Shadows of War – play the fascists, play the nationalists. Furor. ‘Educational!’ say the makersSome people may be shot, others may not be shot. But all of these are just dancing with the surface. The deeper import of games comes at the level of the rules.
1950s vibe: similar media furor over the role of a new lively art.
From abstract: “Players’ understandings are developed through cycles of performance within the gameworlds, which instantiate particular theories of the world (ideological worlds). Players develop new identities both through game play and through the gaming communities in which these identities are enacted. Thus research that examines game-based learning needs to account for both kinds of interactions within the game-world and in broader social contexts.” http://edr.sagepub.com/content/35/8/19
Writing history is a kind of game. Peers, levelling up, scores (citations)
Source of failure, success:The black box can be opened.Problem is: context of that action ... Beware the creepy treehouse.http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/the-creepy-treehouse-problem/23027
So what is the main game play mechanic in the game of being a history student? Close reading. I should’ve started with this. Instead of ‘go play’, I should’ve said, ‘let’s look under the hood’.
JFK Reloaded. Tradition of documentary; an art game; an exploration of the past, say supporters
Mark Sample: Their outwardly respectful “interactive reconstruction of John F. Kennedy’s assassination” is undone by inaccuracies and misspellings (Nelly for Nellie, “desparate”) but even more so by the explicitly sexual reframing of this traumatic event. It’s difficult to take JFK Reloaded as a serious exploration of history when under the hood it resembles an adolescent joke, preoccupied with sex and making light of death (“before he croaks”).
MacDougall: when we look at a simple, stylized cartoon, we can project our own identity on to it. We can see it as our self. This is why cartoon protagonists from Tintin to the Simpsons are so often drawn in less detail than their backgrounds or supporting casts. The abstraction of a Playmobil, or any tiny plastic representation of the human form, has a similar psychological effect. Henry Jenkins describes action figures as avatars that let children enter imagined spaces and try on various roles.He goes on: “I do believe the most mature kind of historical thinking only comes when we confront what we cannot understand or empathize with in the past. Still, in proscribing personal identification, play-acting, and make-believe, professional historians amputate a whole lot of what people want from their history.”
1:35: maybe he’s been around so long he knows everything.
Toying with History
What Sid Meier & Bill Murray Can
Teach Us About the Past
In Three Acts
1. On playing games
2. On building games
3. On simulation
What if people learn the wrong
• Globe & Mail, Editorial, ‘Assassin’s Creed III video
game distorts history’ Nov 14 2012.
• “[…]Assassin’s Creed III is just a video game. But
given the dearth of history instruction in our
schools, it might be the only place that Canadian
young people are learning about the
Revolutionary War. At very least, they need to be
equipped to separate the Ameriphilia from the
3. Toying with History via the Action
Toying with History via Simulation
• Agent based models as the ultimate playset
• A formalized ‘let’s pretend’
• A making explicit in code of what we believe
to have been true about some phenomenon
in the past
• An impartial referee to work through all of the
The Antonine Itineraries as
A limite id est a vallo Praetorio
usque mpm clvi
Eburacum, leg. vi victrix, xvii
The model code:
pass-the-word ; if somebody here hasn’t heard the idea, tell them!
move-forward ; then follow the route of the itinerary to somewhere else
; plot the percentage who have now heard the idea
if everyone-heard-it = 100%
; if everyone has heard it, stop the simulation
set ticks ticks + 1 ; update the clock.
Results – JMA 19.1
Internal Dynamics of Provincial Information Diffusion
Proportional of Time Steps
"1" represents the initial number of time steps to get the
message to 10% of the population
% Who Have Heard the Message
A Rather More Complex Model
Published as ‘Behaviour Space: Simulating Roman Social Life and Civil Violence’ in Digital Studies 1.2 (2009)
When Digital Romans Go Bad
Model runs where violence emerged
Final Word to Phil Connors:
I am a God.
Key bit is at 1.35 – 1.40
• Toying with history encourages love & mastery of the
• Toying with history allows for expressive, lively, and
emotional engagement with contingency in the past.
• Toying with history confronts the ways we share
authority with algorithms to create knowledge.
• Toying with history forces us to be explicit about our
‘let’s pretend’ stories.
• Toying with history allows us to explore the
consequences of those stories.
• It might be toying, but it’s anything but a…
Acknowledgements & thanks
• Title slide image: “It belongs in a museum!” cc by
• Shadows of War, Spanish civil war game screenshot,
• ‘Great game’ cartoon
• Zombie legos cc by Pedro Vezini,Flickr
• Classic photos in LEGO c by Mike Stimpson
• Thank you to Elizabeth Andrews, the College Libraries, and
the Bregman Humanities Series for having me.