Creating Meaningful Engagement with the Past in Video Games

This is a response to the discussion “Historical Accuracy and Historical Video Games?” on the website Gaming the Past.

Discussion: Historical Accuracy and Historical Video Games? (Part 1)

I thought that many of the issues discussed in this post were thought-provoking. I found the comparison of historical video games to academic history as representations of the past particularly interesting. Understanding the relationship between videogames and the past as one would traditional scholarly history allows us to think about authenticity in video games in ways that we might not consider otherwise. Given that videogames exist primarily as entertainment, historical setting and narratives in video games can seem, in some instances, to be implemented only as a gimmick that draws in more potential consumers. The idea that videogames, like scholarly history, can contribute to our understanding of the past or, as Adam put it, “say something meaningful about the past,” can allow us to more seriously approach video games as a source of historical interpretation.

To continue with the comparison of games and academic history as representations of the past, a game that attempts only to insert a “presentist” narrative into the past, or one in which historical setting is incidental to the narrative of the game or the gameplay itself, can be compared to positivistic history. Much like meaningful textual history, it is important that a game contribute some historical interpretation. This could come in many forms; it might need to, as Jeremiah writes, “offer defensible explanations of historical causes and systems”, or simply offer the player a better understanding of the past and its significance.

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