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#HIST3812

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.

-Brittney.

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Reading through the historical gaming experiences of Group E/5 made me realize that the pursuit of accuracy can be a fruitless effort in games. I say ‘can’ for a reason. This entire course has forced me to consider the place of history amongst the constituent elements of a game. It could be argued that history only fits into the plot and story elements of a game. But, our class has certainly moved beyond that belief. Instead, we have looked toward the mechanics themselves as being vehicles for ideas that are quintessentially historical. These ideas considered, I argue that careful detail must be given to the complexity of the player mechanics instead of character accuracy.

The historical flash games contain a bank of useful information to the player. But, the manner in which they present the information is varied. ‘Mummy Maker’ and ‘Pyramid Challenge’ seemed to place the player in the historical role. The tasks requested of the player were directly related to the assumed role. This ‘role-playing’ approach is being used in every game that has been presented so far except for ‘God of Fate’. That said, ‘God of Fate’ seemed to offer the player the ability to control individual politicians and other figures to control a more focused agent.

This role-based approach seems to be the flavour of the day. Spoiler alert: Our group is also using this approach. The use of a role-based approach is arguably a matter of mechanics as much as it is one of narrative. If we seek to use this approach we must provide a sufficient amount of personhood for the player to inhabit. In many Bethesda games, the player is required to craft their character yet there are certain unchangeable factors that operate regardless of that choice. Those factors generally being the aspects of the character that the designer reserves choice to. Mechanically, the game should react to the personality choices made by the player.

If we seek to forge a sense of empathy between player and character we must mitigate the fusion of their personalities. I believe this connection is only made difficult when the character is so set in stone that there is no room for the emotions of the player. At that point, the player can only look for qualities that they themselves identify with. This avenue is certainly advantageous and practical for both stories and films, as well as video games. Though in my opinion, allowing the player to become the character, or at least meld with their constructed personality, is how we truly engage the player in the potential interactivity this medium affords.

 

I am the Lone Wanderer,

my name is Mr. T Kyle Lagrandeur and I’m a Blood Elf Priest.

Also the Hero of Time, even though it does not jive with the above position.

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In terms of the historical games in general (Historical Games in a Nutshell and Playing History), I agree that there are all sorts of historical games out there.  Some of them are quite good and some of them are, well, shit, from a gaming perspective and from a historical perspective.  One thing that really strikes me is that regardless of how good the “game” is, there is just so much variety now available to the gamer, or the younger person getting interested in history.  This in itself creates some important exposure needed to spark the interest of people to pursue further studies or even just gaming in history, and to find out more about different periods of history.  I like historical games, especially those that are historically accurate and games based on history, so I am naturally drawn to them.  I particularly like the Uncharted games that are historically oriented with both fact and fiction.  I also like Assassin’s Creed for the same reasons, and also because it is very strategic and entertaining.

In terms of the blog on the God Complex, the idea is that changing one small thing in a game can change history.  Playing these games is awesome, especially if you know the history, because they do follow the course of history.  Even if you don’t know the history, the story lines and plots of these games are usually really well done.  The idea of the”ripple effect” is always an interesting perspective.  The idea of “what if something didn’t happen?”, or “what if something different happened?” can cause these ripples.  I agree with Taylor Walker’s blog that this concept is really intriguing.  The “god mode” is really good for people who like to be in control, and are usually very strategic games that are incredibly fun to play.  The idea of which is more impressionable — the shoot-em-up games or the god-mode games is also interesting.  I think they can both be impressionable, and it really depends on the game itself.  Also, it really depends on the player, as to which style will have more impact, either in a positive or negative way.  It all depends on how well the game draws you in, or how the individual player can be impacted by this virtual reality.  It is, in its essence, just a game after all.

 

-Ben

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Balancing fun and education is a slippery slope that i’m sure all of us have found daunting when designing our games. After all what we don’t want is for them to hypothetically end up in the Walmart discount bin.  Trevor Owen said it best: “There is an explicit tension between composing traditional historical narrative and presenting complexity and contingency.” I thought all three games did a pretty good job at balancing that traditional narrative with a more playful and flexible one. The God of Fate game had a really complex idea of how to combine individual events with a more complex environment which I thought was an interesting concept.

