A trailer of the video game was presented at the last PlayStation event God of War: Ragnarok, the next installment of the saga, as well as several illustrations of the new characters. In general, the acceptance was positive, but two designs provoked criticism from some players: that of the giant Angrboda, for being black; and Thor’s, away from the athletic blonde stereotype created by Marvel. Almost all the critics agreed on one point: that the protagonists “were not faithful” to Norse mythology. However, the problem has little to do with historical accuracy.
Similar cases have occurred, and they are not exclusive to the world of video games: when the muscular physique of Abby, a character from The Last of Us Part II, it was not credible either. When the controversy broke out with Battlefield v for showing a woman fighting in World War II. When it was announced that actress Halle Bailey would be the new Ariel. Or when they revealed that the fairy godmother in Cinderella would be played by Billy Porter. It does not even matter that they are cultural products based on real historical events or fictional stories: the script only bothers when instead of the canon diversity is chosen.
“What is happening is that he is breaking with an idea of his past that justifies his present. With this Thor elements that the player already brings from home are activated: they can be ideological or political biases that you relate to a historical appreciation that you have told yourself according to your preferences, “explains Alberto Venegas, doctor in history, director of the video game page Presura and author of the book Interactive past. Memory and history in the video game (Sans Soleil editions).
Mikel Herrán, archaeologist and popularizer, agrees on his YouTube channel: “The problem is not so much the reliability as that these new values can offend some images that we have inherited, because in this case the Viking is very suitable for an image of masculinity or white supremacy.”
In fact, as Mikel himself observed in one of his most popular videos, A large part of the characteristics that are attributed to the Nordic peoples today are heirs of the so-called Viking renaissance of the 19th century, a time in which the superiority of a Nordic-Germanic race tried to justify itself on the basis of genealogical arguments. The influence also drinks from the Icelandic Sagas, a compendium of texts written by the clergy in the thirteenth century and that, above all, have a literary sense from a Catholic prism. Thus the Manichean tale of “the savages of the north” was forged.
It then becomes what Venegas defines in his book as a turn back: “They are facts, objects and ideas that appear regularly repeated in the mass media and that tend to evoke a complete historical moment.” That is why it does not matter which in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey Mix historical periods of Ancient Egypt, but offer all the ingredients of your imagination: pyramids, effigies or pharaohs. As the historian adds, “in the end, what this mass culture offers are references and places to look at. If we look at Chris Hemsworth from the Marvel movies and suddenly this Thor appears, you think there is something strange. That illusion of identification with the past “. And it also breaks, according to Herrán, “a canon of beauty and an ideal of power of how a male body should look to which we continue to associate specific values, such as strength or virility.”
Precisely, one of the ways to combat the formation of backslides is to use history: data that demonstrate the authenticity or not of the events that are narrated. Hence, experts in the field, such as the historian Laia San José Beltrán, decided to counter-argue the critics of the new god of thunder by providing reliable data to demonstrate the diversity of the representation of deities throughout history. Others, such as the game’s narrative developer, appeared to clarify that Angrboda’s character clarifying that he is a fictional universe . Even a weightlifting champion entered the debate, explaining in detail why Thor’s look is also a representation of force. But what use is it?
As pointed out the journalist Marta Trivi in Anait, a media specialized in video games, conflicts over the representation of non-canonical bodies and racial inclusion in video games are not new and discussing them can have the opposite effect. “With this type of comments the most ‘conservative’ players not only introduce an idea as valid and worthy of discussion, but also indicate to other intolerant that in the video game community there is room for racism, misogyny and fat phobia, among other issues, “he considers. And this is how dozens of articles fall into the trap: they give voice to anonymous opinion-makers, sometimes even if these are a minority, they make the representation of diversity an object of debate. So what is the solution?
“We must do it, because to begin with, it is one of the historian’s jobs to criticize the uses of the past that are made in the present. In that sense, I think it is more interesting to appeal to ‘why it happens’ than to ‘what has happened’ “, says Venegas. Mikel Herrán is in the same line, who is committed to approaching the issue from what he considers “the root of the problem.” “You don’t have to think about what is the answer to the question from the naysayers, but rather why they ask that question. Why do we suddenly have to look for evidence so as not to offend the sensibilities of some players because someone is fat or black? nobody bothered him God of war when the game did not give a damn about Greek mythology “, appreciates the archaeologist.
Venegas believes that, in addition, “the more diverse a medium is, the more you help other people to be reflected”. It is precisely the bet of cultural products such as Spider-Man: A New Universe, which in front of the exclusivity and the ‘otherness’ of the superhero in contemporary cinema proposes diversity: anyone can be the Wall-crawler, it does not matter if he was born in the New York neighborhood of Harlem or if he comes from a dimension in which pigs can talk. “In the video game, apart from exceptional cases, there are always the same protagonists, the same plots and the same violence as a catalyst for problems. That is why it is important that there are more references,” says the historian.