Video Games as Historical Narratives and Text

As an avid gamer, I have always loved to play the various genres offered whether it be role-playing, turn-based strategy, or the more popular first person shooter. In particular, I was always drawn to the Assassin’s Creed franchise since its initial release. Although I have been disappointed with the past few releases and the current business culture of the industry, games such as Assassin’s Creed to provide an avenue for the public to experience in historical material both passively and actively. I must admit that to a certain degree I can claim the series is partially responsible for my love of history, especially the three titles that followed Ezio Auditore. However, not all games within a historical timeframe do not provide educational purposes. Other games like Call of Duty: Black Ops do provide some understanding of the Cold War; however, the story is mostly fictitious and uses the Cold War as a backdrop rather than for an engaging purpose.

However, a more controversial topic about video games is JFK: Reloaded. Mark Sample provides analysis of the game from two perspectives: counterfactual and revisionist. Firstly, Sample argues that JFK:Reloaded allows the player to consider the possible outcomes of November 22, 1963. This ability to change history within the confines of the game allow individuals to critically examine Kennedy’s assassination and what were the outcomes. Although counterfactual history is speculation rather than historical analysis, it does simulate historical thinking. However, Mark Sample also presents us with another examination of the game.

Digging through the code of the game, Mark comes across text that shows the attitudes and intentions of the game developers. Rather than its self-defined image of being a doc-game, the text hidden within the code allows one to understand the intention of the developer. Rather than being educational, there appears to be a sort of glee and enjoyment presented in the development in the game. When considering video games as primary sources, it is important to look at the development of the game similar to how historians examine the manuscripts of authors and poets. It provides a better understanding of the intended message or purpose of the text rather than how the user interprets it. Going off that point, though, I believe video games provide engaging primary sources for contemporary and digital historians to examine.

Rather than just considering video games as avenues for historical narratives or opportunities to engage in history, video games themselves are also primary sources and text themselves. In the reading discussing gaming culture and the male dominance within the industry and user base, academics and scholars can examine video games themselves and what they represent. Analyzing video games and their representation of culture and the historical context is crucial to understanding contemporary society due to video games being a significant part of mainstream culture. Examining the Call of Duty series, one can see cultural shifts as the most recent titles have provided a more inclusive environment by including female characters in both single player and multiplayer. Furthermore, one can observe games such as Fallout 4 as a representation of what many perceive to be a dystopian future and a critique of modernity and science. Feminist Frequency, although highly critiqued by the largely male gaming community, provides an analytical approach to video games as text and does present a possible rise in critical thinking when approaching video games.


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