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“What If?”: Exploring Gaming’s Alternative Histories

All great alternate histories revolve around the question, “What if?” What if the outcome of a pivotal battle had been different? What if Adolf Hitler never became radicalized? What if this decision was made instead of that one? Video games are perfect ways to explore these alternate histories, letting players immerse themselves in worlds that in many ways mirror our own, save for one specific point in history that causes them to take a dramatically different course. Here are some of gaming’s most notable – or most interesting – alternate histories. 

Freedom Fighters 

Freedom Fighters is the Red Dawn of video games. Just watch the (original) film if you don’t believe me. The game puts players in the shoes of Christopher Stone, a plumber-turned-resistance hero who along with a rag-tag group of survivors must fight to take New York back from the Soviets.  

But how did the Soviet Union come to control New York City? The Soviet Union managed to beat the United States in the race to the first atomic bomb, using it to destroy Berlin and ending World War II. Slowly but surely, Communist influence then came to dominate Europe before spreading to South America. Soon the United States was among the last democratic nations, prompting a massive Soviet invasion.

Command and Conquer: Red Alert Series

What would happen if Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party never came to power? That’s the question Red Alert asks when Albert Einstein travels back in time, meets Hitler, and somehow prevents the rise of Nazi Germany by shaking his hand. The only problem is that without the might of the Third Reich, nothing stopped Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union from conquering all of Europe. Whoops.

Despite this unintended consequence, the Allies manage to pull together and defeat the Soviets. A new Soviet leader would be put into power by the United States, Alexander Romanov, a distant relative of the old Russian monarch Czar Nicholas II. Romanov only gave the allies the impression that he was under their control, however, launching a rapid invasion of the United States from land, sea, and air. Whoops. 

Despite the odds, the Allies emerge victorious. Facing defeat after their failed invasion, Soviet scientists use a time machine to go back and assassinate Albert Einstein, thus preventing him from helping the United States, and drastically changing the history of world events. Now I know what you may be thinking. "If Einstein was killed before he went back in time, and Einstein is the one who prevented Hitler from rising to power, then wouldn’t Nazi Germany rise again?" Maybe. I don’t know. What happens instead is something that sounds awfully familiar. With the United States now crippled, the Empire of the Rising Sun in Japan is free to conquer as they see fit, and promptly declare war on the Soviet Union and the Allies. Whoops.

Assassin’s Creed III: Tyranny of King Washington

The Assassin’s Creed franchise isn’t so much an alternate history as it is a retelling of real history, but with Templars and Assassins manipulating events behind the scenes. This piece of DLC, however, plants itself firmly in the “What if?” category of historical thinking.

Universally loved after leading the nation in the American Revolution and the aftermath, George Washington did something incredibly rare for his time – he gave up his power. The Washington of this DLC? Not so much. Corrupted by the influence of an Apple of Eden, “Mad King George” establishes himself as ruler of the United States and wastes no time in attempting to wipe out the native population. In case that wasn’t evil enough, he then builds himself a massive pyramid that puts the palace of Versailles to shame. He also plans to revenge-invade England and enslave its populace. Naturally, some of America’s other founding fathers are less than thrilled with this idea, resulting in a second American revolution, led by Thomas Jefferson. 

Gunvalkyrie

This Xbox shooter takes place in an alternate 1906, where the British Empire went on to rule all of Earth and even a few space colonies. How is this possible? By using Halley’s Comet, of course! An unknown substance found within the comet after it crashed to Earth granted certain individuals who came in contact with it superhuman abilities.

A British scientist named Hebble Gate would be among the first exposed to the substance. He would use his superpowered mind to discover a wide range of scientific breakthroughs well before their time, and by doing so help the continued spread of the British Empire. Gate would also create a militaristic division of similarly superpowered beings known as Gunvalkyries to prevent the misuse of technology. Because why not?

Continue on to page 2 for the strange series of events that led to the sky pirates of Crimson Skies and an alternative history game that shortly after its release seemed all to real.

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