For Honor wants to evoke a 'fantasy of history,' not worry about whether it's accurate

August 17, 2016 by Kris Ligman

'It's not a historical game. It's not our world and it's not alt-history. You want to have a black Viking? Knock yourself out.'

One of the more irritating (and patently untrue) refrains to defend the lack of racial and gender diversity in many fantasy games is that such diversity would not be "historically accurate." Nevermind that these games often feature similarly ahistorical elements (like, oh, say, dragons), having a woman of color running around would just ruin the immersion.

So it's refreshing to hear that Jason VandenBerghe, director on upcoming Ubisoft hack-and-slash For Honor, doesn't care for the "historical accuracy" line one bit. Speaking with GameSpot, VandenBerghe confirms that the game will allow for a variety of player customization and two genders in each of the three factions, historical prevalence be damned.

"It's not a historical game. It's not our world and it's not alt-history. It's like you've gone through the looking glass, and now we're on the other side," says VandenBerghe. "We're trying to evoke your fantasy of history, right? We're trying to go, 'See, this is what you wished it had been like.' That's how we're trying to do it. it's wonderland. Warrior wonderland."

The basic premise of For Honor sees trained fighters from three cultures -- the Vikings, Western European knights, and Japanese samurai -- as contemporaries warring over world domination. The concept already takes a lot of liberties with time, location, and social structure ("Of course the Viking's never made castles. That didn't happen, and so we were like, 'well, fuck it, yes they did.'"), so further playing around with race in gender seemed like a matter of course for the development team.

This game isn't about us creating characters and imposing them on you. This game is about you. And so what kind of warrior are you, right? You can change the skin color of your Vikings, too. You want to have a black Viking? Knock yourself out. [...] Each faction has four heroes each. In each faction there are two heroes that are dual gender, male or female, and then there's one hero that is male only and one hero that is female only, for all 12, so it's 50/50 all the way across.

That's all well and good, but numbers in themselves don't mean that the representation will be meaningful or sensitive. However, on the order of race and culture at least, VandenBerghe is adamant that For Honor has done its homework.

"We're also trying to be sure we have Japanese people on the team and we're collaborating with Ubisoft Japan to make sure that we don't make any of the obvious mistakes" in representing the samurai, VandenBerghe explains, while proceeding to note that in terms of aesthetics, it was more important to the team to capture the spirit of its historical warriors, rather than accurately replicating armor and weaponry. "The same thing with the [Viking] horns. Even though the horns are made-up culture, still we expect to see them, so we see them."

A female samurai warrior character model for For Honor, via The Verge. An onna-bugeisha ('female samurai') warrior character model for For Honor (via texture artist Tomasz Zaborek).

Let's not make the mistake of pretending representation, by itself, is a be-all end-all for diversity in games, of course. It matters how these characters are treated in context as well, and that's something we won't have a firm grasp of until For Honor is in our hot little hands next year.

One thing is clear, though: For Honor is one title that absolutely isn't buying the "historical accuracy" argument, and that's an attitude fantasy games could stand to see more of.

For Honor is due out February 14th, 2017 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.

(h/t GameSpot, Gamasutra.)