For my project I will be focusing on how video games utilize history, folklore, and pop culture within the games. There are a number of genres that lend themselves to this: from Sid Meier’s Civilization series to Call of Duty. My project will highlight some of the ways developers have used history as a means for entertainment. The project I built for the previous course was a brief history of video games in general, and I am debating whether to add a second exhibit within that site or creating a separate instance of Omeka to build this particular project.
Digital media has become such an ingrained part of American culture that historians are now able to utilize it in presenting the past. The prevalence of smart phones and mobile Internet access allow a large part of the population to get immediate answers to their questions. We as historians can play a significant role in how people are looking at the information they find. Teaching how to look at a particular piece of information from a historical perspective can allow people to judge how it plays a part in the story being told.
There is so much information at people’s fingertips through the Web, it becomes necessary to differentiate between historical context and complexities. Using media to compare how different time periods view a particular event. As an example, the American Civil War is one event that has had numerous films produced about it from the earliest use of the medium. A film produced in the mid 20th century is very different from one in the 21st century. Looking critically at the content and presentation in both films can provide insight into not only the Civil War, but also the time is was made.
The role of digital media within history can have a huge impact on how we teaching it. Not only can we find a large source base for research, but new tools allow these sources to coalesce into a coherent narrative of the topic. Educators can provide content in ways that text alone cannot, using visuals like film and photos alongside text to provide a clearer sense of the topic. With access to the Web being readily available, it is easier than ever to walk through how historians find and use sources in their work.
I found a blog post by fellow GMU student Trevor Owens from a few years back about the historical elements within the game Fallout 3. If you do not know what Fallout is, you can find more detailed information here. Owens does a good job of describing Fallout and how there is a way to ‘do’ history within the game’s mythology. I have come across several people talking about how history has seeped into games, and at this point I am considering including this aspect of gaming into my project. To be honest, I am currently having trouble finding specific examples for comparing board games and their electronic counterparts. I may simply have not found the right keywords to search, but since I have found sources such as this one I am considering changing my idea to include of them within the project.
While my project at this point focuses on comparing board games with electronic versions of those games, the games have crossed into other media as well. Below is a clip from the 1985 film Clue. The film is a comedy based on the game of the same name, and shows how the entertainment industry looks to things that are already familiar to the public. The same is true for the video game industry, which is filled with sequel, remastered editions, and games centering on characters from previous consoles.
Paul B. Weinstein’s class assignment about having his students review films as part of his history course is a brilliant idea. One of my own undergraduate professors did a similar exercise, and it does help students to question what they see in these types of films. It allows them to start thinking about topics historically, and how they are also a product of the time period it was made just as much as the material being described.
Since I design for exhibits rather than a classroom, my approach to using film has to be slightly different. People going through an exhibit do not have the time to sit and watch a 2 hour movie, so I will need to select specific scenes from the movie to play on monitors. Copyright issues are also an issue with a public exhibit, further complicating which films I could use, so selecting the right film to use is critical. I would play the clips alongside key questions about them. The rest of the exhibit will need to fill in the gaps that are cut from the overall film, but the goal of the clips is to show how the topics in the film have been discussed at different times.
The audience for my project includes people who play board games, video games, or both. It may also include those who are interested in the subject, like myself, and are looking for more information. I am not designing it for a specific course or grade level, so theoretically it can be used anywhere.
After discussing my idea with Dr. Kelly, I have decided to expand my project into some of the precursors for video games. The direct predecessor was pinball, in that the games were the first widely successful coin-operated games, and the pinball arcades were the first place video games were widely used. My main concern in choosing pinball games as a subject is that they are currently nowhere near as popular as video games, so making the project relevant to more people would be difficult.
My other thought is to see if there is any research into card and board games that have an electronic version that is popular. The best example I have of this is with gambling – video poker – but I want to focus on games that are played for fun rather than money. I have played a version of Scrabble through Facebook, so I know they exist. My main issue is whether I should focus on this transition as the project, or the earlier physical games and use the electronic version as the ‘why is this important today’ part. Once I figure this part out, I can then decide on how I would teach the topic.
There are a few elements that have remained constant in the teaching of history stemming from the late 19th century. The most established is that of ‘Historical Thinking,’ where the act of doing history is more than reciting a list of facts and dates, it is the telling the story of what happened. One of the issues with teaching this concept is that teachers of history already know how to do this, and struggle with showing all the bits and pieces that go into creating the story (the types of sources, where to find them, creating the story from the pieces, etc.).
The main thing that has changed over the last century is access to sources and information. The World Wide Web has allowed information to come out of the back rooms of libraries and museums and into people’s homes and office. The act of finding a primary source has become infinitely easier, and historians are now able to use those sources in brand new ways. The creation of online exhibits, using 3D printers to make replicas of historical objects, creating videos and uploading them to YouTube, the list continues to grow. These types of activities provide opportunities for teachers of history to break out of the mold of simply reciting facts, and to have history become an active part of the learners’ experience.