The Total War video game series by developer Creative Assembly has always had an issue of taking cool, but rare or suspect moments of history and making them gameplay features, whether it be the Pictish stealth catapults in Total War: Rome II, the ninja troops in Total War: Shogun 2, or the flaming pig units all the way back in Rome: Total War (of course, not mentioning the historical issues of the game series being called "Total War" when it has never once portrayed an era where total war existed, the concept having been invented during WWI, significantly later than even the latest entry in the Total War series). However, there has been one thing that the Total War series has always gotten right in their historical games: History is not about individuals. Despite this, something rubbed me the wrong way about their upcoming game, Total War: Three Kingdoms, and the way it portrays history. Three Kingdoms is putting a heavier emphasis on individual people from history than any installment before, bringing to mind the Total War: Warhammer games more so than the previous historical games. The problem is that Warhammer is a franchise that focuses on mythical storytelling, allowing individuals to be more influential than the masses, but this is not how the past happened. The past is a mess of factors that no one person could shift on their own. History is how we talk about or portray the past, and it needs to be as accurate as possible. As far as video games go, of course, accuracy is not a necessity. Getting deep into the details of history can often interfere with gameplay, and there’s no way to program every conceivable historical influence into a game, especially when we don’t know them all. However, the Total War series has existed for 19 years at the time of this writing, and they are only now adding this “great man” history to their game. Not only that, they have added a game mode that turns the great men into legends, allowing them to fight whole units on their own, soak up hundreds of attacks, and turn the tide of a battle by merely winning a duel, an uncommon practice in China during the period of the Three Kingdoms.
In Montana’s pre-Columbian history, there was a tradition of young boys and girls realizing that they were two-spirit and entering a new style of life which they felt better represented them. The two-spirit are a third gender with a variety of names, two-spirit being a modern pan-Indian term to replace the problematic previous anthropological term berdache, which derives from the Arabic word for eunuch slaves, which obviously carries an offensive connotation to the two-spirit. Two-spirit individuals would be born one gender, and once they realized their true nature, they would take up some or all of the responsibilities of the opposite gender. This meant that two-spirit would inhabit interesting and often important roles within their tribe. Unfortunately, as Western powers encroached on Native lands, they were disgusted by the two-spirit and repressed them, arresting them with little cause, writing poorly of them—often lying—and teaching the children of Native tribes that two-spirit were immoral. This repression caused a decline in two-spirit numbers, and many tribes lost their two-spirit community entirely. However, in the modern era there has been a resurgence of two-spirit individuals who are attempting to do activism in order to gain (or regain) acceptance, both in Native and non-Native communities.
In my ongoing quest to bring under appreciated films to light, I've decided to highlight a film that is not as interesting for its merits as a film, but for the way that it can be used to view the era and culture in which it was made. Said film is the 1965 movie The East Is Red, which is actually more of a recording of a stage musical—or “song and dance epic” as they describe it—with a few shots in the beginning of the surrounding city and a large crowd of people coming in to watch the play.
In the early days of Soviet film there was a great art film boom, led by a large variety of directors. Vsevolod Pudovkin, Sergei Eisenstein, Lev Kuleshov, Dziga Vertov, and many others released film after film that were each wonderful examples of the medium. Unfortunately, a lot of these fantastic films (as well as other great films from around the world) were and remain underappreciated, something that I aim to change. One such film was Lev Kuleshov’s first comedy, The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks, in which Pudovkin wrote, acted, and provided art direction. It was released in 1924, and at only 94 minutes, was a relatively short silent film.
The Japanese, through the Matsumae family, traded heavily with the indigenous Ainu people of Hokkaido, the island just north of mainland Japan, during the unification period, a very lucrative time for both sides. However, by the end of the Tokugawa period, this trade had turned into colonization. Over time the Japanese turned trade into political power, undermining the authority of the Ainu chiefs. When the Ainu fought back, the Japanese easily put them down via military action and embargo. By the time the Tokugawa took over Hokkaido, the Japanese were already nearly in control of the Ainu, economically, culturally, and militarily. This slow progression of control is reminiscent of many instances of colonization and imperialism in the West, something that the Japanese were barely experienced with at this point. Developing dependency, unequal treaties, and taking land slowly through minor conflicts make up a style of imperialism that is generally considered a Western approach, and yet the Japan came up with it independently.