Theory, design, research,and use of historical games in and beyond history education. Look here for links to current research, lists of available historical video games, reviews, and essays on a variety of topics connected to historical games. Created and maintained by Jeremiah McCall (jmc.hst@gmail.com; @gamingthepast), teacher, historian, researcher, and author of Gaming the Past

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The Unexamined Game Is Not Worth Playing ? (repost)

January 27, 2019 1 comment

A bit over 8 years ago, November 2010, I wrote this essay on Playthepast.org. I referred to it a few times in a talk the other day, and thought I should repost it. The central premise holds up well and is still the core of my method using video games as a tool to study history.

socrates deathOf course the unexamined game can be well worth playing if the goal is simply to enjoy and recreate—though I’d wager that many players reflect actively on their experiences in games. Enjoyment should always be a primary purpose of games. When the focus shifts to simulation games and the formal study of the past, however, there is little point to the unexamined game.

Two not particularly difficult paradoxes that are interesting in their ramifications for simulation games and learning, set the stage for this post.

1. “Though it is not an entirely historical game overall, the game does convey a sense of the Court atmosphere at Versailles.  However,  Courtisans of Versailles is ultimately better suited for the purpose of entertainment than that of education.” (please note that writer accurately noted the game title–the game was translated from the French into English as the Courtisans of Versailles, complete with the misspelling and the association with prostitution). This was the thesis recently advanced by a student tasked with critiquing a simulation game in a senior elective on simulations and the French Revolution. The paper was masterfully written, praising the game for promoting rivalries and antagonistic behavior between players that reflected some of what the evidence about court life at turn of the 17th century Versailles suggests. More space was devoted to taking the game to task for its simplifications involving how court influence was acquired, maintained, and quantified.  One might suppose that, as the teacher who assigned the simulation game, I would be troubled by the student’s indictment of the game. Quite the contrary.  Finding the student in the commons, I praised the paper and noted the irony that, in arguing so effectively that the game is “better suited for the purpose of entertainment than that of education,” the student simply proved that the game was perfectly suited to the purpose of education. The student smiled and nodded.

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Who Am I? What Am I Doing Here? Player Agents in Historical Games

December 30, 2018 1 comment

Adam Chapman and I are back on track debating the distinctions between different kinds of historical games and what makes a game historical. I find myself, in these kinds of discussions, increasingly referring to important distinctions I have found between types of player agents in historical games. I developed a starting taxonomy to make these distinctions explicit and useful for analysis in a talk I gave on Twine and interactive historical texts for the Value Project last year (The whole talk is worth it, I hope, but minutes 15:20 – 17:40 present my initial version of the taxonomy). I will write this up more formally in some articles in 2019, but since I have found it to be useful and I refer back to it increasingly, I wanted to present this to interested folk.

[1/1/2019 Note: I’ve gotten some helpful initial feedback, and rather than draft a new post, I am adding new sections in blue italics. This is all still very much a work in progress, but I became struck all-of-a-sudden by the idea of updating more interactively with feedback from Twitter — keep the thoughts coming!]

In historical games (whether using MacCallum-Stewart & Parsler’s (2007, 204) definition or Chapman’s (2016, 16) much broader definition) with historical problem spaces (McCall 2012, 2012, 2016, 8), the types of player-agents game designers focus on in their designs have a significant impact on the connections between the game and the past. There is, of course, a great deal of overlap, but it is still meaningful to consider four main types of historical agents in these games.

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When Games about the Past Trouble the Present: Games and History, Accuracy, Equity, Representation, and Reality

November 10, 2018 1 comment

Over the past few months I have been mulling over some ideas for a set of talks I’m giving in the winter and spring for students, teachers, and parents on historical video games and gameplay as historying, the ways they represent the past, and the importance of a critical perspective.

As part of this, I’ve just started gathering, for my own research, articles written online about historical video games with interpretations and assumptions about the past that cause controversies and issues for present day gamers.

Disclaimer: I have not read most of these articles yet, but my criterion was basically longer form analytical essays (as opposed to news reports)of historical games that portray the past in controversial ways for the present. The current batch ranges from the diversity of people in past societies, to the portrayal of certain political, social groups, and/or cultural groups to the representation of nuclear weapons. I’m barely scratching the surface here and would love to update this with more articles and links (send me anything you think would fit the bill)

Bias Disclaimer: I stand for equity, inclusion, compassion, respect, and decency. My selections hopefully reflect that.

