I have never been a gamer, so it will come as no surprise to any reader of this blog that I have little to say in favor of games about history. I share this fact recognizing my own bias in writing about my experience of thatcampgames.org.
As a curator, I see a huge value in games in presenting information, specifically those items which make audiences interact with the wall and material to learn information. If done well, a game in a museum can create a kinesthetic learning moment where many audience members will remember through action rather than simple reading.
But what about a video game? I just do not know. I obviously love digital history in general, but I find myself grappling with whether or not to deem a history game — in a gamer gameson sense — public history. In fact, that little dilemma in my brain brings me back to the very first conversation that we had as a class in Digital History in determining whether Digital History was Public History. I came to the conclusion that digital history was public history if it was done with the same critical mind and work that I consider to be public history– anything outside of the academy that is based in scholarship. service, collaboration, and immediacy. In that way, in order for a game to be public history or even digital history, to me, it has to also carry those principles.
I also really enjoy art work which plays with video games as a medium to play with people. I wonder if I would find more utility in using a game as a statement about history instead of a platform for learning engagement.
But enough meta-rambling. What to thatcampgames.org? I did not find many games that seemed to embrace what public history really does, but I did find one awesome games.
1- This is hilarious.
2- This gets people away from a computer screen.
3- It is extremely conceptual and much more public art than anything else so it is wasteful to really discuss it.
4. You should check it out.
So I am going to switch gears and discuss a game which seems to have attempted to make gaming political. http://www.redistrictinggame.org/
The Redistricting Game takes users through a step by step learning process disguised as a game. It’s educational, but it’s not entirely thrilling to engage with it. I think this might be a large gripe I have with history games in general. If the game is too educational, it isn’t fun, and if the game is actually fun, it’s not really public history. What I love about this game, though, is that it is overtly political in its very existence. The creator of this game obviously wanted to make redistricting a more contextualized issue that could be accessible to people who might not normally consider thinking about it. What an incredible use that is! I am still not sure that makes it great from a historian’s standpoint, though.
I think, that being said, I round out my thoughts in this post thinking that if an historian took the approach of The Redistricting Game to teach a little known historical moment that needs attention in a sort of political way, I could really get behind it. If anyone knows of a game like what I am explaining, please send it to me!