Video Games and Ancient Egypt: We've Barely Cracked the Sarcophagus

Video Games and Ancient Egypt: We've Barely Cracked the Sarcophagus

Ancient Egypt has almost 3000 years of history, conflict and drama to draw on. So why, we wonder, is it such a neglected era in video games?

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If you are dealing with new kingdom Egypt there is the issue of Israel. Anything that shows Israel is going lose sales in the middle east, http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/05/middle-east-atlas-israel-anger. Also as can be seen from recent events in Paris, there are even greater risks.

If you go back to the middle or old kingdom, the enemies are not very well known. The number of people that can name the Hyksos is very few. Nubia has bunch of thorny issues on it own.

I absolutely love this article. I felt very much the same way growing up. I was fortunate to see Tutenkhamon as he was traveling around the US when I was 3 or 4 and I have loved Egyptology ever since. Pharaoh still remains one of my favorite games though I would love a version when modern sensibilities. The controls were a little awkward and the AI a little stupid, to the point where I called the game "like lemmings in Egypt" But I played it and the Cleopatra expansion for hours. While it is never implicitly stated, the game 7 Grand Steps seems to be set in Egypt and it is also very good and evocative of life during that era.

Assassin's Creed Egypt (or feudal Japan) might be enough to get me back into buying those games.

albino boo:
If you are dealing with new kingdom Egypt there is the issue of Israel.

You can gloss over it, though. The Egyptians themselves certainly did; IIRC the grand events of the Torah/Bible merited something along the lines of "some slaves left that year" in the Egyptian record, and even that's rather more an assumption than strictly a correlation.

Pyrian:

albino boo:
If you are dealing with new kingdom Egypt there is the issue of Israel.

You can gloss over it, though. The Egyptians themselves certainly did; IIRC the grand events of the Torah/Bible merited something along the lines of "some slaves left that year" in the Egyptian record, and even that's rather more an assumption than strictly a correlation.

Its not just exodus that is the issue. From the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merneptah_Stele we know that there was someone called the Isrealits around in 1200 BC. Certainly when you get into the 21st dynasty and later when historical Israel with Jerusalem as it capital comes into being you can't gloss over it. You can not use New Kingdom Egypt and later as a setting and pretend Israel didn't exist

Glad you liked Egypt so much, but you really didn't tell us anything about the game.

albino boo:
If you are dealing with new kingdom Egypt there is the issue of Israel. Anything that shows Israel is going lose sales in the middle east, http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/05/middle-east-atlas-israel-anger. Also as can be seen from recent events in Paris, there are even greater risks.

Featuring ancient Israel in games haven't been a huge issue in the past. The original Assassin's Creed made it one of its feature location, during the Crusades of all times.

albino boo:
If you go back to the middle or old kingdom, the enemies are not very well known. The number of people that can name the Hyksos is very few. Nubia has bunch of thorny issues on it own.

You can blame the ancient Egyptians for that one. They had a habit of destroying historical records about their enemies and anything that put them in bad light.

Captcha: Media Frenzy.
Somehow it always stays topical, like a late night show host.

Product Placement:
Glad you liked Egypt so much, but you really didn't tell us anything about the game.

albino boo:
If you are dealing with new kingdom Egypt there is the issue of Israel. Anything that shows Israel is going lose sales in the middle east, http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/05/middle-east-atlas-israel-anger. Also as can be seen from recent events in Paris, there are even greater risks.

Featuring ancient Israel in games haven't been a huge issue in the past. The original Assassin's Creed made it one of its feature location, during the Crusades of all times.

albino boo:
If you go back to the middle or old kingdom, the enemies are not very well known. The number of people that can name the Hyksos is very few. Nubia has bunch of thorny issues on it own.

You can blame the ancient Egyptians for that one. They had a habit of destroying historical records about their enemies and anything that put them in bad light.

Captcha: Media Frenzy.
Somehow it always stays topical, like a late night show host.

The review was last week
http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/video-games/goodoldreviews/12815-Good-Old-Reviews-Pharaoh

I would like to point out that Assians creed was not set in Israel. It was set in the crusader states in which the "Christians" in the form of the knights templar are the villains. This not the same as a jewish state with Jerusalem as its capital. They both occupy the same piece of geography but one is very much less political that the other.

albino boo:

Pyrian:

albino boo:
If you are dealing with new kingdom Egypt there is the issue of Israel.

You can gloss over it, though. The Egyptians themselves certainly did; IIRC the grand events of the Torah/Bible merited something along the lines of "some slaves left that year" in the Egyptian record, and even that's rather more an assumption than strictly a correlation.

Its not just exodus that is the issue.

It's the potentially big and internal issue, though. It would be difficult to feature Exodus and gloss over it. You could easily just not feature it, though.

albino boo:
From the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merneptah_Stele we know that there was someone called the Isrealits around in 1200 BC.

