Video Games as Public History

By Sean Butler

It has recently been through modern movies, television, art, music and the Internet that has lead society to create an expanding narrative for telling history and that is through video games. Video games have over the years become so ingrained in society that journalist Martha Irvine wrote in 2008, “in a survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project ninety-seven percent of young respondents play video games.”[1]

Those numbers would be even higher today as many age groups have become more exposed to video games in the case of Fortnite: Battle Royale played by nearly 80 million people in the month of August alone in 2018.[2]

While, history is not a primary concern in Fortnite what is does start to signify is culturally younger groups are looking to new ways to socialize and become interacted with other cultures around the world. These shifting interests is what has led to a constant battling among developers to create newer more interactive video games.

A newer generation of video games is focused on the open-world concept letting players create and experience environments at their own pace. The best way to see this new open-world concept is in the latest Assassins Creed: Odyssey video game. Inside the game a player can experience the visually stunning landscape and hypothetical story of King Leonidas’s grandchildren and immerse themselves into a more historically accurate game based during the Peloponnesian War 431 to 404 B.C.E.[3]Audiences for this game have a greater opportunity to see what life was like in the ancient world and to learn through interactive gameplay the history of places, people, events and religious ideologies in Ancient Greece . What also, sets this game apart in a historical context from the rest is through the game it is the first time in this franchise’s history that you can experience the same story, but through either the perspectives of a man or woman. This is a scenario in which traditional history telling has fallen short as women throughout time have not been given a clear and equal voice.

While video games are becoming more historically relevant to general audiences. The next step is being able to teach history in a classroom setting through video games where culturally outside so many minds have already been immersed into video game life. This is a concept being taught by A. Martin Wainwright in his article, “Teaching Historical Theory through Video Games,” in which, he talks about portraying many issues in history through the lenses of historical video games like Sid Meier’s Civilization IV. [4]Fundamentally video games are enjoyed by millions and has the potential to reenergize the boorish methods for teaching history.

[1]Martha Irvine, “Survey: Nearly Every American Kid Plays Video Games,” ABC News, September 17, 2008, https://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=5817835&page=1.

[2]Ben Gilbert, “‘Fortnite’ Just Had Its Biggest Month Ever, with Nearly 80 Million People Playing in August,” Business Insider, September 21, 2018, https://www.businessinsider.com/how-many-people-play-fortnite-stats-2018-2018-9.

[3]Paul Tassi, “Here’s Why There Are No Assassins In ‘Assassin’s Creed Odyssey,’” Forbes, June 12, 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2018/06/12/heres-why-there-are-no-assassins-in-assassins-creed-odyssey/.

[4]A. Martin Wainwright, “Teaching Historical Theory through Video Games,” The History Teacher47, no. 4 (2014): 579–612.

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