By Daniel Ottalini
Every great writer takes influence and ideas from their surroundings. Nature, society, repression, upheaval, relationships, food – they all play a role in building or creating art and literature. Need Proof? (See War and Peace). For writers of Alternate History, Steampunk, or alternative worlds, where is our guidance, our focus, our tree of knowledge?Certainly, the great author Jules Verne, the enthusiastic enlightenment (and darker side) of the English Victorian era, the rugged styling of the American Wild West, all play a part. But within those come predictable, static ideas in some ways, a lack of new frontiers. I have heard complaints before, even written about them, about Steampunk being so West centric that it excludes such an incredible variety of other cultures. How can you, as an author, delve deeper into the ‘what ifs?’ and create a storyline of you own?
Simple. Lead that culture (technologically and metaphorically speaking, of course), through one of these thought provoking and challenging video games. Some of which you’ve heard, and others you may not have.
In Personal Favorite Order
Total War: Rome 2– Great game, one of many in the Total war series – Take a nation/culture from beginnings to world power. Lots of Mods as well, to enhance or modify your experience. Total War is unique in that it offers both civilization building/city construction component and a Real Time Strategy combat component. Excellent, waste-all-your-weekend without your knowledge game. Lends itself well to battle scene writing, as well as overall story planning.
Sid Meier’s Civilization V– The game that started my love of country and computer nation building simulation. (Well, to be honest, it was Civilization II, not V, but that’s just dating my young self). Cultures have different abilities, less RTS, as Civ is turn based, but incorporating religion, trade, technology, even tourism and unique civilization units and buildings in the most recent DLCs. Great game to practice ‘what-ifs’ – as in, What if the Brazilians embraced Orthodox Christianity and proceeded to crusade against all their Catholic neighbors?
Europa Universalis IV– Was slightly apprehensive to play this after already playing Crusader Kings 2. Paradox makes a great game with a complicated and wondrous system, but I was thinking it would be more of the same. Similar, yes, but the same? No. This is an amazing Alternate History game. No winners, unless you count taking your nation to prosperity starting in the late 1400s. Just left playing a game where the Ottomans conquered the Byzantines, were then counter invaded by a crusade of Spanish and Bosnians, who forced the Ottomans to release the Byzantines as a freed country, to survive and exist and eventually conquer all of Greece and the Balkans. Seriously, you can’t make that stuff up, but it happened. Without human input. Simply goes to show you how useful such a great game can be. (Who did I play? The Scottish, who annexed Ireland, Wales, and is in the process of forcing the English back into the ocean… Oh, and I’ve colonized most of NE Canada and the USA.) Good for post middle ages, but pre-WWI, Napoleonic Era.
Crusader Kings II– Another Paradox game, similar to the gameplay found in Europa Universalis. Political intrigue, fabricating claims, building alliances, royal marriages, plus character traits that really impact your ‘persona’ in game. Once played as a dwarf king (as in small person, not fantasy) who was both lecherous and chaste at the same time. Not sure how that happens. Good for some interesting character combinations, and learning more about the complexity of the political system in Europe during the middle ages. (Game starts with the Norman invasion of England)
So what to learn from all of these? Sometimes, the best stories or ideas come by accident. Video Games, with their advanced computer programming, provide a companion to your own imagination and creativity. Even in my own novella, Roma Aeronautica, I used some ideas or concepts from video games such as Assassins Creed and even board games! So keep your eyes open, and your author’s senses tingling.