Public Historians and their Professional Identity

Public Historians und ihre Berufsidentität

Abstract:
Joanna Wojdon’s article explores the question of whether developers of video games with a historical background act as public historians. The content conveyed in video games is often considered credible and reliable by gamers. Meanwhile, many historians criticize factual errors in the games and complain about a falsification of history. On the basis of a detailed analysis of existing literature, the author demonstrates the influence of video games on public historical culture. She comes to the conclusion that, regardless of the intention of the developers, video games and their creators always shape public knowledge of the past and therefore take on the role of public historians.
DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1515/phw-2020-15676.
Languages: English, German


Robert Whitaker notices that “games with historical settings make up some of the most popular video game titles, particularly in the action-adventure and strategy genres.”[1] As Jeremiah McCall aptly proves it, it is justified to regard videogames as a form of public history, for alongside other digital media, they are widely recognized as the major factor that shapes the historical consciousness of today’s society.[2] Are, thus, game developers public historians?

Appreciation

It is not uncommon for scholarly texts on video games in education to start with stating the growing importance of the games in contemporary economy, lifestyle and culture. They bring statistics of the (growing) gaming market or the (growing) numbers of users/players, or (high and growing) amount of time spent, especially by the young people, on playing. Metzger & Paxton wrote, for example:

“Video games have evolved over the past three decades into a massive global industry and a major part of contemporary youth culture. Computer, console, and digital games generated $21 billion in sales in 2013 and are played by 59% of all Americans. Beginning as a largely college-age male phenomenon, now 48% of gamers are female, and 29% are under age 18.”[3]

The general public does not always appreciate school history education, while finding media contents trustworthy and reliable.[3] As Wineburg et al. wrote in the summary of their research on the sources of collective memory of the Vietnam War which revealed the dominant role of the movie Forrest Gump in shaping Americans’ collective memory of the Vietnam War “the history young people glean from […] cultural curriculum may be far more powerful in shaping their ideas about the past than the mountains of textbooks that continue to occupy historians’ and history educators’ attention.”[4]

As Metzger and Paxton clearly stated, history-related elements are present not only in educational historical games but also in other game genres, from ‘first person shooters’ set in certain historical context (e.g. Call of Duty or Medal of Honor), through MMOs – Massive Multiplayer Online games (such as World of Tanks), action-adventure games (e.g. Assassin’s Creed or Tomb Raider) to pure adventures (such as Siberia).[5] Those elements do not necessarily refer to the real history (i.e. the events or processes that actually did happen in the past) but by revealing the history of the world of the game (like e.g. in Shadow of Colossus – a totally fictitious story about monsters) they may shape players’ perceptions on what history and historical research is.[6]

Historians and Videogames

A critical attitude towards history-related games is often backed up by the assessment of historical accuracy of game scenarios and sceneries. Not only professional historians, but also history fans confront gameplays with historical sources and historiographical narratives, such as a student of mine who wrote a BA thesis on the accuracy of tank details in the World of Tanks. Comments on gameplays are published in the traditional, printed format, but can also be audio- or video-recorded, e.g. History Respawned is a channel on Youtube that specializes in such comments, done by professional historians.[7]

De-constructing and analyzing videogames as historiographical narratives, i.e. as intentional interpretations of the past, is a less popular but more ambitious approach.[8] Historians look for distortions not on the factual level but in the general message of the past events.[9] So far, they have focused most intensively on controversial issues and contested pasts, such as World War I, World War II and the process of colonization, and singled out important omissions (or occlusions, to use the terminology developed by Metzger & Paxton), usually related to shameful elements, such as the Holocaust in WWII [10], war atrocities in WWI [11], slavery and women’s abuse [12] and the perspective of the indigenous populations on colonization.[13] Rebecca Mir and Trevor Owens went beyond purely academic analysis and undertook active steps to develop mods to include slave trade in Civilization IV: Colonization.[14] Guidelines for developing a scholarly game related to history have also been a matter of consideration.[15] Last but not least, theoretical models of research on videogames and also specifically on history-related videogames are developed. For instance, Adam Chapman interpreted them, among others, as historical re-enactments [16], Jonas Carlquist as examples of storytelling.[17]