There was also a general theme of looking at history from the bottom up (especially in the Havoc or Harmony game). This attempt to recapture the voice of individuals in history that have been previously ignored. Historical games tend to focus on the epic events and people in history and I thought it was a neat idea in both the Medic game and the Havoc or Harmon game to shy away from this.

Of course there’s the dark side of historical games.

the spying game

(Elizabethan Spying Game)

This game was painful to play. It’s a quiz with graphics on it (bad ones). Its supposed to be on the ciphered letters Mary Queen of Scots sent to Babington. The instructions point out that its a similar letter to those written by Mary Queen of Scots and but not an actual one.  My personal favourite question was on how she managed to communicate with Babington which seems  pretty obvious. What I think really annoys me about this game is that even though its geared to a young audience it assumes that they can only learn history through memorization of dates and events.    Its a bad game because it isn’t fun and because at the end of it I’ve learnt nothing but random facts that put together don’t do a very good job at explaining  anything about the complexity of the historical narrative at play.

I was obsessed with the Tudors growing up and I remember owning a book which had the coded letters and the cipher. Decoding them was a better game because it was more interactive.  What the games in this class have is that interactive aspect which allows the player to understand the past not as dates but as meaningful network of events and people.

Carmen Martin

Elizabethan Game – http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/interactive/games/spying/index_embed.shtml

Owens, Trevor. “It’s All About Meaningful Decisions:  Game Design Towards Nuanced Historical Interpretation and Complexity”, http://www.playthepast.org/?p=3475

 

 

 

Today in class, one of the groups presented to the class an overview of their game in which they are creating for the final project of the course. The idea of the game is to show how changing one small decision, can ultimately alter the course of history, it a butterfly effect. The ripple theory of decisions has always been a topic of fascination is society, raising questions like “what if the Japanese decided not to bomb Pearl Harbour in World War 2?” which would have ultimately changed the entire course of the war as history knows it today. The group’s game specifically focuses on North America dealing with the Aboriginals and the War of 1812. Honestly, I think this is a fantastic idea for a game, and I think it would be interesting to read what the reviews for this game would be. Being able to go into a major historical situation, changing a decision or answer and seeing what the outcome would have been like. The concept of the game is intriguing, even for someone such as myself who doesn’t consider themselves a “gamer” on any higher of a level than weak. The game itself shows potential to be able to be applied to other areas of the world as well in later editions of the game. All versions of the game would be extremely interesting to see how small changes can pan out in a situation that would alter history.
The group also mentioned that once the game was completed, one would be able to play on a sort of “God mode”, allowing the player to do basically whatever they wanted to a historic situation. This could be like the example from class of the replacing the gold from the Gold Rush to a bunch of bears instead, or flooding a country for no reason. This type of mode makes me curious about games that allow for the “God mode” such as The Sims, Sim City or any of the Rollercoaster/Zoo Tycoon games. These were the only games that I personally as a child found extremely fun to play, other than Donkey Kong, Zelda and Crash Bandicoot. But why? Why are games like The Sims, where the entire purpose of the game is to play God, and make your characters do whatever you please? Many people have talked about how playing games like this was never about winning the game, it was to simply build something awesome, and then make the people do ridiculous things. These things would include building a Sim in a house with no doors to get out, or a pool with no ladder to get out of, just to see what the character would do on its own. Rollercoaster Tycoon players would pick up the people in the game and put them in bodies of water, or in animal cages like lions or bears. Why is this fun? Many say it has to do with the “God Complex” people get from playing these games. You not only get to be yourself in the game, but you can be whoever you want. You could make your Sim an architect or artist, or whatever your fantasies are, which makes games like these very addicting to play.
I would just like to raise the question of if these games where you can make crazy situations happen and control the outcome of simulations of situations, are these games as “impressionable” as many would deem shooter games? Shooter games make killing and using weapons a virtual experience, whereas The Sims, Sim City, Tycoon games and the game mentioned in class all give the play the power to control a simulated and virtual life. Not just that virtual life’s enviable end, but also all its relationships and decisions. Which is more “impressionable”?