Analytical Essays

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April and Mid-May History and Games List

May 20, 2018 1 comment

 

Historical Video Games 

  • The Curious Expedition, now has a demo for its browser based version. This game of European exploration in the Age of Imperialism has been used in history classes successfully. The browser based version will make the game even more accessible.
  • Dead in Vinland, A survival strategy game with adventure/murder mystery elements set in a Viking settlement on a strange isle.
  • Hard Ancient Life (Q4 2018) – “Hard Ancient Life is a city-building economic strategy taking place in the Nile Valley. Immerse yourself in a world full of pyramids, where you will become a part of the ancient world. Create history, be history!”
  • Imperator: Rome – Paradox interactive just announced it is developing a game set in the 4th – 1st centuries BCE Mediterranean. Out for release in 2019
  • March to Glory, – “March to Glory is a turn-based strategy game that takes you through the Napoleonic wars with a new strategic and challenging gameplay, full of interesting mechanics combined with thrilling combat.”
  • One Hour, One Life – If I understand correclty, not a historical game, but rather focused on how modern humans, deprived of all technology, would rebuild civilization. One lifespan takes 1 hour of gametime, it’s multiplayer, and remains of human civilizations built during the game can be used by incoming players. So it sounds to me like a potentially excellent and creative way to think about the neolithic revolution and rise of civilizations.
  • Reflexio – An archaeology game on itch.io. “Play as Laura Kraft and investigate the mystery of an archaeological site. In this exploration-and-puzzles video game, you’ll have to travel the ancient ruins, looking for time-lost archaeologists and artifacts hidden in the scenery. “
  • Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia
  • Walden, A Game — Designed by the USC Innovation Lab (Walden game website here), Walden is a first person open world sim of Thoreau’s efforts to live self-reliantly.

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Categories: link lists

The Debate is on: Historical Accuracy and Historical Video Games (Part 2)

April 8, 2018 3 comments

For this second post in a series, Adam Chapman and I dig deeper, continuing to discuss the ideas of historical authenticity in historical video games and debating whether the games like Wolfenstein 2: New Order and Call of Duty: World War II are really comparably historical games when doing this kind of analysis.

For the first in this series go here

Jeremiah: In our last post you ended by asking the question: Does your separation into two types of simulation approaches help us determine when a game is an interesting and at least somewhat defensible model of the past or just a rubber ball?

Adam: Again, I think the answer to this is one of those ‘yes and no’ responses that we academics are so frustratingly fond of. For me, the idea of the realist/conceptual framework is to describe the style of representation of historical games. Does it attempt to show us the past as it claims it appeared to agents (realist)?  Or does it aim to tell us about the past by mainly using abstraction (e.g. rules, menus, maps, text, charts, tables) and therefore representing discourse about that past (conceptual)? So for me, the framework is an effort to categorise the styles of representation we find

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March History and Games Links

March 30, 2018 1 comment

Here’s the list for March.

Historical Video Games 

  • Check Your 6! — Turn-based game of aerial battles in World War 2
  • Mewilo – Give this proposed game and website a look. It represents a game about historical Martinique, surely not a commonly found topic in historical games. Says the creators, “You are transported in 1900, in the tumultuous past of an island of the Antilles, the Martinique,”  and that this game as “an unprecedented reconstruction work allowsus to rediscover the atmosphere of this city nicknamed ‘the little Paris of the West Indies’ or ‘the tropical Venice’.”
  • Northgard – A Viking themed game that the designers say is based on Norse mythology and focuses on the discovery of a new land and competition to control it.

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February (Even though it’s March) History and Games Links

March 5, 2018 1 comment

Here’s the list for February. A lot of games, including the controversial Kingdom Come: Deliverance, the uncommonly focused Nantucket (19th century whaling), and the potentially very classroom-useful Neolithic: First City States. Some excellent essays and podcasts; really all kinds of materials. Enjoy!

Historical Video Games 

  • Age of Empires: Definitive Edition — An updated version for Windows 10 of a watershed commercial history game, first released in 1997. Currently only available through the Windows store, but there is some buzz that it will be available on Steam. See T.J. Hafer and Marcello Perricone’s articles below
  • Discovery Tour by Assassin’s Creed: Ancient Egypt— Lots of excitement for this, a violence-free tourist mode where players can explore the 3D world of late Ptolemaic Egypt, meet historical figures, and learn about material culture. This is a free update for those who own AC: Origins, but also can be purchased separately.  Be aware this will take a good graphics card to run well. See John Hopley’s essay below.
  • Check Your 6! — Turn-based game of aerial battles in World War 2
  • Fields of Glory 2: Legions Triumphant expansion— An expansion (must own the main FoG2) focused on the Roman Empire and its foes from Augustus to Romulus Augustulus (476 CE)

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