Digital Embodiment

Character design is a crucial part of portraying a person as we immediately make inferences about people based on their appearance. When playing Dangerous Embodiments I was surprised the extent to which I started creating stories around the character models I was playing and by how much my imagined stories differed between character models even though the surroundings were the same. Creating character models is difficult for our projects though because we have little to no visual evidence for the paupers we are looking at. We know what the clothes they would wear look like, however, the physical appearance of paupers is rarely mentioned in the transcripts. This leaves us tremendous amounts of creative license when creating character models. While we should ensure that the models are historically accurate, we must also be wary of what emotions and thoughts they will elicit from users. What muddies the water is that users will have modern perceptions and stereotypes that they will apply to the models of historical figures. This can be used as a teaching moment to expose users to their usually unconscious modern stereotypes and even prejudices. One of the reasons studying history is important is that it can help inform current decisions, so drawing out users’ modern prejudices by applying them to a historical figure and showing how they don’t fit would be a great way to make users wary of their stereotypes. In practice, it may be hard to do and would require an introspective and alert user, however, it would be worth the work to make users question their beliefs and prejudices.

Historical Video Games

Using video games to learn about history can be a great way to engage a wider audience, however, by the nature of video games, the history shown must be an interpretation of history modified to allow user experience and entertainment. In fact, an argument could be made that video games are at odds with portraying historic accuracy as games by their nature allow the player to decide what to do while history has a concrete set of events that occurred. This was mentioned by McCall and Chapman earlier. Looking at historic games, like Walden: A Game, there are still issues with how history is portrayed. Walden: A Game sells itself as “an exploratory narrative and open world simulation of the life of American philosopher Henry David Thoreau during his experiment in self-reliant living at Walden Pond” (according to the game’s website). Walden seems to avoid some of the problems other historical games have by not trying to show the events of history but rather put the player into the life of a historical person to try to shed light and meaning on their story. They do so fairly well by including numerous quotes and passages from Thoreau, exposing the player to his way of seeing the world. However, the game has its weaknesses. Players must find “inspiration” to progress through the game by doing various activities and must scavenge for food and resources. These additional game mechanics could become the player’s main focus depending on their disposition and interest in the game’s subject matter. However, a bigger problem with Walden: A Game is that it seeks to place the player in the mind of Thoreau as he experiences nature and humanity. The irony is that Walden is trying to do this through a computer screen, the antithesis of the experience it is trying to simulate.

St. Sepulchre’s third ward clock

In the third ward at St. Sepulchre’s workhouse in 1751, a clock was listed in the inventory. No information is given about the clock other than that it was held in a Wainscot case. Wainscot was a term used for riven oak boards which were used because of their lighter weight as well as desirability in maintaining their shape. Using this basic description, as well as the location of the object, the clock would likely have not been very ornate but rather fairly basic and practical with simple decorations. Images of clocks from that time and location suggest that the oak might have been stained or colored in some way as well. The clock stands out as none of the other ten or so wards have clocks listed. At the same time though, the clock seems like a good symbol for life in the workhouse as it represents the strictly regimented days the residents are subject to. In a museum display, the clock could be used to symbolize pauper life in the workhouse. It can represent the strict timetables residents must adhere to and the long work hours they are subject to. Additionally, the clock would likely have been made by some sort of mechanic or more skilled laborer which were jobs probably out of reach for many of the poor in the workhouse who were subject to intense manual labor.

John Locke publishes his plan to reform the poor laws

John Locke (1632–1704) was a political philosopher known for advocating for human rights [2]. He is famously known for saying that men are by nature free and equal, and that all people have the inherent right to life, liberty, and property, regardless of governments [2]. While these statements portray him as an advocate for human rights, his stance on assisting the poor differs significantly from the sentiments expressed above. Locke’s essay on The Poor Law even seems to contradict some of the aforementioned principals he is so famously known for. In his essay, Locke states that the reason for the increasing poverty rates “can be [caused] by nothing else but the relaxation of discipline and corruption of manners…[such as] vice and idleness” [1]. Locke’s view that the poor are to be blamed for their poverty drives his suggested reforms, most of which are harsh and focused on disciplining the poor and instilling them with positive characteristics like hard work. The first step in Locke’s proposal for poor reform is the “suppressing of superfluous brandy shops and unnecessary alehouses,” which sets the tone for how his poor reform is based upon his beliefs that the poor are to blame for their situations [1]. Locke’s main proposal for poor reform centers around workhouses and his beliefs that for the “effectual restraining of idle vagabonds” the poor should be put to work. Vagrants could be forced into service in the army/navy, hard labor,  severe punishment, and working on plantations [1]. Locke’s proposed reform of the poor laws is based on his view that the purpose of poor reform is to suppress idle vagabonds, superseding providing assistance to the deserving poor, which seems to contradict the very ideals he is known for.

  1. Locke, John, and Mark Goldie. Locke: Political Essays. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
  2. Tuckness, Alex. “Locke’s Political Philosophy.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. November 09, 2005. Accessed January 22, 2018. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/locke-political/.

Considerations for Historic Games

This post is in response to McCall and Chapman’s blog post.

I agree with the sentiments raised by McCall and Chapman, namely that video games cannot be “historically accurate” or “historically authentic” but can still be valuable by creating discussion around the historic events they depict as well as their representations of history. These arguments make sense given the examples of games McCall and Chapman mention (Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, and Civilization), but I think that by graying the lines between games and simulations we can come to a better historical experience. The primary purpose of AAA games is not to provide an immersive historical experience but rather to provide entertainment. Thus, whenever a design decision comes up in which developers must decide between historical accuracy and playability, they will tend to choose the later. McCall and Chapman mention that the more freedom the player has, the less constrained the game must be and so the harder it is to ensure historical accuracy. I want to push back on this a bit by posing the scenario of a historic open-world game. A game of this type would allow the player to perform almost any action. This would allow players to feel immersed in history while still providing the level of interactivity they desire. Think of it as many simulations packaged together which the player can explore freely. Each simulation can have a semi-rigid structure and limited options to increase historical accuracy and authenticity, yet the player still has freedom and choice.