Thus, similarly to those who comment on historical movies, historians dealing with videogames go beyond enumerating and criticizing what is presented in the ‘correct’ or ‘wrong’ way. They notice rationales behind the choices made by game designers and appreciate the products as historical representations adjusted to the needs of non-professional audiences.[18] According to Metzger & Paxton the most general choices are based on two major paradigms: gamification of the past which requires that “history however useful as scenery, cannot be allowed to interfere with playability” and historical boundaries that make some topics playable and others (such as slavery, gender- or racist-violence) not.[19] Using analytical frameworks developed for the analysis of history-related films is not uncommon.[20] Both genres concentrate on providing entertainment to the general public, both attract big audiences and bring big money, and both use the past for these purposes. Metzger and Paxton developed a categorization model for history-related games based on games’ approach towards the past, with basic categories of monumental, antiquarian and critical history, wishistory, composite imaginations, borrowed authenticity, historical provenance and legitimization – which, they claim, can help develop dialogue on the educational potential of videogames.[21]

It is worth proving empirically if and how people use the knowledge acquired from videogames as a basis for their visions of the past, as it happens in the case with films, museums, movies and school lessons. In any case, as McCall aptly proves it, it is justified to regard videogames as a form of public history.[23]

Videogame Developers as Public Historians

I concur with McCall’s findings and assume that regardless of the mode of playing: for education or for fun, at school, at home or in other circumstances, as a form of assignment or on players’ own will, players interact with history-related content and with the historical narrative presented in the game. Gameplay influences player’s knowledge and understanding of the past whether they (or whoever else) want it or not, realize it or not. This assumption is based on the film research of Paxton who observed that pupils’ narratives of Ancient Egypt had been shaped by the movie Cleopatra even though they were not fully aware of it.[24] Van Sledright recognized the motives from Disney’s Pocahontas in pupils’ narratives about the American pioneers and called it the Disney effect.[25]

Apparently, the games enjoy similar authority which is attributed to historical museums or documentaries.[26] Unlike the museum staff, however, game developers are not specialists in history. Some of them do not care about elaborated historical narratives.[27] For game producers and developers playability is more important than historical accuracy and educational value of games.[28] It corresponds with the expectations of the players. Attractiveness, not accuracy, sells the product.[29]

As Jerome de Groot (2016, p. 159) has found out while interviewing game developers, they regard data from the children’s literature section as fulfilling their needs and the demands of their desired audience: “We are trying to entertain people, not impress them with our scholarship. The best reference materials are often found in the children’s section [of library] because this is the level of historic interest for most of the gaming public.” [30]

Whitaker (2016) concurs with these findings and writes:

“Most game development studios use history as mere window dressing, and the few studios that do research the past often use inhouse research teams that do not employ a professional historian. Players who create modifications base their additions on a quick reading of Wikipedia rather than use that decidedly un–gamer-friendly place, the library.”[31]

On the other hand, there are accounts of professional historians hired by Ubisoft to train the developers of Assassin’s Creed series in historical background of the gameplays they were working on: from screenplay writers to graphic designers. Some felt appreciated and proud of their impact on historical accuracy of the final products.[32] Laurent Turcot who worked as a consultant for Assassin’s Creed Unity was not so optimistic. He complained that the developers chose what they wanted from the materials he provided to them and that he could not see the product before it was officially launched.

“After the screening of the first trailer I sent them a list of anachronisms. […] There are plenty of elements in the game that could be subject to debate. Let’s not forget, history is made up of holes. The game is riddled with them.”[33]

Game developers, thus, do not have a professional identity as historians, even though as a matter of fact they play the role of public historians – the ones who shape the general public’s knowledge about the past. This case raises more general questions about what and who makes a public historian. From: Does one need to be a historian to become a public historian? Through: Does one need to have a professional identity to be called a public historian? To: Can we call a public historian someone who openly rejects this role?

