Video Games Blog

The readings about the expanding role of history within the video gaming world present interesting and refreshing arguments about the future of historical studies and the tech world. When we think about video games we often lose sight of the story building element and the amount of research it takes to develop an interesting narrative. For example, the video game franchise Assassin’s Creed is a near perfect example of what can be achieved through the combination of thorough historical research and well-crafted video game design. The game places you in the shoes of a time-traveling assassin with the goal of influencing and guiding certain narratives within different historical periods and among real historical figures and places. Vast worlds designed to replicate famous regions within Italy (Rome, Florence), the United States, and even a seafaring adventure through the Caribbean Islands, offer players the unique (and rather fun) opportunity to experience significant moments in modern history through the hands of a cunning vigilante. As noted by Katy Meyers in the “Lessons from Assassins Creed” article, the model for the appearance and layout of Rome in the game was based on Leonardo Bufalini’s 16th-century map of Rome. Genevieve Dufour, the game’s production manager said: “We actually went to the minutia of importing Bufalini’s map into our engine and then scaling it until the size felt right.” Such detail put into the game is what has made the series a fan-favorite among the single player gaming community.

Not all historical based games operate on the same level as Assassin Creed developers Ubisoft, however, as can be seen through the game JFK: Reloaded. The premise of the game takes players through a historical reenactment of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and places them in the shoes of the infamous assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. Controversial to say the least, the game provides a chance for people to relive the historical moment as accurately as they can based off of government reports about the incident and the general belief as to how the assassination unfolded (though much debate still remains). As Mark Sample mentions in his article, “Rebooting Counterfactual History with JFK Reloaded”, the game doesn’t aim to prove that the Warren Commission report was entirely accurate, but rather shows how difficult it would have been for Oswald to assassinate JFK given the conclusions of the several reports consulted for the game. In doing so the game actually challenges history and presents players with a unique lens for viewing a very controversial historical event that still has a shroud of mystery surrounding it.

Having discussed JFK: Reloaded, the topic of speculative history is now more understandable. As was mentioned throughout the “Playing with the Past” chapters, video games such as JFK: Reloaded and Assassin’s Creed lend players the rare opportunity to dabble in speculation of historical events and the fallout of different actions. For example, what if JFK survived the assassination attempt? Would the US-Vietnam War have gone on the way it did? Would Civil Rights have been achieved earlier? Perhaps John’s younger brother Robert would have also avoided his assassination under different political circumstances? Sure, such speculation is merely for thought as there is nothing we can do about the past, but these video games mentioned at least provide more than our own imagination for reenacting such scenarios. Although one can argue that these kinds of games aren’t entirely historically accurate, or tend to pander to the more violent aspects of video games than the educational side, it is still a great step forward within the video game world to attract new players to the gaming world, but also provide casual players with a more interactive and entertaining way to learn about and perhaps better understand important historical events.

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