|Date||TBC August 2021|
Although public debates around historical games have given a great deal of thought to issues of accuracy, and to the representative powers and affordances of these media, attention to the ethical dimensions of such games has been more limited. Historical sensitivities are rarely foregrounded in discussions which are more likely to focus on verisimilitude than cultural appropriation, or on ‘how?’ rather than ‘should?’ Scholars have highlighted a range of ethical issues in historical games, which emerge for example in the representation of archaeology (e.g. Dennis, 2016), the treatment of highly sensitive and traumatic events (e.g. Pfister, 2016) or counterfactual depictions of real individuals in ways which are disrespectful (e.g. Mukherjee, 2017). This work exists alongside an increasing acknowledgement of the extensive use of colonialist mechanics and dispositions – issues which we will discuss in more detail in our summer theme.
Is it impossible, then, to produce games about difficult or (un)popular historical subjects or people in ways which seem ethical and respectful from all standpoints? If not, which historical games are successful ethical projects, and what do they do that is distinctive? Where and how are the ethical principles that underpin so much good historical, archaeological or heritage work put into practice in games? And in light of the breadth of affordances that historical games now offer, to what extent do ethical issues stop with game makers? How much ethical responsibility rests with the players of historical games? Their fans and modders? Or for that matter, their regulators, or their reviewers?