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Further Reading

  • Chapman, Adam. Digital games as history: How videogames represent the past and offer access to historical practice. New York: Routledge, 2016.
  • Kempshall, Chris. The First World war in computer games. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
  • McCall, Jeremiah. “Video Games as Participatory Public History.” In A Companion to Public History, ed. by David M. Dean, 405-416. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2018.

Web Resources

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[1] Robert Whitaker, “Backward compatible: Gamers as a public history audience. Perspectives on History,”, Perspectives on History January 2016, https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/january-2016/backward-compatible-gamers-as-a-public-history-audience (last accessed 19 March 2020).
[2] Jeremiah McCall, “Video Games as Participatory Public History,” in A Companion to Public History, ed. David M. Dean (Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2018), 405-416.
[3] Scott A. Metzger, and Richard J. Paxton “Gaming history: A framework for what video games teach about the past,” Theory & Research in Social Education 44, no. 4 (2016), 532.
[4] Richard J. Paxton and Alan S. Marcus, 2018. “Film media in history teaching and learning,” in The Wiley international handbook of history teaching and learning, eds. Scott A. Metzger and Lauren M. Harris (Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2018), 579-601.
[5] Sam Wineburg, Susan Mosborg, Dan Porat, and Ariel Duncan (2007). “Common belief and the cultural curriculum: An intergenerational study of historical consciousness,” American Educational Research Journal 44, no. 1, 40–76.
[6] Metzger and Paxton, Gaming history, 532-564.
[7] Cory Wright‐Maley, John K. Lee, and Adam Friedman, “Digital simulations and games in history education,” in The Wiley international handbook of history teaching and learning, eds. Scott A. Metzger and Lauren M. Harris (Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2018), 603-629.
[8] Whitaker, Backward compatible.
[9] Adam Chapman, “Is Sid Meier’s Civilization history?” Rethinking history 17, no. 3( 2013), 312-332.
[10] Metzger and Paxton, Gaming history, 532-564.
[11] Johannes Koski, “Reflections of history: representations of the Second World War in Valkyria Chronicles,” Rethinking History 21, no. 3 (2017), 396–414 and Eugen Pfister, “Of Monsters and Men – Shoah in Digital Games,” Public History Weekly 6, no. 23 (2018).
[12] Adam Chapman, Digital games as history: How videogames represent the past and offer access to historical practice (New York: Routledge, 2016) and Chris Kempshall, The First World war in computer games (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)
[13] Metzger and Paxton, Gaming history, 532-564.
[14] Rebecca Mir and Trevor Owens, “Modeling indigenous peoples: Unpacking ideology in Sid Meier’s colonization,” in Playing with the past: Digital games and the simulation of history, eds. Matthew W. Kapell and Andrew B.R. Elliot (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 91–106.
[15] Rebecca Mir, Playing at Slavery. Modding Colonization for authenticity, http://www.playthepast.org/?p=2856 (last accessed 19 March 2020); Trevor Owens, “Modding the history of science: Values at play in modder discussions of Sid Meier’s Civilization,” Simulation & Gaming 42, no. 4 (2011), 481–495 and Kurt Squire, (2011) “Video games and learning,” Teaching and participatory culture in the digital age (New York: Teachers College Print, 2011).
[16] I.e. a game that can be regarded as an expression of historians’ findings presented not in the form of a monograph or research article, but in the form of a videogame.
[17] Adam Chapman (2016) “It’s hard to play in the trenches: World War I, collective memory and videogames,” Game Studies 16, no. 2 (2016).
[18] Jonas Carlquist, “Playing the story: Computer games as a narrative genre,” Human IT: Journal for Information Technology Studies as a Human Science 6, no. 3 (2003).
[19] A. Martin Wainwright, “Teaching historical theory through video games,” The History Teacher 47, no. 4 (2014), 579–612.
[20] Metzger and Paxton, Gaming history, 532-564.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Ibid.
[23] McCall, Video Games, 405-416.
[24] Paxton and Marcus, Film media, 585.
[25] Van Sledright, cited in Paxton and Marcus, Film media, 585.
[26] Alan S. Marcus, Jeremy D. Stoddard, and Walter W. Woodward (2017). Teaching history with museums: Strategies for K-12 social studies (New York: Routledge, 2017), 9.
[27] McCall, Video Games, 406.
[28] Ibid, 406-407.
[29] Metzger and Paxton, Gaming history, 532-564.
[30] Jerome De Groot, Consuming history: Historians and heritage in contemporary popular culture (New York: Routledge 2016), 159.
[31] Whitaker, Backward compatible.
[32] María E. Navarro (interviewed by Manuel Saga ), “What It’s Like to Be an Architectural Consultant for Assassin’s Creed II,” Archdaily (2015), https://www.archdaily.com/774210/maria-elisa-navarro-the-architectural-consultant-for-assassins-creed-ii (last accessed 20 March 2020); Stéphanie-Anne Ruatta (interviewed by Andrew Reinhard), “Consulting for Ubisoft on Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey,” Archeogaming, https://archaeogaming.com/2019/04/19/consulting-for-ubisoft-on-assassins-creed-odyssey/ (last accessed 20 March 2020) and Chad Sapieha, “How Ubisoft Montreal used historians to make Ancient Egypt authentic in Assassin’s Creed Origins,” Financial Post, https://business.financialpost.com/technology/gaming/how-ubisoft-montreal-used-historians-to-make-ancient-egypt-authentic-in-assassins-creed-origins (last accessed 20 March 2020).
[33] Laurent Turcot and Anna Jenkin, “Meet The Historical Experts: Laurent Turcot On ‘Assassins Creed: Unity’,” History Matters. History Brought alive by the university of Sheffield, 2015, http://www.historymatters.group.shef.ac.uk/meet-historical-experts-laurent-turcot-assassins-creed-unity/ (last accessed 20 March 2020).

