Imperfect Digital Embodiment

The MakeHuman creation platform is certainly a fantastic way for a low-budget team to create models that share traits with their subjects, but MakeHuman has its shortcomings. By being a jack-of-all-trades, MakeHuman is clearly a master of none. For instance, while the three race sliders for Caucasian, African, and Asian represent a strong majority of the world’s population, the system doesn’t make it very easy to model other people. MakeHuman models also have a tendency to start looking inhuman pretty quickly. Some slider settings just do not mix well.

Nevertheless, the larger question might be this: how perfect can a digital model ever be? Current technology does allow for a great deal of photo-realism, but that’s at the cutting edge. Moreover, trying to model subjects that have limited or non-existent representation in photographs or artwork makes the job hard. Even if these media exist, how much can we believe what they portray. No looks good in a mugshot, and everyone looks fantastic under studio lighting.

Perhaps it’s more important that the model evoke the proper feeling. The digital embodiment probably shouldn’t be the focus, rather it should be good enough that it doesn’t distract the player. The model should get out of the way to let the player experience the game. That doesn’t mean the player model is unimportant. The character may well be crucial, but it shouldn’t need to undergo closeup scrutiny.

HIstorical Critique of Walden: A Game

Walden does a fantastic job of situating Thoreau’s whimsical prose in a well-designed and visually appealing context. The game combines the low barrier to entry of an audio book with the immersion and flow of a video game. Walden: A Game manages to make Thoreau more than just accessible but actively engaging as well. The environment begs the player to explore every nook and cranny with rewards like quotes, books, and nature facts. The player also uncovers a series of mini games, each of which provide the player with a useful resource. These resources provide a sense of progression and purpose. While it might not attract every kind of game, it should appeal strongly to players who like to manage their resources and explore virtual environments. The game also doesn’t overstay its welcome. Whereas Thoreau has a tendency to digress, Walden: A Game only takes twelve in game days. Games like these can quickly become repetitive to the point of feeling like a grind, but Walden opts for a small play-space so that it can be well saturated with collectibles and activities. The resource system provides a goal, but it doesn’t become over complicated or stressful. All the while, Thoreau’s prose and the beautiful environment make the game a real treat.

Regardless of its merits as game, does Walden deliver on its goal: communicating the essence of Thoreau’s account to the player? I think so. Walden: A Game manages an impressive balancing act between game and academic work. There’s enough fun to keep the player from getting bored, and part of that is thanks to the unobtrusive way Walden communicates its source material. The narration is pertinent, brief, and doesn’t take control away from the player, who is free to continue walking through the environment. Crucially, the developers did not bend the story beyond recognition to make a more widely appealing game. Plenty of people will think that Walden: A Game is just as boring as the book, but the goal of the project is not to make Walden a mass hit. The two major goals are to give those who already have experienced Walden a new way to interact with the work, spurring new thoughts, and to invite those who do enjoy the game to dig further into Thoreau’s Walden.

Wooden Bedstead

Beds were everywhere in the 18th and 19th century workhouses, and everyone spent time sleeping in and tending to their bed. Given their ubiquity, a bedstead would be a crucial piece of a museum exhibit seeking to expose this portion of workhouse life.

One possible means of incorporating digital tools into a bed showcase might be through the use of VR. A replica bed could be placed in an open space, and users could approach the real bed while immersed in a virtually reproduced setting. As the user approaches and examines the bed, the room in which it is located could change, to demonstrate the wide range of rooms in the workhouse that had a bed. One could even imagine creating a game that requires you to clean a dirty bedstead to advance through the sequence of rooms. A simpler display could employ projectors to change the setting for the bed.

Regardless of the means, the bed’s exhibit would serve as a recognizable touchstone to transport visitors into the workhouse setting. We all recognize beds as items central to our lives, and that makes them a good point to compare and contrast our experience with that of a workhouse inmate.


Founding of the Bank of England, financial and commercial “revolutions”

Founded on July 27th, 1694 by royal charter under William and Mary (two of its original stakeholders), one of the institution’s major duties was to keep ownership of the nation’s debt and to help manage finances for the war with France.[1]

The foundation of the bank represented a crucial milestone of the Commercial Revolution, which had begun in Europe as early as the 11th century. In England, the Commercial Revolution would define the nature of the relationship between the state and the economy. As a tool of the monarchy, the bank was an attempt minimize the influence England’s creditors could exert on the crown. The bank was the beginning of the economic transition from agricultural goods and raw materials to an economy reliant on banking, stock exchange, and insurance. This new service economy was part of a symbiotic relationship with England’s growing mercantile fleet that generated the demand for the services. In fact, the Bank of England began as a joint-stock operation.[2]

The strength of England’s financial service sector caused ripple effects throughout English society. Well before the foundation of the bank, the new class of wealthy clerks and merchants laid the foundations of the British middle class. The most successful of these early financiers pushed their way into influential political positions, since they possessed the capital that the land-rich aristocracy lacked. An early example, Thomas Cromwell used his foothold in trade to become a successful lawyer and was one of the major players in the English Reformation.[3] His distant relative, Oliver Cromwell, would control England for five years as Lord Protector. The bank marked the institutionalization of whole sector of professions that had long been looked down upon and demonstrated the success of these professionals in securing their stake in the country as a whole.

[1] “Our History.” Bank of England, 5 Dec. 2017,

[2] Henry Keyser, The law relating to transactions on the stock exchange, (Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press, 1850), 1.

[3] F. Donald Logan, “Thomas Cromwell and the Vicegerency in Spirituals: A Revisitation,” The English Historical Review, (July 1988): 103 (408): 658–67. JSTOR 572696

Historical Learning through Games

I take issue with McCall’s statement that “Exploring a historical setting as a fictional character will not help one understand what happened and why.” Perhaps the fictional character fails to add to the historical narrative the game develops, a poorly designed one might even obstruct it, but this model has many merits over the traditional means of teaching history: namely book learning and lecture. To state categorically that an interactive platform will provide no means of understanding history is hyperbolic and obviously false. An interactive experience as simple as walking through a 3D representation of a historically relevant location already provide a unique perspective that, often times, cannot be gained any other way.

Moreover, the “whys” of history–people’s motivations–are much easier to communicate when a person is actively participating in a simulation than when these influences have to be teased out of written documents. A ship’s manifest may have a wealth of information to divulge, but I have certainly had an easier time understanding the necessity of trade when navigating the geopolitics of a game like Civilization. Realizing that my empire is too large to be protected with my meager coffers really drives home the problems that confronted the Roman Empire as it began to crumble

Nevertheless, I do agree that perfect historical accuracy cannot be achieved by video games. Of course, most historians agree that perfect historical accuracy cannot be accomplished in any medium, so perhaps we need not hold games to so high a standard.