What is the Historical Games Network?
The Historical Games Network (HGN) brings together academics, game makers and other cultural workers to explore the relationship between history and games, of all kinds and broadly defined. We aim to engage a diversity of perspectives, to support – and offer a platform to – new voices in the field, and to speak to a broad audience, both professional and public. We offer a supportive, thoughtful and moderated space, in which discussions focus on historical issues relevant to scholars, to the games industry and to the institutions of public history and cultural heritage.
Imagined as a meeting space for discussing and sharing ideas related to key themes and topics within the study of history and games, every quarter the HGN site will publish a series of guest contributions on a regular basis (blog posts, book reviews, literature reviews and state-of-the-field posts, game reviews, event reviews, game analysis or post-mortems, podcast recordings, video essays, or other types of creative contribution people are interested in sharing), all of which speak to a central, dedicated theme.
At the end of each quarter, the HGN will then organise an online event, such as a panel discussion bringing together speakers from academia, the games industry and the broader cultural/heritage industry, that speaks to the HGN’s quarterly theme.
Why the HGN, and why now?
Controversy and debate around historical games – particularly those that engage with sensitive or complex topics, or encourage and facilitate certain modes of play – is an almost constant feature of the contemporary gaming news cycle and online gaming culture. On many occasions, these (often fractious) debates begin online well in advance of a game’s release, drawing in and on the perspectives of those who make, study, and play games. At times, it seems as if these debates are on repeat: turning back again and again to certain expectations of games, and conceptions of particular historical periods and topics that seem to have become ‘locked in’.
This situation causes us to ask important questions in response. How can we break this deadlock? How might we foster discussion that will help us push against and positively and usefully develop our ideas about what historical games might look like or be in the future? How can these games contribute more broadly to public understandings of, and engagement with, the past? It’s clear that the idea of “doing history” through and with games, or using the medium to engaged with a variety of related areas such as heritage and cultural practice, archaeology and education, is an important discussion point within online gaming culture, and a vital meeting point between the games industry, players, academics, and other interested cultural workers.
Though we make up an increasingly active community across social networks like Twitter and Facebook (particularly via the Historical Game Studies Network group started by Adam Chapman in 2015), and with regular events like The Middle Ages in Modern Games and Interactive Pasts, and sites and podcasts like Play the Past and History Respawned providing excellent meeting points and discussion spaces over the years, many of those actually doing and interested in this work remain dispersed.Within the formal structures of academia, those of us who research and write about the intersection of history and games are sometimes institutionally positioned within disciplinary silos, our work as (at times uncomfortable) offshoots from established disciplines like history, media studies, digital humanities, computer science, and beyond. Though galvanised at times by excellent events, conferences, books and special issues, and other platforms, when new people become interested in the work being done in this area (and are actively encouraged to move into these spaces!), we lack a suitable resource directing people to the work that has been and is being done.
With the Historical Games Network, it is our intention to take the first steps towards amplifying and providing a platform for both the new work being done in this area and for our interdisciplinary community, as well as recognising the important existing work that has laid the foundations for where we find ourselves today – faced with a position of increasing relevance in very public discussions about what it means for games and their players to do history, and what it means to study the histories of games.
Following the Present and Future of History and Games conference (Warwick, February 2020), we started a discussion about how we might take advantage of the momentum from the event to build something more substantial. We were conscious that many of those working in this area – including those who had attended and contributed to the conference – were precariously employed, or were unaware that this intellectual field even existed. We wanted, therefore, to create a space to support these cultural workers and scholars in developing and sharing their work, recognising the responsibility and opportunity that we hold through our own established roles at UK universities.
With the kind support of the AHRC-funded InGAME Creative Cluster project [led by Abertay University, University of Dundee and the University of St Andrews], we have been able to secure funding for a series of events that will continue to develop the field of history and games (broadly defined), and create a central location where we can build some kind of disciplinary memory. We want to hear and share diverse and international perspectives from people at all career levels, particularly early career scholars and workers, from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds. We hope to encourage conversation and collaboration between the people who have a stake in these issues: academics, game makers, players, and cultural and heritage organisations, of course, but also the general public.
Our first theme is “Historical Truth”, and will be explored through invited posts through May and culminate in our first live event on May 26th at 4PM (BST). Following this, we’ve planned “Ethics”, “(Post)Colonialism” and “Education” as our themes in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th quarter, respectively, and for which we will be seeking proposals for contributions for the Historical Games Network blog.
In the coming months, alongside all of this, we plan to work on a series of further outcomes for the network:
- We will work to develop a community around the network which can directly connect historians, the games and interactive media industries, and cultural and heritage workers more broadly.
- We will set up an open access journal and an associated annual conference, building on the success of events like the Present and Future of History and Games, to more firmly establish our field and to provide additional spaces for discussion.
- We will convene and promote panels at conferences which engage with history, media and/or games, to broaden awareness of all of our work.
- We will create opportunities for the further exploration of historical ideas and themes in relationship to games, such as game jams and workshops.
If you would like to keep up with developments, please sign up to our (mailing list) and/or follow us on Twitter @HistoryGamesNet. If you would like to contribute to the discussion, please come along to the events, and respond to the calls for contributions we’ll release four times per year (once for each theme).