A single citation of some people vaguely named something sort of like Israel ("Isiriar"), about which nothing else is particularly correlated, centuries before the Kingdom of Israel itself even happened? You can gloss over that pretty easily, though I'm not sure why you'd need to.

albino boo:
Certainly when you get into the 21st dynasty and later when historical Israel with Jerusalem as it capital comes into being you can't gloss over it. You can not use New Kingdom Egypt and later as a setting and pretend Israel didn't exist

Wait, what? 21st dynasty is considered post New Kingdom. By the time Israel is solidly established, Egypt basically isn't; they've no longer got their heel on the Canaan region, and hadn't for some time.

Seriously, though, just stick with the Egyptian sources and this will never be an issue. The historic Israel is a brief and unconnected nearby blip against the multi-millenial antiquity of Egypt. You'd have to do some serious cherry picking to make it an issue.

This is a very weird, personal thing, but I've always hated playing games in a desert environment. Something about the beating sun, the desolation, the seeming endlessness... I just always hate it. I don't even mind deserts in real life, I've spent plenty of time in them. Just in games. Probably not a coincidence that I've stopped playing DA:I at the same time as the plot made me go to the desert area...

Having just read this article I've been reminded of a game I had on the amiga, so probably from around 1990-1993.

It was first person and you were some dude going into a pyramid to stop some sort of Pharaoh's curse/ancient prophecy that was going to destroy the world. The game over screen was something akin to the moon covering the sun and then shattering into little bits and showering the earth with chunks of moon.

Not much to go on I know, but it's really bugging me for some reason. Anyone got any ideas?

I've posted in the old games thread but I thought I'd ask here as well.

Shocksplicer:
This is a very weird, personal thing, but I've always hated playing games in a desert environment. Something about the beating sun, the desolation, the seeming endlessness... I just always hate it. I don't even mind deserts in real life, I've spent plenty of time in them. Just in games. Probably not a coincidence that I've stopped playing DA:I at the same time as the plot made me go to the desert area...

That's weird, I found the best part of the game to be roaming around the desert trying to get to all the shards. The rest of the game was boring.

I loved pharoh. I wonder if I still have it somewhere.

Pharaoh is the game that made me into a gamer. As in being part of a community of players, trading experiences, spending countless hours in my own virtual world. Me and my friends managed to install it on our school's computer room and we played it every break.

And the author is right. Ancient Egypt (all Antiquity, for that matter) is a sadly underexplored setting. Although...

As good as these games were however, they did little to make up for the game industry's overall failure to reach beyond the pop culture images that most people associate with Ancient Egypt. It's sad because the region has a 3000-year history that's so much richer than just mummies and the pyramids

This can be said of nearly every historical setting. Most 'historical' games focus on common-places ubiquitous to pop culture, coming especially from Hollywood. While there's always Paradox and a few others to make us happy, you're more likely to get dozens of iterations of 'iconic' moments than a taste of a rich, evolving civilization. And I don't blame the industry. Building pyramids surely beats digging holes in the sand.

Ancient history has the additional problem of sources, which can be extremely scarce, leading to a great deal of supposition and make-believe. Even Pharaoh handled historical change pretty badly: the world mostly remained the same across the ages, save for some buildings which were unavailable in certain maps.

Mmm...same reason why we don't make games based completely on sewer levels, or water temples.

The bottom line is that nobody wants to deal with the liberal outrage which would come from multiple directions. One of the big reasons why the ancient world gets skirted around so heavily is that it plays havoc with political ideologies that rely heavily on avoiding things that happened more than a few centuries ago.

The thing is that Egypt was heavily into keeping slaves, as were the empires that came before them. A big part of their mentality was discrimination against lighter skinned people, with what we would not call Europeans being pretty much the global whipping boys, the rude barbarians that were terrorized, enslaved, and exploited by the darker skinned peoples of the fertile crescent and the later empires of darker skinner mediterreneans [SP]. Simply put you saw these civilizations developing while the so called "white devil" was still existing in barbarity and being treated as a natural resource. To show thousands of years worth of oppression here sort of plays havoc with the whole anti-white/black empowerment/slavery guilt trip heaped used for politics nowadays as it shows the inconvenient truth that whites haven't "dominated" the world very long, were not in a position to practice slavery long, and arguably our big influence on slavery and human ownership has been trying to end it.

Basically if you have big dark skinned guys running around beating on white slaves, raping the women/concubines, killing them casually, and all of that other stuff it might be accurate but it's not going to play well to the audiences. What's more if your setting out to portray the culture trying to act like all the main characters were secretly modern anti-slavery liberals sort of defeats the purpose, especially when you consider these attitudes are so ingrained that even now we have problems with human trafficking in the region.

