Distinguishing the historical video game from the museum

In Mark Sample’s analysis of the game Drama in the Delta, he makes a point in the importance of distinguishing the video game from the museum. Drama in the Delta, he attests, obscures the difference to a negative end in its overreliance on ‘telling’ (captions) and ‘showing’ (photographs) versus active modeling. It’s true… playing this game would be virtually no different from walking through an exhibit on Japanese internment. And here arises a fundamental challenge of capturing historical memory in video games: how does a game designer utilize the characteristics of the video game, as its own distinct medium, to produce an experience that both (a) fulfills its potential in educative power and (b) is historically authentic?

I appreciate Sample’s reference to the idea of ‘procedural reality’ as the missing piece of Drama in the Delta. Indeed, video games possess the ability to bring an audience through a fully rendered world of physical spaces, signifiers, and emotionality–what museums and other mediums can’t do—and it is exactly this quality that allows video games to valuable sources of learning in their own right. Often times, however, creative license and the construction of procedural reality pose directly at odds with the goal of historical authenticity. Spontaneity and freedom of choice are scary things to give an audience when it comes to preserving a rigid narrative, after all. The crux of decision in the historical game design world, it seems, lies in the carving out of priority between maximizing learning potential and achieving alignment with a narrative. We get a glimpse of what Drama in the Delta and other educationally-oriented games of its kind privilege.

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