Taylor Walker

Today in class, one of the groups presented to the class an overview of their game in which they are creating for the final project of the course. The idea of the game is to show how change one small decision, can ultimate alter the course of history, is a butterfly effect. The ripple theory of decisions has always been a topic of fascination is society, raising questions like “what if the Japanese decided not to bomb Pearl Harbour in World War 2?” which would have ultimately changed the entire course of the was as history knows it today. The group’s game specifically focuses on North America dealing with the Aboriginals and the War of 1812. Honestly, I think this is a fantastic idea for a game, and I think it would be interesting to read what the reviews for this game would be. Being able to go into a major historical situation, changing a decision or answer and seeing what the outcome would have been like. The concept of the game is intriguing, even for someone such as myself who doesn’t consider themselves a “gamer” on any higher of a level than weak. The game itself shows potential to be able to be applied to other areas of the world as well in later editions of the game. All versions of the game would be extremely interesting to see how small changes can pan out in a situation that would alter history.
The group also mentioned that once the game was completed, one would be able to play on a sort of “God mode”, allowing the player to do basically whatever they wanted to a historic situation. This could be like the example from class of the replacing the gold from the Gold Rush to a bunch of bears instead, or flooding a country for no reason. This type of mode makes me curious about games that allow for the “God mode” such as The Sims, Sim City or any of the Rollercoaster/Zoo Tycoon games. These were the only games that I personally as a child found extremely fun to play, other than Donkey Kong, Zelda and Crash Bandicoot. But why? Why are games like The Sims, where the entire purpose of the game is to play God, and make your characters do whatever you please? Many people have talked about how playing games like this was never about winning the game, it was to simply build something awesome, and then make the people do ridiculous things. These things would include building a Sim in a house with no doors to get out, or a pool with no ladder to get out of, just to see what the character would do on its own. Rollercoaster Tycoon people would pick up the people and put them in bodies of water, or in animal cages like lions or bears. Why is this fun? Many say it has to do with the “God Complex” people get from playing these games. You not only get to be yourself in the game, but you can be whoever you want. You could make your Sim an architect or artist, or whatever your fantasies are, which makes games like these very addicting to play.
I would just like to raise the question of if these games where you can make crazy situations happen and control the outcome of simulations of situations, are these games as “impressionable” as many would deem shooter games? Shooter games make killing and using weapons a virtual experience, whereas The Sims, Sim City, Tycoon games and the game mentioned in class all give the play the power to control a simulated and virtual life. Not just that virtual life’s enviable end, but also all its relationships and decisions. Which is more “impressionable”?

Taylor Walker

The first game I chose to play was the ‘Ancient Objects Game’ found when you click on the word ‘archaeology’ on the home page of Playing History. In this game you have a chart with sections labelled Anglo-Saxon, Viking or Norman. It is your job to match the objects on the left side of the screen to the correct place in the chart depending on their origin. This game is very useful in helping people learn about objects that were a part of Anglo-Saxon, Viking and Norman history. Though it is a simplistic matching game, it is still amusing and the player does not lose interest as it is a fairly speedy game to play.

Secondly, I was drawn to the words ‘British History’ on the home page of Playing History. From there, I decided to play a game entitled ‘Paint the Cathedral’. This game requires players to paint the Wells Cathedral so that it can be restored to the way it once looked in the Medieval times. The first two slides of the game explain a little bit about the Wells Cathedral and what it looked like during that time period. The first slide also explains the meaning behind why cathedrals were painted so vividly in the Medieval times. Though this game does help teach players about how Medieval churches were painted I don’t feel as though they take that much away from it. They game is short and ends once you have selected colour from each of the three paint buckets.

The third game I played was ‘Mummy Maker’, found by clicking on the word ‘ancient’ on the home page. In this game you have to properly embalm Ramose, the officer to the king in preparation for burial. You are monitored by the chief embalmer named Kha. If you don’t embalm Ramose correctly he cannot gain entrance into paradise. I found this game highly educational. I learned a lot about the embalmment process by going through each step individually. I would highly recommend playing this game if you are interested in the process of mummification.

