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The Portrayal Of Joan Of Arc In Age Of Empires II
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The Portrayal Of Joan Of Arc In Age Of Empires II

August 9, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

Mark Twain Meets Windows 98

"The English put her on trial as a heretic. Joan's mind was as sharp as her sword, and she avoided all of the cunning verbal traps of her prosecutors. In the end, Joan would not renounce her mission. The English found her guilty -- and burned her at the stake."

July 14: The Journal of Guy Josselyne (Age of Empires II)

It's established early on in the game that members of the Dauphin's court were out to defame Joan, perhaps out of jealousy of her influence with the future King of France. The story is told from the perspective of a fictitious soldier who is totally loyal to Joan and her cause, and as a result any of Joan's detractors are described as evil and selfish.

Because the man telling the game's story is also integrated into the story itself, there is no pretension of impartiality; anyone questioning Joan's motivations is immediately dismissed as immoral, and Joan can only be viewed through a lens clouded by admiration.

The game's narrator outright classifies the Dauphin's advisors as direct enemies to Joan. In the game's fifth mission -- titled "The Siege of Paris" -- players are told to expect reinforcements at the halfway point of their siege on Paris, but are instead greeted by one lowly cavalry unit, who informs the player that "we are all that the king could afford to send."

The prelude to this mission explains that "the king's evil advisors now seek to destroy Joan," and that "it is only a matter of time before they succeed in poisoning the king's mind." Players are then further directed toward the assumption that it's the conniving advisors who were behind the insultingly scarce "reinforcements" when a nameless French soldier declares "Treachery! The king's wicked advisors want to see Joan defamed... or worse!"

This focus on the king's advisor's as the source of Joan's woes most likely finds its roots in one of the primary sources that the Age of Empires II team referred to during development of the game: Mark Twain's literary biography of Joan, titled Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. Street, who wrote all of the dialogue in the campaign, called it his favorite source, even recommending it based purely on its merits as "a good book."

Fellow team member Sandy Petersen, a designer on the game (and later the lead designer on The Conqueror's expansion), also sang the praises of Twain's book, saying that he "recommend[s] Mark Twain's biography of Joan d'Arc to everyone."

Twain's biography spends a bit of time discussing the examination of Joan of Arc as a part of King Charles VII's effort to determine whether she was inspired by God or Satan. Twain asserts that after Joan spoke to the king, "his doubts were cleared away; he believed she was sent of God, and if he had been let alone he would have set her upon her great mission at once."

Twain goes on to note that the king's advisors were the ones to accuse Joan of Satanic inspiration. "Your Highness says her Voices have revealed to you, by her mouth, a secret known only to yourself and God," the advisors say to the king in Twain's book. "How can you know that her Voices are not of Satan, and she his mouthpiece? -- for does not Satan know the secrets of men and use his knowledge for the destruction of their souls?"

Twain wastes no time wondering if Joan truly has been inspired by Satan. Just like Guy Josselyne in Age of Kings, he admires Joan to a fault. The possibility of her being a witch is never considered; instead, the advisors who suggest that she may have impure motives are cast as snakes in the king's ear.

The aforementioned Inkvald Raknem offered criticism of Twain's take on Joan of Arc in his book, Joan of Arc in History, Legend and Literature. According to Raknem, Twain largely sticks to the facts in his presentation of Joan, but missteps by romanticizing her.

"Twain makes Joan a heroine of medieval romance, not by borrowing traits from others," argues Raknem, "but by casting her in the pattern of the hero of romance and by exaggerating her character traits, and indeed, by ennobling and idealizing her." Raknem goes on to make the case that "Twain overlooked Joan's weak sides and mistakes. He cannot be blamed for this, since his narrator was Joan's admirer and was unaware of these aspects of her character."

An interesting but very much related side-note: Twain's biography of Joan of Arc was penned in pseudonym. The book is presented as if it were written by one Sieur Louis de Conte, a fictionalized version of Joan's actual page, Louis de Contes, and then translated into English by another writer.

Just as Twain tries to avoid taking responsibility for his glamorized portrayal of Joan of Arc via his use of a biased narrator, so too did the Age of Empires dev team avoid potential controversy or criticism through their implementation of Guy Josselyne. The connections between de Conte and Josselyne -- both fictional characters writing about Joan of Arc with a bias in her favor -- are too strong to ignore. Mark Twain's approach to telling the Joan of Arc tale was out-and-out duplicated.

The game's narrative does not belabor the trial and execution of Joan of Arc; a few short sentences prior to the the final level in the campaign summarize the entire ordeal, from her capture to her death. It is noted that Joan "avoided all the cunning verbal traps of her prosecutors," but the focus of the story quickly switches to the actions of the French army after her death. The player's goal is to strike at the heart of the English stronghold of Castillon; doing so brings the campaign to a close.

For the most part, accusations of heresy against Joan are not discussed. When one of the game's final story segments mentions that Joan had been convicted of heresy, no potential explanation of this is offered, in much the same way that the game doesn't address the fact that Joan claimed divine guidance.

It's really somewhat impossible to look objectively at the game and determine if any of Joan's actions are saintly or merely politically motivated. The fact is that players of Age of Empires II don't actually know who or what is guiding Joan, and this is largely because of the nature of the real-time strategy genre. The players themselves are a sort of disembodied, omniscient force with the power to guide Joan and her army.

Mark Terrano addresses this."This was an intentional design decision," Terrano says about the positioning of the player in an omniscient position. "In the Age of Empires games we always treated the player as a 'guiding force' for the civilization."

Fellow designer Sandy Petersen had more to say about the matter, calling the choice of perspective a narrative technique. "We intentionally positioned the player as a sort of semi-omniscient guiding spirit," says Petersen. "Think of it like a novel written in third person. After all, if we have you be a specific person, then questions can arise. 'How can Joan see beyond that forest? Why does the game continue when my hero is dead?' etc."

The need to represent things from a broader perspective, especially in an RTS, is understandable, but one can't help but wonder if the developers of Age of Empires didn't miss a really interesting creative opportunity by not literally casting the player as God in the Joan of Arc campaign.

After all, units in the game respond aloud to players' commands with verbal acknowledgements, almost as if the player is some sort of audible voice commanding them, so it wouldn't be entirely farfetched (especially given the context that Joan of Arc claimed to be under the command of God) that the player's role could be changed to that potentially more controversial perspective. Street stressed the importance of avoiding asserting one religion as "more correct" than any other, but if Joan is taking her commands from some unknown force in the game as opposed to God, does that not make her a heretic?

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