Digital Embodiment: Character and Environment

The Dangerous Embodiments project aims to give players different first-person perspectives of the experiences of people in Soweto and Lakeport. It attempts to embody this history digitally by allowing users to play as different characters such as a female slave and a male plantation master, in the case of Lakeport.

At first, I definitely noticed the physical characteristics of the avatar as which I am playing. The female slave at Lakeport seems more hunched over and timid, while the male plantation master is more burly and comes off as a more powerful character. However, as I progressed through the simulation I found that I paid less and less attention to the character as which I was playing until, eventually, I was essentially tuning it out and only paying attention to the environment around me. Because of this, I don’t feel I was able to gain as much of a sense of empathy as this project has potential to offer.

This point about the environment is key here. I feel that if these projects and included more environmental changes depending on which character you select, a much more immersive sense of embodiment would ensue. For example, not allowing the slave to enter the house, or certain parts of the house, that the master might help emphasize the historical situations and restrictions that came with each of the characters, better putting you into their experience. This could be done with social interactions with other non player characters added to the simulation as well.

Virtual Pompeii: A Historical Experience (Of Fun?)

In the project “Virtual Pompeii,” I felt I was able to gain a first-person perspective of what domestic life might have been like in Pompeii at the time. One can walk around the model, see the small pool in one of the main rooms on the ground floor, go upstairs and look over the courtyard, and see the candles spread across the house to illuminate it at dark. These things help to show, in a much more intimate fashion than many other mediums, what daily routines might have been like.

However, this is about all that this project does for me. It gives essentially no other information about life in Pompeii, or specifically the famous volcanic eruption that occurred there. While this project does put you in the shoes of someone in Pompeii better than many other mediums, it doesn’t really tell you about import events of the time, or much else outside of home life. At the same time, with a static model, there is only a relatively small fixed space for the user to explore and become bored quickly.

I think that adding some kind of simulation of the volcanic eruption that one could experience from inside the house would have greatly benefitted the project. Through this, you would not only be able see daily home life of a person at the era, but you would also get to experience a first-person account of an important historical event in a more intimate fashion than something like a historical paper. This would also lend itself to a more “fun” game-like experience, as it would add a dramatic element to the project.


The simple, wooden cradles listed in the inventories of 18th century Workhouses tell us of the dire conditions that pregnant women living in poverty outside of the houses would have had to endure.

When introducing the cradles of 18th century and their significance in Workhouses in a museum context, it would be helpful to first show physical examples. Some of lesser quality which would more likely have been in the Workhouses, with infant dolls in them showing the visitor that children were born there. In addition, to display the idea that the pregnant women did not become so in the Workhouse, but rather came to the Workhouse afterward but before having their children, a video of pregnant women walking up to the doors of the Workhouses could be shown in the display.

To lead the visitor to consider the circumstances that poor, pregnant women would have had to endure at the time, other cradles of more elaborate and ornate construction could be shown. This could be in some digital context in which the locations of such cradles – more affluent places – could also be observed, contrasting these to the simpler ones found in the Workhouse. Why, then, would women choose to have their babies in places in which the furnishings were so relatively poor? Conditions outside must have been even worse.

John Howard and the Penitentiary Act of 1779

Prison conditions in the 18th century were incredibly brutal. Dirty and crowded prisons were the norm in early England due to large numbers of prisoners – in particular, debtors. After the Black Act in 1729, crime laws were significantly tightened, and many crimes became punishable by death. This meant these debtors along with other less severe offenders made up a large portion of the prison population. However, these conditions were especially bad for the poor. Prisoners, rather than receiving salaries or benefits, had to pay for their own food and bedding, and were sometimes required to pay a fee before their release. This meant that inmates were forced to live on very little, and often to stay much longer than their sentence.

John Howard was a prison reformer and philanthropist during this time. When he became high sheriff of Bedfordshire, England, in 1773, he was deeply disturbed by those appalling living conditions endured by the prisoners he would supervise. This prompted him to travel across the country observing the conditions of other prisons, where he found no improvement. Howard’s distress over the prison situation in England led him to become one of a handful of people responsible for the creation of the Penitentiary Act of 1779.

The act was put in place in hope of reforming prison conditions in England. Howard’s reform emphasized solitary confinement, hard labor and religious instruction, which were aimed not only at deterring the people from committing crimes that would lead to their imprisonment, but to reform those who did become imprisoned as well. This changed the entire ideology of the prison system in England, from a “relaxed and informal prison regime” to “one which was obsessively and excessively regulated.”



“Background – Prisons and Lockups.” London Lives 1690 to 1800, April 2012, (21 January 2018)

Clark, Robert. “Penitentiary Act; Panopticon.” The Literary Encyclopedia, 28 October 2000, (21 January 2018)

“History – Historic Figures: John Howard (1726 – 1790).” BBC, 2014, (21 January 2018)


Agency and Accuracy in Video Games

To consider the extent to which a video game accurately represents a historical event is a difficult task. A great deal of research and effort is put toward achieving a sense of historical accuracy in many modern video games, but how well can they really depict the events of the past? While we can try to give a player a similar experience to what someone may have had at the time, I argue that it would be impossible to truly represent historical events accurately through video games.

One reason for this is the element of agency, an invaluable aspect of any game, discussed by Adam Chapman and Jeremiah Mccall. “Remove that agency, and the experience is a video, or text, or recording, or graphic novel, but not really a game.” There is only one way in which any given event occurred, and to give players of a video game agency directly contradicts that notion. As soon as they are offered choice in their actions, they can and will stray immediately from a truly accurate representation of the past, and in fact create many different representations. However, without this agency – as Jeremiah points out, we would not have a game, but rather a movie etc.

Though we can’t represent historical events completely accurately in a game while giving a player agency, with accurate information and details about the past, I do believe that we can offer an experience from which a player can learn meaningfully about the past.