The final game I chose was also found under the word ‘ancient’. It was called ‘Pyramid Challenge’. You take on the role of the Egyptian king’s vizier. It is your job to build the king’s pyramid so that he has a final resting place. Though this is not required to be completed until the king’s death, there is no certainty as to when that will take place.The hardest and most annoying part of the game was having to direct your boat to the location where your pyramid would be built. The directional keys made it difficult to maneuver the boat. This stage results in the conclusion of the game. It is a good game in terms of detailing the steps involved in the construction of a pyramid.

Lastly, commenting on today’s presentations, I particularly enjoyed the game Medic’s War (think it was called that, not sure). I liked the idea and thought it’d be quite an interesting game considering all the injuries one can encounter on the battlefield.

Jennifer Turnbull

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The first game that I played was an amusing game called BBC – History – World Wars: The Battle of the Atlantic. The entire game doesn’t really consist of a lot of actual gameplay and there was no losing scenario. Most of my time was spent in the ‘briefing room’, looking at the appropriate tactics to employ when trying to defend your convoy. The game is set in WW2, and you control the escort ships of a British naval convoy. The object of the game is to escort the transport/cargo ships safely, and either destroy or fend off the German U-boat’s that are trying to torpedo your ships. In the briefing room you are taught a series of tactical maneuvers, and based on the situation and the direction  the U-Boat is approaching you choose which tactic is best. The situation then unfolds and you can only sit and watch, hoping you’ve chosen the correct attack. Maneuvers include ones like the “Raspberry” formation, or the “Creeping Attack”.

The next game I clicked on automatically and without hesitation. It was called Viking Quest and its main advertisement was a sentence that stated “Build a long ship and go forth to loot monasteries!” Ooooh boy!

This game is text based with occasional pictures. The first thing you have to do is actually build your long ship, and you get a variety of choices about where you could construct your ship. I chose the village of Straudenbam, a Viking settlement with a lot of bored warriors and fisherman. The game then goes into detail on how a Viking long ship is built from the ground up, starting with the keel, which is the base of the ship, and then its framework. When the sail is finally built onto the ship you’re ready to sail forth. But not before casting your magic runes of course. Odin didn’t seem to pleased with my decision to only take warriors, but Thor thinks my expedition is a great idea. I travelled across the seas to the monastery and upon landing instantaneously assaulted the monks! A small force of 33 monks met my 28 warriors, and we killed 30. I feel somewhat evil… I returned with booty and slaves (monks) to the Straudenbam and was made chieftain because of my success.

The third game was by far the most fun. It’s called Gladiator: Dressed To Kill. The game is set in the Rome, and the point is to dress a gladiator, based upon his type (as in Retarius or Hoplomachus) in the appropriate arms and armor. If you give the gladiator the proper equipment he survives his fight, viewed as a very fast set of pictures. Depending on how many pieces of armor you get wrong, the gladiator may either be wounded or end up dead. You’re also given a set of clues to help you choose the correct items. The clues are VERY obvious. This seems to be trying to teach the player what gladiators of a specific class or type wore during gladiatorial matches. At the end of the game, depending on how many of your gladiators survived, you’re told whether or not you are a good gladiatorial match organizer.

The last game was called The Battle of Hastings. It was a simple simulation game, which gives you two options depending on how the battle is going and lets the situation unfold as you choose different options. You can play as Harold, the defending English King, or William the Conqueror, whose name speaks for itself. For a challenge I played as Harold, but no matter which options I chose the game always allows William to be victorious. Which makes sense, historically. The game does have animated arrows flying back and forth, and at one point the text reads “Oh no! King Harold has taken an arrow in the eye, and has fallen.” I moved my eyes back to the battle cinematic and watched the King slump off his horse. The game is short but amusing to say the least.

