Review
Culture
3 min read

Go medieval: game play as history lecture

While Pentiment’s game-play makes it a playful, enjoyable, and in-depth history lecture, it also raises deeper questions, says Lukas Herren.

Lukas Herren is a student of philosophy and business and works in communications in the technology industry.

A screen grab of a video game showing a chequered floor amidst classical architecture, with player figures.
Iconography and medieval illustration inspires Pentiment's graphic design.
Obsidian Entertainment.

Pentiment, an adventure game set in the rural Bavarian town of Tassing between the years 1518 and 1543, transports players to a time of political intrigue, religious reform, and societal conflict. With a deep love for history based on meticulous research, the game offers an authentic look at the lives of ordinary people like peasants, monks, artisans, and farmers, and the decisions that shaped their lives. 

At the heart of the game is Andreas Maler, an artisan who is hired to illustrate manuscripts in the Abbey of Kiersau. As he stumbles upon a murder, he is drawn into a web of personal conflicts that balance the different professional and societal groups of the village. Players can immerse themselves in the story and get to know the characters intimately, thanks to sophisticated design and a myriad of thoughtful details. Playing as Andreas, you feel like you are becoming an integrative part of a larger story and leaving a footprint in the village's history. 

The game is beautifully illustrated and captures the essence of medieval aesthetics, making it a joy to play and a valuable educational tool. Everyday life in the Bavarian village is brought to life with attention to detail, from the food they eat to the different scripts characters are represented with. These features transform into crucial puzzle pieces to solve the murder mystery. To help keep track of the storyline and interesting info, the game provides a journal and glossary. 

Pentiment feels like a playful, enjoyable, and in-depth history lecture. It is highly recommended to anyone interested in diving into a different time period – to anyone who appreciates learning not only about grand historical geopolitics but also simple, everyday life. Although it is thought of as a single-player game, it is also beautifully played with another person, with whom to explore which traits to choose, which characters to approach, and ultimately, which path to take. This game is not just for those who want to escape into a different time period, but also for those who appreciate a well-researched, multi-faceted murder mystery. 

The setting of the game enhances its appeal in various ways. The 1500s were the time of the Protestant Reformation, a religious reform movement sweeping through large parts of Europe. Intersecting with it was the German Peasants’ War of 1524-1525. As you play the game, identifying with the main characters in this Bavarian town, you triangulate your position asking questions like: Where did the murder victim stand in terms of religious reform and the peasants’ demands? Where does my interlocutor stand? What position do I take to get the information I need to solve the murder mystery? 

Beyond the enjoyable whodunnit, the game raises deeper questions such as: Is it legitimate to portray people and events untruthfully – that is, in a way that does not correspond to one's own knowledge – for ideological reasons or to promote a good cause? Is it appropriate, for example, to embellish the representation of local history in public space? If so, on what grounds and to what extent? What does this mean for the way we present the history of our churches? In our attempts to steer public perception, are we possibly damaging the discipline (history, church history) as well as the integrity of the positions promoted? 

The name of the game is carefully chosen: Pentimento refers to ‘the presence or emergence of earlier images, forms, or strokes that have been changed and painted over.’ Pentiment is worth engaging with on more than one level. 

The controls are simple, and dialogues are well done, though at times the game can be a bit confusing – accessible albeit occasionally challenging. While void of fast-moving animation and action, it is sophisticatedly made, letting the player get to know and experience each character. All in all, it comes together beautifully and deserves. 

 ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 

Pentiment is available on Windows and Xbox and is published by Obsidian Entertainment.

Column
Character
Culture
Economics
4 min read

This revolting rich list is a freak show

What are we to make of this quite nauseating spectacle?

George is a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and an Anglican priest.

A collage of famous, rich, people such as King Charles, Elton John and others.
The Sunday Times.

General elections are no longer a clear choice between socialism and capitalism, but we should still be as offended by the privilege of the few over the poverty of many. That’s only natural, whether we’re informed by envy, a secular sense of fairness or a religious faith.