As a result you see deliberate attempts to white wash things to play down the ethnic controversy, and of course when it comes to women as well, you tend to see an effort spent on trying to re-tell the same stories of the exceptions that occurred to get around the attitudes about women as property which indeed still continue to some extent to this day.

Then of course there is the whole issue of those same great works and how they were accomplished. You've seen many theories about how such things could have been accomplished (benefitting from modern hindsight) but none of which account for everything. Entire books have been written about the Pyramids, The Sphinx, and everything else and tried to explain both how they were built and also why the same techniques (or versions of them) were not used elsewhere to achieve similar results in general construction. These range from people trying to reverse engineer things with low tech solutions, to making arguments about Aliens and various Paranormal or Supernatural explanations. The problem is further complicated by competing theories, potentially falsified evidence, and an Egyptian government which generally did not give a crap about any of this until fairly recently and mostly only cares nowadays because of the money involved. Egypt being the hypocrites who spent decades encouraging and leeching off of foreign interest and trying to attract expeditions since whether people carried off gold, mummies, etc... or not they spent tons of cash in the local economy just trying. Egypt having done things like falsifying hieroglyphs (which Europeans did as well), legends, maps, stories, etc... all in order to get universities to spend money. This not only makes Egyptian demands for the return of mummies, treasure, etc.. for "cultural reasons" after the fact when they encouraged this treasure hunting particularly hypocritical, but it also means a lot of the historical facts are ambigious due to all of the stuff the Egyptians created themselves to get the attention of early Egyptologists into their area. This means that even what people are sure of 100% one moment can be proven false later due to all the disinformation. This makes dealing with Egypt in particular difficult other than in the most general sense since the Rock Star Egyptologist of today can be tomorrow's total laughing stock.

The point I'm getting at is that while the trappings of "Hollywood Egypt" are cool, there are reasons why you don't see much done with it. The more detailed you need to get the more problems you run into both in terms of factual depictions, and concerns about political outrage from one perspective or another.

To be fair a lot of this also applies to why you don't see more done with Greece and Rome as well outside works of fantasy or focusing on very specific topics like military battles. It's easier to work with than Egypt, but when you go past some kind of "Sword and Sandals" flick or some cheezed up version of a myth it becomes progressively more difficult. The last big attempts we saw here were "Spartacus" on TV and of course HBO's "Rome".

That said there are rumors Angelina Jolie wants to take her turn at trying to do a "Cleopatra" movie, if that works better for her than other attempts you might see a period of Hollywood Glamour inspired by it again as people knock it off (or try). I imagine the more successful a work is the less they are going to actually care about the history though.

Risingblade:
Mmm...same reason why we don't make games based completely on sewer levels, or water temples.

Well to be fair making games set entirely within subway tunnels (Hellgate: London, Metro, Under Rail, etc...) doesn't seem uncommon, and that's similar to using a sewer as a setting (entirely man-made, underground tunnels).

It's not just ancient Egypt that's underrepresented. There's China, India, pre- Euro Central/South America and the rest of the Fertile Cresent.

One game that didn't get much press is Titan Quest which was set in ancient times in Greece, Egypt, The Silk Road and China. Even today it's still fairly unique given the abundance of RPG games set in a Western Europe themed setting.

Pyrian:

albino boo:
From the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merneptah_Stele we know that there was someone called the Isrealits around in 1200 BC.

A single citation of some people vaguely named something sort of like Israel ("Isiriar"), about which nothing else is particularly correlated, centuries before the Kingdom of Israel itself even happened? You can gloss over that pretty easily, though I'm not sure why you'd need to.

In fairness, it's easy to get confused about timing when all the dates involved are thousands of years old. You're right though - the most interesting period to make into a video game is the Late Bronze Age, ~1300-1200BC, which is centuries before Israel was a thing but late enough (post-Hyksos) that you could use the biblical names everyone recognizes to populate your NPCs.

Zykon TheLich:
Having just read this article I've been reminded of a game I had on the amiga, so probably from around 1990-1993.

It was first person and you were some dude going into a pyramid to stop some sort of Pharaoh's curse/ancient prophecy that was going to destroy the world. The game over screen was something akin to the moon covering the sun and then shattering into little bits and showering the earth with chunks of moon.

Not much to go on I know, but it's really bugging me for some reason. Anyone got any ideas?

I've posted in the old games thread but I thought I'd ask here as well.

Was it Total Eclipse??

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_Eclipse_%281988_video_game%29

Brad Tritone:

Was it Total Eclipse??

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_Eclipse_%281988_video_game%29

That's the one thanks. Should've remembered really, the gamer over screen essentially being the title.

I think it boils down to Egypt being associated with one of the top three slave events of the worlds: it causes friction in the immersion.

With all the games that reference the Norse gods though, even many of the Hindi gods, I would honestly like to see an adventure game that plays through the Egyptian Pantheon better than God of War.

 

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