Using Fake Anachronisms In Historical Art And Fiction – A Ramble

Although this is an article about making art and/or writing fiction, I’m going to have to start by looking at part of a computer game for a while. As usual, there’s a reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

A couple of days before I originally prepared this article, a game that I’d been meaning to buy for a while finally went on special offer. Although I’ll post a full review tomorrow, it’s a “point and click” horror game from 2016 called “Kathy Rain”. One of the things that interested me about this game is that not only does it look like it’s from the 1990s (and will also run on old mid-2000s computers πŸ™‚ ), but it is also set in 1995 too.

This is a screenshot from “Kathy Rain” (2016). Yay! It’s a retro-style game, set in the 1990s πŸ™‚

From what I’ve seen so far, the game takes a very clever approach to historical accuracy. There were a few things that I initially thought were anachronisms, yet some brief internet research seems to show that they could theoretically have happened or existed in 1995.

To give one example, the main character mentions that another character used the (modern-sounding) term “spoiler alert”. Yet, looking online, the term was apparently used in old newsgroups in the early days of the internet (and the character who used the phrase is shown to be something of a geek). So, it’s possible but unlikely that the term would have been used in everyday conversation in 1995.

Not only that, a dialogue segment is displayed if you look at what is implied to be a poster for the 1997 film “Titanic”. The poster’s seemingly anachronistic presence is explained in a really interesting way:

Again, looking on the internet, the film started production in 1995. Again, this is a “possible, but unlikely” fake anachronism.

These “possible but unlikely” fake anachronisms are really interesting since they signpost that the game is a stylised modern game, yet they still technically fit into the game’s historical setting. In other words, they are perfect for things that are meant to evoke nostalgia and/or a stylised version of the past.

Another interesting thing about these types of fake anachronisms is that they show that the main character is slightly “ahead of their time” in a way that could realistically happen. This can provoke thoughts about what “futuristic” things could be hiding in plain sight in our own time.

For example, a short story I wrote last year (from this collection) is an ironic historical comedy story, set in early 1997, which revolves around two games critics discussing a mysterious videogame cartridge that arrived in their office. This allowed me to include an ironic joke about a game called “Goldeneye 007” which wouldn’t be released for a few months, but had been mentioned in game magazines at the time. Again, those “in the know” would probably know about the game, but most people probably wouldn’t have heard of it.

In terms of art, these types of fake anachronisms can be a little bit more difficult to include unless you are making a historical comic set in a specific year (rather than a vague time period) or making art based on a recognisable historical event. Plus, since art is primarily a visual medium – it can be a little bit more difficult to explain the presence of fake anachronisms to your audience.

One of the best ways to do this sort of thing in art is to either go for a stylised “nostalgia” montage picture, or to blend a historical setting with a clearly fantastical one. For example, here’s a sci-fi style painting of mine that is set in a “futuristic” version of 2004. Most of the things referenced in it (except for the flying cars in the background) existed in 2004, but it’s unlikely that they would have been in the same place at the same time.

“Future 2004” By C. A. Brown

So, yes, fake anachronisms are an absolutely wonderful thing. Not only can they intrigue your audience, but they can also be a way to give your historical fiction and/or art an instantly stylised and nostalgic type of atmosphere.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

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