|Date||13 April 2022|
|Location||Virtual (Zoom) | Register here|
|Speakers||Stéphanie-Anne Ruatta, Holly Gramazio, Kasia Smith, Adam Chapman (Chair)|
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?