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Image Credits

Gamescom 2017 © 2017 Tim Bartel, CC-BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr.

Recommended Citation

Wojdon, Joanna: Public Historians and their Professional Identity. In: Public History Weekly 8 (2020) 4, DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1515/phw-2020-15676.

Editorial Responsibility

Christian Bunnenberg / Lukas Tobler / Peter Gautschi (Team Lucerne)

Robert Whitaker stellt fest, dass “Spiele mit historischen Szenarien zu den beliebtesten Videospieltiteln gehören, insbesondere in den Action-Adventure- und Strategie-Genres.”[1] Wie Jeremiah McCall treffend aufzeigt, kann man mit Recht Videospiele als eine Form von Public History betrachten, da diese, nebst anderen digitalen Medien, weithin als der Hauptfaktor angesehen werden, welcher das Geschichtsbewusstsein der heutigen Gesellschaft prägt.[2] Sind Spieleentwickler also auch Public Historians?

Unterschätzung

Es ist nicht ungewöhnlich, dass wissenschaftliche Texte über Videospiele im Bildungsbereich zu Anfang die wachsende Bedeutung von Spielen im modernen Wirtschaftsleben, Lifestyle und Kultur erwähnen. Sie führen Statistiken über den (wachsenden) Spielemarkt, die (wachsende) Zahl von Spieler*innen oder über den (hohen und zunehmenden) Zeitaufwand für das Spielen, besonders von jungen Menschen, auf. So schreiben Metzger & Paxton zum Beispiel:

“Videospiele haben sich über die letzten drei Jahrzehnte zu einer enormen globalen Industrie entwickelt und zu einem wesentlichen Teil der zeitgenössischen Jugendkultur. Computer, Konsolen und digitale Spiele generierten im Jahre 2013 einen Umsatz von 21 Milliarden USD und werden von 59% aller Amerikaner zum Spielen benutzt. Angefangen als grösstenteils männliches College-Alter Phänomen, sind 48% der Spieler weiblich, und 29% minderjährig.”[3]

Die breite Öffentlichkeit wertschätzt den Geschichtsunterricht an Schulen oft nicht besonders, betrachtet jedoch gleichzeitig (historische) mediale Inhalte als glaubwürdig und zuverlässig.[3] Wineburg et al. befassten sich in ihrer Forschung mit Quellen der kollektiven Erinnerung an den Vietnamkrieg und konnten dem Film Forrest Gump eine bestimmende Rolle für die Herausbildung dieser kollektiven Erinnerung nachweisen.

