As Kingdom Come: Deliverance comes under fire for its lack of diversity, Rick Lane ponders the question of historical authenticity
Last month I reviewed Kingdom Come: Deliverance, a medieval RPG designed to authentically portray an area of 15 th century Bohemia. I enjoyed its picturesque scenery and interesting systems design, but the game also launched under a cloud of controversy due to the past statements and actions of the head of Warhorse Studios, Daniel Vavra.
Vavra is a game industry veteran who also made the 2003 open-world game Mafia, making him a celebrated figure within the Czech Republic. However, Vavra caused outrage when, in reference to Deliverance’ s representation of ethnic minorities, he stated on Twitter that ‘ there were no black people in medieval Bohemia. Period’.
Vavra’s comments received widespread condemnation, with many people calling him a racist and white sup re mac ist.Vav ra subsequently issued a statement, in which he vehemently denied accusations of Nazism. He maintained, however, that War horse’ s research into medieval Bohemia concluded that it was ‘more than doubtful’black people resided in the area at the time.
The situation raises thorny issues about the separability of art and artist, authenticity, and how we view and portray European history, which is often far more diverse than we assume. African people visited Britain as early as the 1 st century AD as part of the Roman legions, while southern Spain was a Muslim caliphate for over 700 years. Trade, meanwhile, has brought people across the Mediterranean at least since the days of the ancient Greeks, while the Silk Roads have spread through Asia and Europe for hundreds if not thousands of years.
Deliverance is set in 1403, in a small patch of Czech countryside about 50km away from Prague. The towns and villages it represents, such as Rattay and Sasau, are real places you can visit today. Prague was also a major trade hub and thorough fare to Eastern Europe and Asia, so it would have experienced considerable cultural diversity, and it’ s possible that people from Africa visited or even resided there in the 15th century.
Deliverance, however, doesn’t feature Prague. Its setting is largely rural, situated some distance away from the main trading hubs, and specific evidence for black people in that area in 1403 does appear to be thin on the ground. S as au is the location of a large medieval monastery, whose monks would likely have recorded the visit of anyone from as far away as Africa. The game is also set during wartime, specifically when Sigismund of Hungary was sending bands of Cum an( Turkish) mercenaries to raid the homes of supporters of King W enc es la us IV of Bohemia – a prelude to the later Hussite Wars. As a result, it’ s unlikely that many people foreign to the area would visit unless absolutely necessary.
Hence, War horse’ s assertion that it’ s‘ doubtful’ black people would have been in that specific area of Bohemia at the time isn’t entirely unreasonable. Doubtful isn’t the same as certain, though, and that’s what we should consider when playing Deliverance or, indeed, any game that claims historical authenticity. Our understanding of the pastis in constant flux on account of newly uncovered evidence, new interpretations of existing evidence, and the beliefs and ideas of individual historians and a culture as a whole.
Deliverance presents us with a very detailed and highly orthodox interpretation of medieval life, which wholly accepts many of the conventional understandings of that particular era. The game isn’t necessarily wrong to do so but, crucially, it also doesn’ t mean we should take the game’ s representation of the medieval era as incontrovertible fact.