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Games & Simulations for Historians

Beyond Good & Evil, Ubisoft, 2003.

The player characters have had an interesting week. They have evolved from street urchin, to revolutionary, to the hand of god(s). Our discussions have often maintained a constant theme: the issue of representation, of accuracy. What can be represented, and what cannot, and furthermore, what should not? (I hear that ‘practical necromancy’ is often met with a raised brow). We have discussed many of the ‘heavy’ topics throughout the semester: nationalism, gender, sexuality, and race. Group Seven’s upcoming presentation will complicate matters further, adding indigineity and the colonial experience to our discourse. How can you responsibly represent a people whose only history is oral, or non-written? It is my firm belief that regardless of how ‘taboo’ a subject, as long as it is depicted to the best of our current knowledge and ability, any topic is appropriate.

Current knowledge is a key portion of this argument. As historians we operate largely in the realm of hypothesis. Since we cannot fully realize the past (we simply re-present), we make our best educated guess based on our observations. Should we seek to represent any of the aforementioned topics, it is absolutely vital that we remain open to changing information and concepts, lest we succumb to confirmation bias (the tendency to maintain existing beliefs as absolute). It is a frightening thought, especially considering once published, video games, interactive fiction, or even augmented reality simulations are difficult to review and resubmit (I imagine some sort of DLC centred on keeping things updated). When your product is released, it’s out there, and if you got it wrong, you will have to defend your position. Perhaps this is part of the reason we don’t seen many industry titles that foray into this area: it’s not worth the trouble.

“What is done out of love always takes place beyond good and evil.” 1

Tom Sloss

  1. Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil. Cricket House Books LLC, 2012. []

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