Player Practices

Event details

Date21 March 2024
Time16:00-17:30 (UK)
LocationVirtual (Zoom) |
Speakers Marie Foulston, Holly Nielsen, Michael Pennington [Chair: Nick Webber]

Sign up for the event here, via TicketTailor.

Our guest panelists: 

Marie Foulston is a leading curator behind exhibitions, installations and experiences that specialise in videogames, play and digital culture. She is co-founder and creative director of Good Afternoon, an experiential design creative agency. Previously she was Curator of Videogames at the V&A where she lead the curation of the headline exhibition ‘Videogames’, was guest director of experimental games festival ‘Now Play This’ at Somerset House and co-founded the UK alternative videogame collective the Wild Rumpus. Across her career she has worked alongside a host of international organisations and leading cultural institutions including the Smithsonian, ACMI, PlayStation, the Design Museum, Netflix, Channel 4 and Nintendo. 

Holly Nielsen is a historian, writer, and narrative designer based in London. She is currently completing her PhD at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her thesis is titled ‘British Board Games and the Ludic Imagination, c.1860-1939’. She has published a number of academic pieces about her research exploring topics such as; geographies in nineteenth century board gamesimperial preference in interwar British trade games, the depiction of the gendered experience in twentieth century chance-based board games, and multipurpose domesticity. Alongside her academic work Holly is a game developer, working as a writer and narrative designer for video games. Her latest work can be seen in the IGF Excellence in Narrative nominated game, Neurocracy. Before pivoting to academia and games, Holly was a journalist and arts critic, with bylines including The Guardian, The New Statesman, and Vice, among others.

Dr Michael Pennington is an Associate Lecturer in Historical and Critical Studies at Bath Spa University, UK. His main research interests explore the mounting challenges of game preservation, and how history is uniquely portrayed and interpreted within videogames. His PhD explores how history is curated and interpreted in Hearts of Iron IV. He has also published work on the history of women’s football and the FIFA series and the importance of online wikis as videogame paratexts. His current and upcoming research focuses on how videogames uniquely curate, reflect upon, and preserve, modern and contemporary Japanese history. As a former Digital Curator, he led the National Videogame Museum’s “Animal Crossing Diaries” oral history project, uncovering the personal stories of players of Animal Crossing: New Horizons during the COVID-19 pandemic and times of unprecedented social isolation.

Call for Contributions

The historical consequences of historical games do not end with the interaction between the player and the designed game. As discussed in our Education theme, players are often prompted by historical content to undertake further research and engagement with the past (Beavers, 2020), and to discuss it and to argue about it. It is this kind of activity that leads us towards our next HGN theme: Player Practices. 

Players do not necessarily accept a game designer’s account of the past. Although player debates about historical games are sometimes limited to identity politics, they can also be characterised by a search for concepts to explain what is seen to be happening in games, alongside valuable discussions about history and about meaning. Games are used by players to tell historical stories to others, for example through machinima, through Let’s Plays and streams which include historical commentary or reflection, and through the creation and sharing of particular scenarios or maps. Mods in particular have been central to discussions around historical games (e.g. Loban & Apperley, 2019), affording player desires to extend or reshape games to create new possibilities, from new outfits or colour schemes through to entirely new plotlines or mechanics. Alongside examples of subversive play, these can advance new or altered historical narratives, and make new interventions into ongoing arguments about ‘historical accuracy’ or ‘authenticity’ (e.g. Burgess & Jones, 2021; Donald & Reid, 2023; Wright, 2022).

The historical practices of players also extend considerably beyond this, however, as players do things, with history, around games. Many of these practices are also understood as aspects of fan culture, and there is a substantial overlap between fan work and historical work (Stevens & Webber, 2022). Importantly, and as with historical games more generally, player historical work does not necessarily concern itself with ‘real world’ history, although it will often be focused on what we might call ‘lore’ (in effect, the past of any storyworld, fictional or otherwise). Players curate extensive resources – wikis, videos, archives – which gather this material together, but which also serve to blur the boundaries between history in games and history of games. In such resources, they may combine the careful detail of after-action reports or walkthroughs with other materials which capture the history and memory of (historical) gameplay, along with its social and cultural context. How, for example, do we think about a character sheet from a historical tabletop roleplaying game held in a personal archive of gaming memories?

In this theme, then, we seek to explore the huge diversity of player historical practices around historical games – starting with historical games, then, and working outwards into the context in which they sit. Where, when, and how do players do history in relation to historical games? When players act as historians beyond games, do they extend the role of the player-historian (Chapman, 2016), do they serve as or become public historians (Webber, 2016), are they fan-historians, or something else? What do player practices around historical games tell us about history, and about the place of games within the historical enterprise? And of all of these player contributions, which are the most significant and why?

Contributions to the Player Practices theme

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 player practices around historical games. 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 theme is open for contributions until Friday 29 March 2024, and we will post content received during the period 11 December to 12 April. 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.

Works cited

Beavers, S. (2020). The informal learning of history with digital games. PhD thesis, Open University, UK.

Burgess, J. and Jones, C. (2021). Exploring Player Understandings of Historical Accuracy and Historical Authenticity in Video Games. Games and Culture, 17(5): 816–835.

Chapman, A. (2016). Digital Games as History: How Videogames Represent the Past and Offer Access to Historical Practice. New York/London: Routledge.

Donald, I. and Reid, A. (2023). Account, accuracy, and authenticity: A framework for analyzing historical narrative in games. In (Not) in the Game: History, Paratexts, and Games, edited by R. Seiwald and E. Vollans, 57–80. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter.

Loban, R., & Apperley, T. (2019). Eurocentric values at play: Modding the colonial from the indigenous perspective. In Video Games and the Global South, edited by Phillip Penix-Tadsen, 87–99. Pittsburgh, PA: ETC Press.

Stevens, C., & Webber, N. (2022). The Fan-Historian. Transformative Works and Cultures 37.

Webber, N. (2016). Public History, Game Communities and Historical Knowledge. Proceedings of Playing with History 2016 DiGRA/FDG Workshop on Playing with history: Games, antiquity and history. 

Wright, E. (2022). Rockstar Games and American History: Promotional Materials and the Construction of Authenticity. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter.