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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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Categories: Uncategorized

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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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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Categories: Uncategorized

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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Categories: Uncategorized

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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Categories: Uncategorized

My 30+ minutes of fame on the GDR podcast

February 24, 2018 Leave a comment

I was very pleased to have the chance to be on the latest episode (189) of The Game Design Round Table talking about my work with history games and even my amateur game designs for class.

Categories: Uncategorized

Civilization VI, Problem Spaces, and the Representation of the Cree – A few thoughts

February 19, 2018 2 comments

Civ VI CreePC Gamer published a short article on the controversy stirred by Civilization VI’s release of the Cree as a DLC civilization led by the historical leader, Poundmaker (Poundmaker Cree Nation leader criticizes Cree portrayal in Civilization 6). Reporter Andy Chalk quotes Cree Headman Milton Tootoosis’ assessment of the harmful depiction of the Cree:

“It perpetuates this myth that First Nations had similar values that the colonial culture has, and that is one of conquering other peoples and accessing their land,” Headman Milton Tootoosi said. “That is totally not in concert with our traditional ways and world view.”

“It’s a little dangerous for a company to perpetuate that ideology that is at odds with what we know. [Poundmaker] was certainly not in the same frame of mind as the colonial powers.”

And Chalk notes that Civ VI’s representation of the Cree as a playable civilization is problematic because it seems to suggest that the Cree were just another global player in the ultimate arena: world civilizations struggling to dominate the globe.

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