Here’s a question: How do you get a bunch of disillusioned kids in the arse end of Scotland into real time strategy games? I doubt it’s a question the creators of Age of Empire 2 ever asked themselves but nonetheless, they provided a definitive answer. Now I can’t help but wonder as I play through the recently released Definitive Edition, are there games that could manage similar feats? Better ones?
The 90s in Scotland was a bit…rubbish. Especially in its deprived areas (poverty fell in the late 90s but in depressing statistics according to the CPAG, it seems to be once more on the rise once again). It was difficult to be surrounded by the remains of a post-industrial nation and feel any sense of pride or hope about the future or present, never mind the past. Then along came Braveheart. It might sound dumb to credit one film (made by Hollywood with an American fielding a questionable Scottish accent in the lead role) with a surge in national pride but, well, it absolutely did cause one. Scotland’s history, of outnumbered rebels fighting against English reign is easy to romanticise but it was also abstract for a load of folk. This over-the-top movie (whose historical inaccuracies are no better summed up than featuring the famed Battle of Stirling Bridge…with no bridge) made Scottish history tangible, emotional and inspiring. The fever that emerged among Scots following the film even had some English critics describing Braveheart as spreading “Anglophobia”. Point is, finally there was some easy sense of identity for young folk to latch on to. I cannot overstate how much this film was watched when I was growing up.
Then four years later along comes Age of Empires 2 with a campaign about the Scottish Wars of Independence. Another American production (from the now sadly defunct Ensemble Studios), it doesn’t take much to imagine that this was likely an inclusion entirely as a result of Braveheart’s success (it won five Oscars, including best picture) but the effect was surprising. See, a lot of kids my age didn’t have much time for video games beyond FIFA or whatever. Maybe some Tekken. Games were an occasional thing, not a hobby. See Age of Empires 2 though? You could play as the Scots. No video game lets you be Scottish. Even today if you wanna be Scottish in a video game your best hope is as a dwarven warrior in some fantasy RPG.