Why we need more “dangerous” embodiments

While comparing the differences in bodily motions of the white plantation owner and the black slave, I wasn’t sure if I was bringing my own set of expectations or if the difference in movement was intended in the game. The white plantation owner was clearly taller than the black slave, but I wasn’t able to figure out if the white plantation owner walked more “proudly” with his head held high than the black slave, who at first glance, seemed to keep her head slightly lower. It seemed like I had brought in my own set of expectations about the plantation owner and the black slave which drastically shaped my playing experience.

This brings me to two points: the importance of process-based projects and the need for more embodiments despite the “dangerous” nature. If the project was process-based and had a narrative of what was based on historical evidence and what was interpreted when designing the characters, I would be able to better distinguish what my own expectations were and adjust accordingly to perceptions that are more historically authentic. This is especially important for potential players of the game who might have very skewed ideas and biases of what a black slave or white plantation owner looked like. Grounding these embodiments with historically accurate accounts can be very dangerous, but we should not let the “dangerous” nature of these embodiments turn us away from making them. It is imperative that we expose people’s own expectations, just as it did with me, and make them confront and question these perceptions. As a result, people may have more well-informed thoughts and perspectives on controversial histories like slavery and get a more accurate depiction of what actually happened during that time.

Questioning the accessibility of St. Paul’s Cathedral Project

The purpose of the Virtual St. Paul’s Cathedral Project was to “explore public preaching…enabling us to experience a Paul’s Cross sermon as a performance…in real time”. At first sight, the project seems to be a product-based question because the player “experiences” a digitally-created performance from the 17th century. However, upon further investigation, this project was more intended to explore process-based questions. The makers dwelled on how they transformed a rough rendering of a church yard into a historically accurate church yard with sounds and sights. They mainly grappled with the “formative discussion and development” section of their project where they make clear distinctions of where they used historical information, made approximations and recreated lost experiences. This helped them contend with their own assumptions of how the Paul’s Cross sermon looked and sounded like. I appreciated how they acknowledged their own biases in interpreting this event and were open different models with other interpretations of the same event, but I had some hesitations regarding whether the process-based question they pursued was effective in allowing greater public accessibility.

Since the purpose of the project was not meant to be a game-like experience, it seems irrelevant to determine whether or not they fulfilled the humanities scholarship or “fun” experience balance. However, looking at the website alone, it wasn’t very accessible or cohesive. It was not very user-friendly and on the website pages, there was a lot of text with the same terms bolded. The acoustics part of their project was not added to the visual “fly over” videos, making my experience of the fly-around not very unified. Thus, although not all “serious games” must meet a game-like experience, I wonder what the best way is to engage with humanities scholarship while remaining accessible to a larger audience.

A small Bible: the symbol of discipline and order in the workhouse?

A Bible from the 1800s

The small leather bound Bible embellished with gold engravings was found in the hallway of St. Sepulchre workhouse in 1751, reminding paupers of the strict law and order of the workhouse. Institutions, including the workhouse, used Christianity to justify harsh disciplining and used these horrible conditions to deter as many paupers as they can. From the physical object, the Bible may conjure these feelings and representations of the workhouse along with the paupers that resided there. However, using digital tools such as interactive games where the public can decide the fate of a pauper, or a dramatization and “inside look” into a pauper’s “hidden transcript”, the public audience is able to “re-claim, re-contextualize, and re-form knowledge into personally meaningful, and very public, configurations”.(1) Through virtual tools, the audience can experience and see that many paupers actually rebelled against these rules while others found a better religious life within the walls of the workhouse. As a result, the museum returns agency to the paupers and debunks the commonly held belief that the workhouse was a complete total institution.

1 – Sian Bayne, Jen Ross, and Zoe Williamson “Objects, subjects, bits and bytes: learning from the digital collections of the National Museums,” museum and society 7 (2009): 111

Jenner’s vaccination against smallpox and medical advances of the 18th century

In 18th-century Europe, smallpox, commonly known as the “speckled monster”, affected all levels of society: from the elite to the poor. Jenner’s vaccination against smallpox radically changed public health in England and laid the foundations of modern immunology.

At age 13, Edward Jenner was apprenticed to a country surgeon and apothecary near Bristol. There, he learned that dairymaids never had smallpox after suffering from cowpox. Ten years later, whilst practicing medicine, he pondered the phenomenon of smallpox-resistant dairymaids and concluded that exposure to cowpox protected the dairymaids against smallpox and that this immunity could be transmitted from one person to another. He decided to investigate further. In May 1796, Jenner inoculated cowpox lesions from a sick dairymaid, and placed it in an 8-year-old boy. The boy fell sick but recovered after 10 days. Then, Jenner inoculated the boy with smallpox lesions and no smallpox developed. The boy was immune to smallpox.

After this major discovery, Jenner encouraged all people to get vaccinated and even built a hut beside his house to vaccinate the poor for free. His vaccination program was so significant to the public health initiative that poor law officials almost immediately adopted Jenner’s method to vaccinate the poor. “Pest houses” were often erected adjacent to the workhouses to contain the poor that were either afflicted by smallpox or had just received the vaccination. By 1800, most European countries adopted vaccination practices. Ultimately, Jenner’s push to vaccinate all people emphasized the need for more public health and social welfare initiatives in England.



Stefan Riedel, “Edward Jenner and the history of smallpox and vaccination,” Proceedings (Baylor University Medical Center) 18 (January 2005): 21-25.

Higginbotham, Peter. “Loddon and Clavering, Norfolk.” Accessed January 21, 2018. http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Loddon/

Historically typical yet authentic video games?

McCall and Chapman’s discussion really helped me think of video games in a different light. During this dialogue of authenticity, representation, agency and narratives, what struck me was when Chapman posed the question: “are [the characters] historically typical?”. To me, when historical narratives are ‘typical’, they often the leave out marginalized narratives because it was the elite who wrote these mainstream narratives. This leads me to wonder what an authentic narrative means. According to McCall and Chapman, an authentic video game would be showing players real and accurate experiences from the past. However, I would like to expand this definition of authenticity to being historically accurate and inclusive of all narratives, including the ones that are not stereotypically part of the general narrative. Although there will always be some bias to the past and incompleteness of some picture, it seems like depicting non-cliché narratives in video games would bring even greater value to the authenticity of these games.

On the other hand, video games are for entertainment. This brings me to another part of McCall and Chapman’s discussion where they talk about the different external pressures of being a game. When made for the consumption of the public, video games will be most engaging when the audiences’ perceptions and stereotypes of the historical past are reinforced. Typically, these perceptions and stereotypes don’t include marginalized narratives. Thus, I wonder: are there historical video games out there that have attempted to include marginalized narratives? How do they bring the entertainment element while being authentic?

Edit: Having read all the articles, it seems like Drama in the Delta would be the closest video game, or “playable space”, to what I imagined, as it includes social commentary of different lived experiences while being historically accurate.