and they certainly didn't ride prehistoric beasts into battle. In fact, the domestication of most critters occurred many thousands of years after the Wenja tribe's heydey. Humans kept dogs as pets as early as 15,000 years ago, while herding animals like sheep and goats entered our day-to-day lives around 11,000 years in the past.

Other animals, however, came later. It's not clear when horses became a popular mode of transportation, but it happened somewhere between 6,000 and 3,000 years ago — and nobody's sure if that was before or after they were used as pack animals.  Even today, only a couple of people in the world can ride around on bears, and that's only after years of training specific animals. So when Takkar charges into battle on top of a black bear or a saber tooth tiger, it's pure fantasy. 

But it does look really cool! Worth it! Take that, history!

The race for realism

Kingdom Come: Deliverance's big hook is that it's a "historically accurate" medieval role-playing game. That means, while you'll still be choosing a character class wielding weapons like swords, spears, and daggers, you won't find any magic spells, mysterious prophecies, or unnatural beasts. Kingdom Come plays things as close to reality as possible.

Or does it? Many critics aren't so sure. See, in addition to dragons, ogres, and wizards, Kingdom Come: Deliverance also shuns characters of color. Given that historical "whitewashing" is a major concern in this day and age, you can see why this might be a problem. It doesn't help that Kingdom Come: Deliverance's director, Daniel Vávra, is heavily involved in the GamerGate scene, which many perceive consider a misogynist, racist, and xenophobic community. While promoting Kingdom Come: Deliverance, Vávra famously claimed that "there were no black people in medieval Bohemia," and used historical accuracy as justification for excluding them from his game (women and foreigners don't come off so well in the game, either).

Of course, there were Moors in medieval Europe, and evidence suggests that some of them might've found their way to Bohemia. Not many, but some. Combine that with the controversial comments Vávra's social media feed (as well as observations from a number of Kingdom Come fans who celebrate the game's all-white cast as a strike against so-called "social justice warriors"), and it's hard not to draw the conclusion that historical accuracy is a smokescreen for some good, old-fashioned prejudice.

Check, call, raise, or centerfold

The first Mafia is a grounded, more realistic take on Grand Theft Auto-style crime simulators. The second Mafia says "&@#$ that!" and goes all-out to be as raunchy as possible. It holds the world record for the most profanity in a single game. One of the game's biggest selling points was Take Two's partnership with Playboy, which let Mafia II players collect vintage magazines and centerfolds from the classic men's magazine.

That's fun, especially if you're 13 years old and haven't figured out how to get around your PC's parental controls yet, but there's one big problem: Mafia II takes place between 1943 and 1951. That's before the first issue of Playboy hit newsstands. Hugh Hefner published Playboy #1, which featured nude pictures of Marilyn Monroe, in 1953. Notably, Monroe never agreed to appear in the magazine — she posed for the infamous photos early in her career for a mere $50, when she was desperate for cash. Later, when Monroe was more famous, Hefner picked up a couple of the shots for $500. Monroe never received a cent from Hefner, and the two never met.

Basically, there's no way that Mafia II's pervy hero Vito could've collected a single issue of Playboy, to say nothing of 50 of them. They didn't exist yet. Is it a good marketing stunt? Sure. Is it historically accurate? Fuggetaboutit.

Casual about casualties

In real life, war isn't very much fun. So, how did the folks at Electronic Arts and DICE make Battlefield 1, which is set during one of the bloodiest and most brutal conflicts in human history, a good way to kick back, relieve some stress, and have some good time? It's simple: they just downplayed The Great War's human cost in order to give players a fun, exciting experience.

"It's supposed to be fun first so, of course, we're going to take some creative liberties where we can," DICE senior producer Aleksander Grøndal tells VICE. For Grøndal and his team, that mean dialing World War I's carnage way, way back. In the actual war, 8.5 million soldiers were killed and another 21 million wounded. Chemical weapons made their big debut, decimating troops in seconds and poisoning nearby civilians. Turkish nationalists used the war as a pretext for genocide, murdering 1.5 million Armenians. All that, and we haven't even discussed the mental toll that WWI took on the survivors. Look, they're called the Lost Generation for a reason.

That's all gruesome stuff, and it's just the tip of the iceberg. Instead of dealing with it, DICE decided to ignore it. "There's horrors here that we don't necessarily don't want to dive to deep into," Grøndal says. "So we've picked out some of the youthfulness and the adventurous and the hopefulness of this." That's not the only change that Battlefield 1 makes to history in favor of gameplay, of course, but it's the biggest — and by far the most disrespectful.

A battle so nice we played it twice

1942 is one of the most beloved and influential arcade games of all time. So, a sequel was inevitable. 1943: The Battle of Midway launched in 1987, three years after the original. By all indications, 1943 is bigger and better than the original, with bosses, a more robust continue system, and co-op gameplay.

We're not so sure where Capcom got that title, however. The "1943" makes sense. That's just 1942 plus one. It's the "Battle of Midway" part that's got us confused. See, the Battle of Midway actually took place in, well, 1942. It's a major piece of World War II history, too. Before the battle, the United States' forces were able to intercept Japanese battle plans and ambushed Japan's forces as the eastern country attempted to finish off the remnants of the American fleet. Instead of destroying the American navy, Japan suffered a decisive defeat, allowing the US and its allies to gain the upper hand in the Pacific theater.

The Battle of Midway is even featured in the first, correctly titled 1942, and its unnecessary and totally inaccurate reappearance in the sequel remains a mystery. 1943 doesn't have much of a plot, of course, so it's not a big deal. It's just weird.