 

-James Riley

 

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This isn’t my actual week to blog/respond and my post doesn’t really involve history but I had a thought about virtual reality gaming and felt compelled to share…

Earlier today, one of the presenters was discussing the idea or virtual reality gaming which generated a short discussion on the pros and cons of virtual reality.  One of the cons mentioned was the idea that players may become so involved in the game that they lose the ability to distinguish between the game and reality.  Somehow, this made me think of the X-Men’s Danger Room and while I know that mutant super heroes don’t exist, I’ll ask you to indulge me…

This won’t make sense without knowing what the Danger room is so long story short, the Danger Room is the training facility for the X-Men where they, well, train.  The Danger Room uses holograms to simulate a training environment a la virtual reality where the X-Men interact directly with these holograms as though they are real.

With me so far?  Good because it gets better…

It occurred to me that once a rational player steps into this virtual world (perhaps a holographic Danger Room of their own) they are consciously aware that they are entering a simulated or virtual environment.  This means the player knows that they have temporarily left the real world and are in a virtual environment which may share properties similar to the real world but is not.  That being the case, I find it difficult to immediately envision a scenario where a rational person might become “lost” in the game, losing the ability to distinguish between the real and game worlds upon exiting the virtual reality.  However, if a virtual reality developer is able to create a virtual environment that is so powerfully pervasive that is able to permeate the deepest layers of the player’s consciousness and affect the player’s perception, then the idea of a player becoming lost in a game becomes a real possibility and obviously a con to virtual reality gaming.  Losing the ability to “unplug” from a virtual world opens the player to a range of mental and physical dangers both in and outside of the virtual world (which we won’t get into) meaning serious thought would need to be given to ensure mechanisms are in place to prevent such an experience from occurring.  The Danger Room can either be not so or incredibly dangerous but I supposed that is the dilemma any new or emerging technology faces.

I won’t go on any further as this is all speculative at this point but if a rational player enters a virtual reality game environment, I would imagine they would be aware of this from the moment they enter until the moment they exit, regardless of how real the virtual environment might seem at any given time.  I guess, though, that the pros and cons of this technology will not necessarily be measurable until there is an actual Danger Room (or Holodeck for the Star Trek fans out there) to play with/in.  Until then, I await the second digital coming of Tupac Shakur in accordance with the gospel of All Eyez on Me.

Cheers!

Life isn’t fair. That’s just the way it is but, most games are.  There are games that are really difficult like Dark Souls or Slender Man but they’re still beatable and if it’s too hard you can always quit.  The harder a game is and the more immersive the quicker you have to learn the skills and information necessary to keep up.  You have to keep up because in games like these if you screw up, that’s it, game over, you have to start from the beginning again.  So because it’s necessary to learn the skills, you do, just like in history it was necessary to develop certain technologies at certain times in order to progress.

A game like Civilization is a great tool for learning about history, if you’re into that sort of thing.  To really do well and know what’s going on you look up historical figures and eras to learn about them.  If you’re not into that sort of thing though it just seems boring and hard and there are too many things to worry about.  If you don’t like the game it can be as boring as a dry lecture and at least the lecture you just sit there instead of becoming frustrated by losing over and over.  If the game was more immersive, or there was something to make it seem more interesting would it work better as a teaching method?

Today’s technology is progressing into virtual reality.  The Oculus Rift is supposedly going to be affordable, manoeuvrable, immersive and coming to a store near you.  It’s designed to work well with first person shooters and simulation games.  It seems like it would be great for a history simulation game and a perfect tool for teaching.  However, would it end up being that only the same people who play Civ now would go for the VR version? Would a VR history simulation even be made when something like Second Life would be more profitable?

Reading the blog posts this week and listening to the discussion in class really made me think about how we’ve incorporated technology into our everyday lives and the possibility of it helping to test out the gamification of a history class.  In class we discussed virtual reality quite heavily and especially the possible drawbacks of it.  For example, getting so drawn in and addicted that you might never want to leave.  If VR gets to such a point would we even care about history or learning or anything anymore?  I know this is probably going a bit too far but we’ll never know until we try.  Just like this course and meshing gamification with teaching, you have to test it out.  Everybody learns differently.  Maybe learning through a game is right for you, maybe the Oculus Rift will help bring teaching to a whole new level.  All I know is that if a course was offered where I’d be able to try out a VR system I’d take it.

– Melissa

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