“Die Geschichte, aus welcher die Jugendlichen ihr Wissen ziehen, […] der kulturelle Lehrplan dürfte viel bedeutender sein für das Prägen ihrer Vorstellungen zur Vergangenheit als Berge von Schulbüchern, auf denen weiterhin das Augenmerk der Historiker*innen und Geschichtslehrpersonen liegt.”[4]

Wie Metzger und Paxton klar darlegten, sind geschichtsbezogene Elemente nicht nur in  pädagogischen Spielen zur Geschichte vorhanden, sondern auch in anderen Spielgenres, von First Person Shootern eingebettet in gewissen historischen Kontexten (z.B. Call of Duty oder Medal of Honor), über MMOs – Massive Multiplayer Online Games (wie z.B. World of Tanks), Action-Adventure Games (z.B. Assassin’s Creed oder Tomb Raider) bis zu reinen Adventures (wie z.B. Siberia).[5] Diese Elemente beziehen sich nicht unbedingt auf reale Geschichte (d.h. die Ereignisse oder Prozesse, welche sich wirklich ereigneten), sondern durch das Enthüllen der Geschichte der Spielwelt (wie z.B. in Shadow of Colossus – eine völlig fiktive Geschichte über Monster) formen sie so möglicherweise die Vorstellungen der Spieler in Bezug auf Geschichte und Geschichtsforschung.[6]

Historiker und Videospiele

Eine kritische Haltung gegenüber geschichtsbezogenen Spielen stützt sich oft auf eine Beurteilung der historischen Genauigkeit von Spielszenarien und Szenerien. Nicht nur Berufshistoriker*innen, sondern auch Geschichtsfans stellen dieser Art des Spielens historische Quellen und historiographische Narrative gegenüber. So verfasste einer meiner Studenten seine Bachelorarbeit zur Genauigkeit von Panzerdetails in World of Tanks. Kommentare über diese Art von Spielen werden in traditioneller gedruckter Form veröffentlicht, können aber auch als Audio- oder Video-Aufzeichnungen daherkommen. Der Youtube-Kanal History Respawned wird von Berufshistoriker*innen betrieben und hat sich auf solche Kommentare spezialisiert.[7]

Das Dekonstruieren und Analysieren von Videospielen als historiographische Narrative, d.h. als bewusste Interpretationen der Vergangenheit, ist ein weniger verbreiteter, aber anspruchsvollerer Ansatz.[8] Historiker*innen suchen nicht nach Verfälschungen auf der sachlichen Ebene, sondern in der allgemeinen Aussage von historischen Ereignissen.[9] Der Fokus der Untersuchungen liegt dabei meist auf kontroversen Themen und umstrittenen Ereignissen, wie zum Beispiel dem Ersten und Zweiten Weltkrieg oder dem Verlauf der Kolonisation. Sie weisen auf wichtige Auslassungen (oder Okklusionen, um die von Metzger & Paxton entwickelte Terminologie zu verwenden) hin. Diese beziehen sich normalerweise auf gewalttätige und besonders grausame Ereignisse der Weltgeschichte wie den Holocaust im Zweiten Weltkrieg[10], Kriegsgräueltaten im Ersten Weltkrieg[11], Sklaverei und Missbrauch von Frauen[12] und die Perspektive von indigenen Bevölkerungsgruppen in Bezug auf Kolonisation.[13]

