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Middle Ages without borders: a conversation on medievalism

Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri
Pierre Savy
Lila Yawn

c) At play in the Middle Ages: digital games and more

1) A legend is (re)born? Playing Robin Hood in digital games

Tess Watterson

Texte intégral

1The 2010 videogame Robin’s quest: A Legend Born is advertised as “a classic storyline with an exciting twist!” Robin Hood is a myth that has been continually reshaped to serve various socio-political purposes over many centuries, and the female Robin of Robin’s Quest is no exception. This paper aims to look past the simplicity of the games’ point-and-click interface to question what its narrative employment of Robin Hood may actually reflect about the game’s twenty-first-century context, in an attempt to understand the ways in which the imagined “medieval” is employed in relation to gender and feminist politics and to ideas about violence and state authority. Robin’s Quest constructs its version of the Robin Hood legend through a specific neoliberal and gendered framework of the early twenty-first century. This female Robin both embodies and transgresses gendered norms of the thirteenth and the twenty-first centuries, although ultimately, despite this initial “gender bent” transgression, her role throughout the gameplay underscores normalized modern ideas about gender, social responsibility, and state authority.

2My research explores how we can use a videogame as a historical source. This paper first situates the game among the tradition of Robin Hood re-imaginings and the history of digital gaming, both in terms of game design and community, and within its broader socio-political context. My reading of the game, through Adam Chapman’s interpretation of Marie-Laure Ryan’s functional ludo-narrativism, is a reading of how history is produced in the coalescing of game mechanisms and historical narrative. I am interrogating the extent to which the game rules are narrativised or that narrative is superimposed upon the game. Though the game is seemingly simple, some elements of its mechanisms actually produce complex layers of meaning for the historical narrative: for example, the player’s cumulative collection of coins throughout all scenes in the game, in which Robin “collects” coins from inside the local baker’s house, only moments after promising to help him find a stolen chest of his own money, and from inside a church while on a quest to help apprehend a corrupt bishop who has been stealing church funds for himself. At the end of the game, Robin’s small accumulation of wealth is praised as she “was able to build her family a nice little home… with the money she collected during her quests.” How are we to reconcile this type of stealing with a hero whose entire mandate is to only rob from the rich to give to the poor?

3Despite the pseudo-medieval setting of the game, it is a twenty-first-century, neoliberal, capitalist mentality that enables most players to sit comfortably with this plot. The narrative produced through the game mechanism and the framing narrative of the end scene characterize Robin as someone who helps others but who first accumulates her own personal wealth, comfort, and security. This is a neoliberal narrative of the early twenty-first century; it reflects a modern emphasis on personal achievement and accountability and the accumulation of private wealth. Supporting yourself and your immediate nuclear family, before contributing to public or community needs, is a normalised modern notion. However, many aspects of this idea are simply incongruent with much of what we know about medieval social conventions. So why use a pre-capitalist past to depict a hero who only really makes sense to a twenty-first-century viewer? The medieval is used to disguise and justify the way the game folds Robin’s theoretical radicalism into a heteronormative narrative, both of heterosexual marriage resulting in a nuclear family, and of life stages that develop with a transition from youthful protest to mature familial life as a homeowner. Many of these images and narrative tropes are criticized for sexism in representations of women in modern settings. However, this is a common use of the medieval in cultural imaginary; consider the constant employment of “historical” setting as justification for the gendered sexual violence of media like Game of Thrones. Thus Robin’s Quest, while appearing to offer an interesting gendered twist, is the epitome of the “safe antiauthoritarian” Robin, as her opposition to authority is not toward the institutions of power themselves but rather to the illegitimate corruption of this power. In a capitalist twenty-first century, this combination produces a palatable Robin Hood radicalism, as modern Western society is so deeply entrenched in systems of power and control.


4Chapman 2016
Gogii Games 2010
Ryan 2006


Macquarie University

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