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Discussion: Historical Accuracy and Historical Video Games (Part 1)

December 26, 2017 3 comments

For this first post in a series, Adam Chapman and I begin to discuss, and hopefully unravel, the ideas of historical accuracy and authenticity in historical video games. What do we mean by these terms? Can games show accuracy and authenticity? Does it matter and, if so, why? We have authored this as a dialogue, each of us contributing a little text at a time and responding off each other.  We welcome participation and will respond to comments.

Jeremiah: It seems a straightforward sort of question: “how historically accurate is that video game?”,  whether it’s Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Call of Duty: World War II, Sid Meier’s Civilization or any of the myriad historical video games. Sometimes when we talk about historical video games, we use the term historically authentic to try to capture something different about the ways a historical game relates to the past it depicts. Either way, it’s not an easy question. But let’s see if we can unpack it.

What does it mean to be historically accurate in general? Does that mean that a medium (text, recording, image, video, game, etc.) represents or depicts events in the correct chronology and “as they happened”? If so, we’ve got a problem right there. It’s been quite awhile since mainstream historians have argued that historians can in any meaningful sense depict the past “as it was.” But let’s leave that aside for a moment. Let’s stipulate that historically accurate means presenting accurately in the medium the “historical facts”, the “generally accepted” view of events, the participants, the order they happened, causes and effects, that sort of thing,

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Historical Twine Talk at VALUE Workshop

September 5, 2017 Leave a comment

On September 5th, I had the pleasure of talking about Twine and history with attendees of the VALUE projects’ “Interactive Pasts Workshop: Interactive (Hi-)storytelling,” following my video presentation,  Crafting Interactive Histories:
Twine and Choice-Based Interactive Historical Texts.

Link to the Video

Path of Honors Project

Writings

Chapman, A. (2016). Digital Games as History: How Videogames Represent the Past and Offer Access to Historical Practice. London: Routledge.

Dening, Greg, Performing cross-culturally,” Australasian Journal of American Studies, Vol. 25, No. 2 (December 2006), pp. 1-11

McCall, J. (2011). Gaming the Past: Using Video Games to Teach Secondary History. Routledge.

McCall, J. (2012). Navigating the Problem Space: The Medium of Simulation Games in the Teaching of HistoryThe History Teacher 45 , 9-28.

McCall, J. (2012). Historical simulations as problem spaces: Criticism and classroom use. Journal of Digital Humanities 1.

Short, Emily — To many great essays to link to at her blog, but here are a few.

 

Interactive Texts

Jeremiah McCall (me) – Path of Honors Project

Rachel Ponce – Surviving History: The Fever

Neville Morley – Might and Right, the Athenian Version

Max Kreminski – Epitaph

Categories: Uncategorized

History Respawned Podcast with Me on Twine

In early August 2017, I had the pleasure of joining Bob Whitaker and John Harney on History Respawned, a podcast and sometimes YouTube video on history and games. We discussed Twine as a tool for history and in history education, and a number of other topics involving games and learning in history.

 

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The Problem of Historical Choices in Twine Game Design – A Response to Neville Morley

Neville Morley (@NevilleMorley)and I (@gamingthpast)have been exploring the ramifications of Twine for developing interactive historical texts. My main ongoing experiment is the Path of Honors project, an interactive text about a fictional Roman aristocrat going through the very historical process of pursuing an aristocratic career. I call this sort of interactive text an “every person” approach in that it focuses on a historical situation but has a protagonist that did not exist, in an authentic set of circumstances. Neville is working on Might and Right, an investigation of the Athenian treatment of the polis of Melos in the Peloponnesian War. Neville’s text is what I would characterize as a “specific agent” approach, in that the player takes the role of Cleomedes, an Athenian general who was, in fact, in a command position at Melos in 416.  A very quick bit of historical setup, quoted from Neville’s Twine:

The small island of Melos in the Cyclades, halfway between Athens and Crete, was originally a Spartan colony, and so had refused to join the Athenian alliance. Officially the Melians remain neutral, but in recent years their leaders have sided openly with Sparta. Now the Athenians have sent an expedition of 38 ships and 2,000 troops to demand the island’s unconditional surrender.

Neville has finished a version where the Athenian player, as Cleomedes, determines the fate of the Melians.

In a recent tweet I made a light-hearted, yet serious, attempt to propose a rule about historical game development in choice-based work that I jokingly titled, McCall’s Rule of Good Choices in a Historical Game: “The Designer must provide situations where there is more than one viable choice, and the historical choice cannot always be the only viable choice.” 

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Student-designed historical Twines posted 5/10/17

At the end of the day on 5/10/17, I will post (on my Philome.la Twine site) a selection of Twine interactive history texts, designed by my ninth-graders at Cincinnati Country Day School during the third quarter of this 2016-17 year. The designers’ names have been replaced by their initials. I am very pleased and excited to post these as excellent examples of historical Twines and hope they will inspire similar projects at other schools and more discussion about Twine as a history pedagogy. For now, I want to include a few caveats that I think are important to appreciating the examples.

  • These were selected from among the best projects. Best does not mean 100% historically accurate (whatever that means anyway) or always grammatically correct/stylisyically elegant. Please remember: these are 14 and 15 year olds
  • They were the product of a quarter-long research and design project (see the specs and rubric I used) that began with a short research essay on their historical figure and scenario
  • They were revised after an initial grading for a revision grade
  • I asked the students to do one more proofread before posting

Let me know if you have questions or comments, particularly if you’d like to try something like this in your own classes!

