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Games & Simulations for Historians

Of the 3 simulations we were told to play around with this week, I found ORBIS/Via to be the most interesting. ORBIS is an interactive geospatial network model of the Roman world created by Stanford University. In much simpler terms, ORBIS is sort of akin to Google Maps for the Roman world. It allows users the novel feature of exploring what factors influenced the time and cost of travel in antiquity. “By simulating movement along the principal routes of the Roman road network, the main navigable rivers, and hundreds of sea routes in the Mediterranean, Black Sea and coastal Atlantic, this interactive model reconstructs the duration and financial cost of travel in antiquity.”1

ORBIS/Via is a is self-described “simple proof of concept demonstrating that models like ORBIS can provide multiple points of interaction with humanities scholarship.”2  Understandably, this is not the most thrilling interactive experience (and nor is it meant to be), but it is still one that was quite engaging. Bumbling through Europe, I found that it took close to 77 days to travel from Rome to London.  More importantly, in my opinion, this was far more interesting to discover than simply plugging in the start and end destination into the ORBIS network model. Using ORBIS/Via and exploring the Roman landscape myself was much more engaging when using a ‘gamified’ tool.

Apparently I’m not the only one to have enjoyed the game application of this tool; “users of ORBIS have suggested that it would be useful for improving strategy games and wargames, such as the expected sequel to Rome: Total War.”3

However, I doubt this is a possibility; realism and complexity outside of warfare is not the primary concern of Total War games.

I do look forward to the future as there – hopefully – begins to be more cross-over between digital humanities, and video games.


– Aaron

  1. ORBIS Stanford, ORBIS home. [online] Available at: <> []
  2. ORBIS Stanford, ORBIS Via. [online] Available at: <> []
  3.  Elijah Meeks, Applying ORBIS. [online] Available at: <> []

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