The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Glaives, pikes, bardiches, halberds, partisans, spears, picks and lances. Javelins, arbalests, crossbows, longbows, claymores, zweih nder, broadswords and falchions. Flails, clubs, morning stars, maces, war hammers, battle axes and, of course, longswords. If you ever played a fantasy RPG or one of many historically-themed action or strategy games, you'll already be familiar with an impressive array of medieval weaponry. The medieval arsenal has had an enormous impact on games since their early days, and their ubiquity makes them seem like a natural, fundamental part of many virtual worlds.
These items are based on real weapons that have maimed and killed countless real people over the centuries, but even though we're aware of this, medieval weapons have become estranged and distant from their roots in history. Part of this is our short memory; the passing of a few centuries is enough to blunt any relic's sense of reality. Another reason is they were made a staple of genre fiction. In our modern imagination, the blade has become firmly lodged in the rocks of fantasy fiction and historical drama, and no-one will be able to pull it free entirely.
Today, these weapons have been refashioned to serve our very modern fantasies of power, freedom and heroism. There's the irresistible figure of the hero-cum-adventurer who sets out to forge their own path. From Diablo and Baldur's Gate to The Witcher and Skyrim, the fundamental logic of violence stays the same. Battles lead to loot and stronger equipment, which in turn allows our heroes to tackle more dangerous encounters. The wheel keeps turning, and we follow the siren song of ever more powerful instruments of destruction. On the surface, they're problem solving tools, but they also promise the excitement of adventure as well as the power to dominate and enforce our will on those fantasy realms. As such, they become fetishised. Extravagant visual detail and special effects signal a weapon's rarity and power, turning them into ornaments and status symbols.

While the actual violence in such fantasies is often justified by a struggle of good versus evil, the resulting gore and savagery has also captured our imagination. Most games, even mainstream RPGs like Skyrim or The Witcher 3, can't resist indulging in an aesthetic of cruelty and barbarism by showing us the grisly devastation caused by these instruments of murder. Blood spurting from wounds and clinging on blades, heads and arms being hacked off and tumbling through the air, special killing and execution animations captured in glorious slow-motion. Their gruesomeness markedly contrasts with the sanitised, often bloodless effects of modern guns as portrayed in games, disingenuously suggesting that modern violence and warfare is somehow more civilised than that of our ancestors.

Games like For Honor, Mount & Blade, Chivalry or War of the Roses celebrate medieval slaughter with grim nihilism as we hack and slash ourselves through hordes of enemies entirely without any ethical justification. Might makes right, and the means justify the end. The same can be said about the brutal spectacle of the Total War games, whose hordes of clashing soldiers tickle some deep-seated proto-fascist lust for demonstrations of power. These games paint a "grim and gritty" picture of historical violence, the "dark ages" of popular imagination. They're a half-leering, half-wistful gaze into a fantasy version of the past when the destructive urges of our collective Id have not yet been tamed by civilisation and violence was not yet regulated by the moral codes and laws of pervasive state power. In that regard, the butcher and the heroic adventurer use their weapons to pursue the same fantasy: unfettered will and agency, the freedom to follow your impulses regardless of their consequences.

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