The yawning chasm between rich and poor in the UK is offensive. When PM Rishi Sunak was drenched in his vale of tears this week outside Number 10, as he announced the general election, he was seeking a mandate to preside over this inequality, in which he so richly participates.

He stood there exactly three days after he and his wife waved from the pages of the Sunday Times Rich List, based on the newspaper’s “conservative estimates of the minimum wealth of Britain’s 350 richest people.”

The Sunaks stood at 245th on the list with a measly £651m. Just 20 years ago, when I was in business, that figure would have put them near the top. Some of my business contemporaries had even made the Rich List with just a few tens of millions.

Not anymore. Mere multimillionaires barely make the cut. The ever-widening gulf between the super-rich and the rest of us means that the top 165 of last Sunday’s list of 300 are now billionaires, compared with just 20 a quarter of a century ago, while the “bottom” of today’s heap struggle by as half-billionaires. 

It does make you wonder what the Sunday Times is doing with this revolting annual survey. It has become such an anachronism since it started in the Eighties, when greed was good and we worshipped Croesus impersonators.  

Every year, we’re invited to press our noses up against their plate-glass window and drool at a world that’s as alien as a pharaoh’s to the slaves building their pyramid. What do they want from us for this display of greed? Envy?   

Times (even on Sunday) have changed and the Rich List satirises itself. Look at the ads that support it. There’s one for a 122-metre yacht that can be chartered for three million euros a week. A few pages later there’s one for a Swiss clinic “for the treatment of mental health and issues of substance and behavioural dependency”. Could these ads be related?  

So what the Sunday Times is presenting is a kind of freak show. Roll up, roll up, see the people who are tax exiles from the planet. 

The Rich List is just for the British mega-rich. So no room here for Meta-billionaire Mark Zuckerberg or space-wingnut Elon Musk. But it’s nice to see at the top of the list, with just a couple of hundred million over the £37bn-mark, the Hinduja family, whose leading lights so publicly acquired British passports some years ago, with or without government help.  

And here’s Lakshmi Mittal (No. 8 with £15bn), who was recently accused of profiting from both sides of the Ukraine conflict, after a part-owned Indian company bought nearly £2.4bn of Russian oil since the start of the war. Which newspaper revealed this? Step forward the Sunday Times.  

And there’s vacuum magnate Sir James Dyson (No. 5 with £21bn) who backed Brexit and then moved his global HQ to Singapore. That’s the beauty of being so rich; you can escape the consequences of your own actions. 

Most of the list is what similarly might be called colourful. These cannot, by virtue of their economic separation, be normal people. So what the Sunday Times is presenting is a kind of freak show. Roll up, roll up, see the people who are tax exiles from the planet. 

Money is its own reward. But ultimately its power is empty. 

What are we to make of this quite nauseating spectacle? Sure. there is no virtue in poverty. But nor should there be a prosperity gospel, which holds that the righteous are financially rewarded, other than in the outer reaches of an American charismatic movement. 

Among the things that make us go “hmm” in this report is the attitude to life. Phones 4u founder John Caudwell (No. 109, £1.5bn) says “If I stopped I’d probably be desperately unhappy.” Hmm. New entrant to the list Graham King (No. 221=, £750m) made his fortune from public money contracts for accommodation for asylum seekers that inspectors have described as “decrepit” and is currently the subject of charges under the Housing Act 2004. Hmm. 

Cursed are the rich, for they shall lose touch with reality. That’s not a heretical rewrite of the Sermon on the Mount, with its “Blessed are...” Beatitudes. There are actually four lesser known woes in the Gospel of Luke: 

 “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” 

These woes aren’t about revenge. But they do speak to the consequences of extreme wealth – such as profiteering from desperately vulnerable people or working so hard you can’t think properly. 

Money is its own reward. But ultimately its power is empty. Today, the Sunday Times should be as ashamed of idolising it as those it lionises for making so much of it.