HIST3812 explores digital history through representation via video games and simulations. William Urrichio writing in 2005 pointed out the ways that video games represented history. He was not overly concerned with the graphical representation of the past (period-correct clothing and architecture) but rather with the ways that the rule-sets of the games allowed for different understandings of history itself to be represented. He suggested that historians should engage with history, and the point of intersection was historiography, that the rule-sets of games directly correspond with the historiographic traditions within which historians write. That was the program for this course. What could we learn about historiography by trying to reframe it in computer code?
The students had one major project to complete over the duration of this course, to design what the ideal game for history would look/feel/behave like (drawing from lessons in my own research, see dossier 7a). The assignment prompt was:
In small groups (assigned by the instructor), you will produce a 40 – 50 page game design document for an ideal history game (or meta game; a game about games) that distills what you have learned about telling history through interactive media. This document will also demonstrate in passing what you have learned as a result of this course. You will need to reference the appropriate games, history learning, games and history, design, psychology, cognitive science or other literatures to explain and show how your game/simulation would achieve its desired ends. For the purposes of this course you do not need to produce the actual game. Although, you may wish to create a playable mock-up or ‘beta’ of what the game might look like; it should demonstrate key concepts or gameplay mechanics, and be about 10 minutes worth of play. If you create a mockup along those lines, your written document can be correspondingly shorter.
Such a big project holds much potential for running off the rails. Numerous checkpoints were established throughout the term to combat this. The students also had to blog weekly, reacting to not just the readings and the class discussion, but also to what was happening in their groups. These posts may be read at 3812.graeworks.net. Some of the students have since submitted their work (and reflections on how history may be reflected in games) to the online games studies journal, First Person Scholar (firstpersonscholar.com); we await the outcome.