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The Portrayal Of Joan Of Arc In Age Of Empires II

August 9, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

Joan of Arc: Creator of Nationalism?

"Dead France returns to life. Our army swells with new recruits. In olden times, men swore fealty only to their particular lord. Now we fight not for insolent lords and ladies, but for France. For all of us Joan is France. There is no distinction in our minds."

– June 25: The Journal of Guy Josselyne (Age of Empires II)

In modern France, Joan is often utilized as a symbolic rallying point for conservative French nationalists who promote her as an icon representative of a former, more glorious France that kicked out invaders and reclaimed land for exclusive use of the French.

The far-right National Front party in France holds an annual "Joan of Arc" day, in which members camp out in front of statues of the maid and deliver speeches promoting their values, which they perceive to be in line with the ideas promoted by Joan of Arc.

The party stands primarily for nationalist ideals, among other things standing against the euro, globalization, and immigration, thus earning it a reputation from opponents as being racist. The National Front often cites Joan as inspiration for their "France for the French" ideology.

Likewise, the Joan of Arc campaign in Age of Empires II time and time again contends that Joan became a source, if not the original source, of a sense of nationalistic unification amongst the French.

Deborah Fraioli notes in her book, Joan of Arc and the Hundred Years War, that some would argue that Joan of Arc "both created nationalism and rose because of it," but states matter-of-factly that our modern idea of nationalism would not truly begin to take shape for centuries.

Fraioli goes onto to argue that in Joan's time "few historians would admit that nationalism as yet existed," but that "French patriotism had certainly been aroused... instead, the focus of pride in one's country was the king."

So why include these details about Joan's alleged creation of nationalism in the game? At the conclusion of the game's campaign, the game's narrator goes so far as to say that "The Hundred Years War has ended. Even more importantly, Joan's acts reignited a sense of French nationalism. Peasants and nobles alike no longer belonged to lords and kings, but to France herself. We will not let Joan be forgotten." These assertions frame the Joan of Arc story in a way that one of her own soldiers simply wouldn't have seen them.

When asked about the decision to portray Joan as a nationalist symbol in a time when nationalism didn't truly yet exist, Greg Street explained away the situation as a byproduct of the developer's need to condense an abundance of history into very small playable campaign.

"Most 'French' citizens at the time probably identified much more strongly with their local village than they did a unified country," admits Street. "While the story was Joan's, it fundamentally wasn't a game about Joan or any particular individual, but a game about your civilization, in this case the Franks (we had to condense 1000 years of history into a single civilization, and we thought 'Franks' sounded more historical and exotic than 'French'). Thus our interpretation was more how the French view her now."

If anything can be taken from Street's defense (especially the part about naming the civilization "Franks" because it sounded more "historical and exotic" than "French"), it's that the Age of Empires II team was willing to take certain liberties for the sake of keeping a historically-grounded story simple and easy to understand.

Another example of this sort of design concession in the name of simplification occurs at the end of the game (shortly after Josselyne makes the previously-mentioned remarks about Joan's re-ignition of French nationalism). Guy Josselyne breaks the fourth wall by mentioning the beatification of Joan of Arc as a saint, an event that didn't actually happen until nearly 500 years after her death.

To have a character who was supposedly an eyewitness to the events that transpired in the early fifteenth century reference a religious ceremony that took place in the twentieth century is not something you do accidentally; the AoE team willingly situated the narrator of their story behind a more modern lens, thereby openly acknowledging their desire to tell a good story rather than an entirely historically-accurate story.

What It All Means

The version of Joan of Arc that appears in Age of Empires II's campaign of the same name is a hodgepodge of history, myth and religious representations, and the game's creators will readily admit that. The juxtaposition of fun and historical accuracy in video games continues to be a subject of discussion for game developers and scholars alike, but one can't help but wonder whether if in this case a bit lesser dosage of myth and legend would have actually impacted the enjoyment of the player in any measurable way.

By telling Joan's story through the voice of a brazenly partial narrator, Ensemble Studios was able to re-tell the story of a figure firmly entrenched in both history and modern religion without dipping any toes into potentially controversial waters. Over a decade after its release, AoE II stands tall as a highly polished strategy game that changed its genre forever -- whether its storytelling techniques stand the test of time in a similar way remains to be seen.

An early draft of this article was submitted as a paper for the course 'Representations of History in Videogames' (Prof. Nicolas Trépanier, University of Mississippi).


Curry, Anne. The Hundred Years War. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993.

Dolgin, Ellen Ecker. Modernizing Joan of Arc. London: McFarland & Company Inc., 2008.

Raknem, Ingvald. Joan of Arc in History, Legend and Literature. Oslo: Scandinavian UP, 1971.

Fraioli, Deborah A. Joan of Arc and the Hundred Years War. London: Greenwood Press, 2005.

Gower, Ronald Sutherland. Joan of Arc. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1893.

Twain, Mark. Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. New York: Harper and Brothers 1896.

Street, Greg. Personal interview. 3 May. 2011.

Terrano, Mark. Personal interview. 3 May. 2011.

Petersen, Sandy. Personal interview. 3 May. 2011.

France-Presse, Agence. "French far-right holds 'skinhead-free' May Day march." Vancouver Sun. 1 May. 2011. 3 May. 2011.

Age of Empires II: Age of Kings. Dallas: Ensemble Studios, 1999.

Pritchard, Matt. "Postmortem: Ensemble Studios' Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings". Gamasutra. 7 March. 2000. 6 May. 2011.

John 12: 12-13. New King James Version.

"Age of Empires II: Age of Kings Credits & Details." Metacritic. 6 May. 2011

Bernard, Lance. "The Sword From Heaven: An Inquiry into Joan of Arc's Sword, Found at the Church of St. Catherine de Fierbois." St. Joan Center. 2001.

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