It’s something of an open secret that increasingly, people are learning much more about the past from games than they are from “older” forms of popular history. Students of all ages develop an interest in particular periods and events by engaging with digital and analogue games of all kinds (Houghton 2016; 2021; Stirling and Wood 2021). Educators are becoming ever-more attuned to this, and have long been experimenting with using historical games in the classroom (See Gaming the Past for an excellent reading list on this topic). New specialist courses at schools and Universities around the world have been designed, exploring ways in which games might be used to develop traditional historical research and analysis skills, and innovative ways of presenting traditional historical research (see also the chapters by Juan Hiriart, Katherine J. Lewis, Alex Moseley, and Pat Cullum in 2020’s Historia Ludens: The Playing Historian).
Games in the classroom aren’t just those made first and foremost with education in mind (such as The Oregon Trail (1971; 1974), or role-playing games like Reacting to the Past). Many mainstream, commercial developers have also shifted their focus towards the potential educational value of games too. Perhaps most famously, marketing for Ubisoft’s Discovery Tour mode of the Assassin’s Creed franchise – now spanning Ancient Egypt and Greece, as well as the Viking Age – touts its possible uses in the classroom, providing resources for teachers and learners alike to use the game as an entry point into traditional history education. In addition, lockdown saw an efflorescence of attention to analogue games as educational tools, and board game publisher Asmodee made a selection of games available for free, including titles such as 7 Wonders, Timeline, Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne, which routinely appear on lists of games which (help) “teach history“.
But beyond the scope for formal education and using games in the history classroom, the very act of playing games of all kinds creates space for more informal kinds of historical learning (Beavers 2019) – no less valuable, but arguably less studied and understood. Games not only convey information, but they encourage their players to ask questions, to discuss the past and its representation, and in some instances to undertake historical research. This kind of learning manifests in game communities not only through well-trodden debates about accuracy and authenticity (as discussed, for example, by Copplestone 2017), but also through intense player discussions which offer new interpretations of historical events, for example, and the creation of mods which make procedural arguments about them. Thus historical games, along with a range of other game experiences, not only teach players about the past, but also about being historians.
This HGN theme invites contributions on games of all kinds (digital and analogue), where contributions reflect on “education” and history (broadly defined). What sort of claims do games make to teach us about the past, and how reliable are they? What kinds of historians do games make of us? Calling back to our earlier themes, how can games be put to work to deliver historical learning in an ethical and thoughtful manner, avoiding the privileging of colonialist or “truth”-led perspectives? And can games actually teach us history, or are the list-makers wrong?
Contributions to the Education theme
As with our other themes, Education is an open theme, and we hope that the network will add to the discussion in new and interesting ways. #HGN provides a space to explore the conjunction of history and games, and we are seeking contributions to the theme from anyone interested in discussing education in this area. We are open to a range of formats and approaches: blog posts, book reviews, literature reviews and state-of-the-field posts, game criticism and reviews, event reviews, game analyses or post-mortems, podcast recordings, video essays, or any other type of creative contribution you might be interested in sharing. As a guide, we might expect written pieces to be in the region of 1,000-1,500 words, and video essays or audio recordings of around 5-10 minutes. However, if you have more to say, get in touch!
The Education theme is initially open for contributions until Friday 14 January, and we will post content received during the period 21 January to 28 February. All material will be treated in line with our copyright statement (you can find this on our About page: TL;DR – it’s free, open access, and you can repost your work wherever you like).
Submission and editorial process
Please submit contributions via the email linked at the bottom of the page, and any queries or questions through the same route. Contributions will be assigned for editorial review to at least one member of the HGN editorial team, and we will supply feedback and suggestions for amendment, as appropriate, for any submissions received. Please note that we reserve the right to reject contributions which are unsuitable for the site, and to request and/or require specific editorial changes before publication to meet any legal, funding or support requirements or obligations.
We commit to respond to all submissions within two weeks, and to fix a publication date for accepted content at the earliest possible point.
HGN is an open access, public-facing project intended to connect people, and we neither charge nor pay a fee for editorial support and publication on our site.
Sian Beavers. 2019. The Informal Learning of History with Digital Games. PhD Thesis, The Open University.
Tara Jane Copplestone. 2017. But that’s not accurate: the differing perceptions of accuracy in cultural-heritage videogames between creators, consumers and critics. Rethinking History 21(3): 415-438. doi: 10.1080/13642529.2017.1256615.
Robert Houghton. 2016. Where did you learn that? The self-perceived educational impact of historical computer games on undergraduates. Gamevironments 5: 8-45.
Robert Houghton. 2021. History Games for Boys? Gender, Genre and the Self-Perceived Impact of Historical Games on Undergraduate Historians. Gamevironments 14: 1-49.
Alexander von Lünen, Katherine J. Lewis, Benjamin Litherland and Pat Cullum, eds. 2020. Historian Ludens: The Playing Historian. New York and London: Routledge.
Eve Stirling and Jamie Wood. 2021. “Actual history doesn’t take place”: Digital Gaming, Accuracy and Authenticity. Game Studies 21(1).