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Games & Simulations for Historians

As a person (meaning myself) whose life has been utterly devoid of the experience of playing video games, when the class lecture and discussions have turned to game design and mechanics, I found myself grasping at familiar words to understand the thread of the conversation. Easily, the most recognizable word in my ears was this idea of a ‘sandbox game.’ Putting my pride aside, I will readily admit that I seriously thought we were talking about an actual sandbox, with the little shovels and pails and what not. I kid you not.

This was when I clued in that we could not possibly be talking about the favourite plaything for toddlers, an area of magical wonders and endless possibilities in the imaginations of the children; the sandbox. And instead, I learned that this meant an open-world game.

But thinking of games in this manner, relating it to a playground game for children, actually made more sense. The sandbox held endless wonders of creation for the kids, and a game (not just a sandbox game) can hold endless experiences for the player.

Now to actually tie it to the content of HIST 3812. Over the course of the semester, we have relentlessly talked about how games can represent accurate history, and what constitutes ‘good history’.

I beg of you who are reading this, think back to your days playing in a sandbox, you were able to create, mold and experience whatever you wanted thanks to your imagination. Maybe be a knight and you build a grand castle out of the sand to protect and defend. Or maybe you create a city to expand and populate with your imagination.

Is this not what we do when we create and play a game? We create, mold, expand and experience the digital world.

For me, this is what is the most important, the actual interaction between a game and the players mind. The more the game allows the player to interact with the actions inside the game, the more immersed the player will become, just like the kids in the sandbox who vehemently believe they are the knight in the castle, the player should be allowed to see themselves as the character in the game, engaging fully with the digital world.

This is where games can employ an historical aspect, and fully thrive. If they allow the player to immerse themselves into the game in a natural manner, the choices and actions in the game become a sort of digital extension of the players mind. This way, it is not just the never ending question of the accuracy of the facts and what is included or excluded, but the player is left to their own devices and the more engaged they become, the more they take away from the game. THIS is what I consider good history.

A person can engage with the storyline, the events of the past reconstructed in  the game, and when they are able to immerse themselves into the game, they absorb the facts and repercussions of the past without having to be consciously aware of all of the minute details. Thus engaging them on a personal level with the past. Learning to play WHILE they are playing to learn.

I guess the young minds on the playground, in the sandbox, had all the answers. Allow yourself to let go of the reality of the physical world to permit your mind to be engaged with the material in the game. Thus, when this engagement happens in games with historical aspects, good history is employed and enjoyed in the digital world of video games.


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