The List of 2017 Interactive Histories

Hatshepsut’s Rule

The Assassination of Caesar

Mary, Bloody Mary

The Siege of Paris, 845

Categories: Uncategorized

Meaningful Choices in Twine, History & Counterfactual History (PoH Notes, Part 2)

Path of Honors (here at my Twine site on philome.la) is an experimental interactive history that I am designing in bits and pieces. The plan is to model an aristocratic Roman as he played the game of politics and sought to win election to offices and gain prestige and dignity for himself and his family. PoH  is skeletal right now and will likely take years to finish. In the meantime I hope it will provoke conversation and suggest what historians could do with the interactive medium of choice-based texts. Lucas Coyne, a doctoral student in U.S. History at Loyola University in Chicago, sent me a list of terrific questions about Path of Honors (play here). Their depth and breadth encouraged me to write and post the answers as pieces on PlaythePast. For questions 1-3, see this essay. Here is question #4: I’ll answer more soon.

 

4) Lucas: In one article on [Path of Honors], you wrote: “The designer must provide situations where there is more than one viable choice and the historical choice cannot always be the only viable choice.” Then, how do you deal with entirely ahistorical outcomes? Should those be primarily avoided, or should there be some acceptance of counterfactuals based on our understanding of the underlying things going on? (I realize the structure of PoH limits this, but I’m interested in the general sense)

I‘ve spent a lot of time thinking about your question and coming up with different responses and false starts because asking what choices were available to a historical agent is at the heart of counterfactual history and the very issue of agency/free will in humans (the latter I have been teaching in a philosophy elective this season, which makes me less certain than normal about such things). Some other time, hopefully we can explore those issues. In the meantime, I’ll  focus on PoH and choice in PoH, since that’s what inspired my comment.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Path of Honors — Thoughts behind the design of an interactive history

February 27, 2017 4 comments

Path of Honors (here at my Twine site on philome.la) is an experimental interactive history that I am designing in bits and pieces. The plan is to model an aristocratic Roman as he played the game of politics and sought to win election to offices and gain prestige and dignity for himself and his family. PoH  is skeletal right now and will likely take years to finish. In the meantime I hope it will provoke conversation and suggest what historians could do with the interactive medium of choice-based texts.

Lucas Coyne, a doctoral student in U.S. History at Loyola University in Chicago, sent me a list of terrific questions tabout Path of Honors (play here). Their depth and breadth encouraged me to write and post the answers as pieces on PlaythePast. These are the first three: I’ll answer more in upcoming weeks.

1. Ideally, what is the audience for this project, particularly in its completed state?
Path of Honors is an attempt to do several things in the realm of developing an interactive historical text using Twine. The first was simply to get myself more acquainted with the specifics of the tool so that I could better Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized

Meaningful Choices(Twine Developer Diary)

February 12, 2017 Leave a comment

(this essay was originally published 10/18/16 on Playthepast.org)

This is the third in a series of posts intended to get readers thinking more about interactive text as a tool for history education and how students might be enabled to design their own researched, text-based historical simulation games using the interactive fiction design tool, Twine. The first post discussed the differences between Twine and Inform. Last week’s post was a Teacher’s Diary, recounting the set up of the Twine project in a high school senior history elective.

A little something different with this week’s post. I have placed the current, very incomplete and very rough start to Path of Honors, the Twine interactive history I am developing as my students create their own interactive histories for our Roman Republic Class. http://www.philome.la/gamingthepast/path-of-honors-experimental. If you do have a chance to try it and want to comment, go ahead and comment on this post
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Categories: Uncategorized

Creating Interactive Histories in History Class (Twine Teacher Log)

February 12, 2017 Leave a comment

(originally published 10/10/16 at Playthepast.org10/10/16 at Playthepast.org)

This is the second in a series of posts intended to get readers thinking more about interactive text as a tool for history education and how students might be enabled to design their own researched, text-based historical simulation games using the interactive fiction design tool, Twine. Last week’s post discussed the differences between Twine and Inform. 

 This week’s teacher diary walks through the steps I have taken so far to design and implement a long term Twine interactive history project.  The class is a  high school senior elective on the Roman Republic.

The first step was to get the students comfortable with the idea of a Twine interactive history text. I call it that because “interactive fiction” obscures an important point. Their Twine projects, while inherently counterfactual (either because the character is fictional or, with historical characters, one can choose different actions and, in doing so, presumably reach different outcomes) must be historically authentic. In other words, students must be able to document that the scenarios they have created and the details they have included are based on solid historical evidence.
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Twine, Inform, and Designing Interactive History Texts

December 20, 2016 1 comment

(Originally published on Playthepast.org  10/3/16)
This is the first in a series of posts intended to get readers thinking more about interactive text as a tool for history and how students might be enabled to design their own researched text-based historical simulation games using the interactive fiction design tool, Twine.

Why Interactive History Texts and Why Twine?

Having students design historical simulation games has been an interest of mine as an educator for at least a decade, going back to the first elective history classes in designing pen and paper simulations games over a decade ago. As the tools to design digital games have steadily become more accessible to non-coders, I have paid attention, hoping to find software that would allow students to create digital historical simulations games. When I first encountered Inform 7, a powerful design tool that enables designers to create text-based games—often termed interactive fiction—it was clearly a legitimate solution to this problem of enabling history students to create digital historical simulation games. So, about eight years ago, after experimenting with students using Inform for design projects in my survey history classes for ninth and tenth graders, I wrote an essay advancing the use of Inform 7 for students to research and design their own text-based historical simulation games and developed some rough materials on Gaming the Past to aid in the creation of such games. Nor was I the only one who connected and the creation of interactive texts in general, to history and history education (See Shawn Graham’s Posts, Writing History with Interactive Fiction and Stranger in These Parts on PlaythePast for just a couple of examples). The essay still holds up, especially the assertion that having students research and design historical simulation games is an outstanding high order thinking assignment that exercises many critical skills of the historian, especially:
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