Rebecca Mir und Trevor Owens gingen über die rein akademische Analyse hinaus und unternahmen aktive Schritte, um Mods zu entwickeln, die den Sklavenhandel in Civilization IV: Colonization mit einbeziehen sollten.[14] Leitlinien zur Entwicklung von geschichtsbezogenen wissenschaftlichen Spielen und theoretische Forschungsmodelle über spezifisch geschichtsbezogene Videospiele waren ebenfalls Gegenstand von Überlegungen.[15] Adam Chapman zum Beispiel interpretierte diese als historische Reenactments[16], Jonas Carlquist als Beispiele von Geschichtenerzählen.[17]

Ähnlich wie diejenigen, welche sich zu historischen Filmen äussern, so gehen Historiker*innen, die sich mit Videospielen befassen, darüber hinaus, nur Sachen aufzuzählen und das Vorgelegte in Bezug auf das, was die richtige oder falsche Darlegung sei, zu kritisieren. Sie zeigen die grundlegenden Ideen hinter der Auswahl der Spielentwickler*innen auf und anerkennen die Produkte als historische Darstellungen, die den Bedürfnissen eines Laienpublikums angepasst sind.[18] Gemäss Metzger & Paxton wird die Auswahl meistens auf der Basis von zwei Hauptparadigmen gemacht: Gamifizierung der Vergangenheit erfordert, dass “Geschichte, wie immer geeignet sie als Szenerie sein mag, nicht der “Spielbarkeit” und den historischen Grenzen, welche einige der Themen bespielbar machen und andere eben nicht (wie zum Beispiel die Sklaverei, geschlechtsspezifische oder rassistische Gewalt), in die Quere kommen darf.[19] Der Gebrauch von analytischen Rahmenleitlinien entwickelt für die Analyse von geschichtsbezogenen Filmen ist nicht unüblich.[20] Beide Genres konzentrieren sich darauf, der breiten Öffentlichkeit Unterhaltung zu bieten, beide ziehen ein grosses Publikum an und mit beiden lässt sich viel Geld machen, und beide nutzen die Vergangenheit zu diesen Zwecken. Metzger & Paxton entwickelten ein Kategorisierungsmodell für geschichtsbezogene Spiele. Das Modell basiert auf den unterschiedlichen Annäherungen der Spiele an historische Ereignisse und beinhaltet Kategorien –  von monumentaler, antiquarischer und kritischer Geschichte, Wishistory, zusammengesetzte Vorstellungen, entlehnte Authentizität, geschichtliche Herkunft und Legitimierung – welche gemäss der Argumentation der Autoren dazu verhelfen können, einen Dialog über das Lernpotential von Videospielen zu führen.[21] Es lohnt sich empirisch zu belegen, ob und wie Nutzer*innen sich Wissen aus Videospielen als Grundlage für ihre Geschichtsbilder aneignen, wie dies beispielsweise auch beim Ansehen eines Filmes mit historischen Bezügen, dem Besuch eines Museums oder der Wissensvermittlung in der Schule geschieht. Wie Jeremiah McCall treffend aufzeigt, kann man jedenfalls mit Recht Videospiele als eine Form von Public History betrachten.[23]

Videospieleentwickler*innen als Public Historians

Ich stimme McCalls Erkenntnissen zu und vermute, dass ungeachtet von der Art des Spielens – zum Lernen oder zum Spass, zuhause oder unter anderen Umständen, als eine Form von Aufgabe oder aus eigenem Antrieb der Spieler heraus – die Spieler*innen mit geschichtsbezogenem Inhalt und dem im Spiel dargebotenen historischen Narrativ interagieren. Das Spielen von Videospielen hat eine Auswirkung auf das Wissen und Verständnis der Vergangenheit der Spieler*innen, ob diese es wollen oder nicht, ob sie es realisieren oder nicht. Diese Annahme basiert auf der Filmforschung von Paxton, der beobachtete, dass die Erzählungen von Lernenden über das Alte Ägypten durch den Kinofilm Cleopatra geprägt wurden, selbst wenn diese sich dessen nicht völlig bewusst waren.[24] Van Sledright entdeckte die Motive von Disneys Pocahontas in den Erzählungen der Schüler*innen über die amerikanischen Pioniere und nannte dies den Disney-Effekt.[25]

Scheinbar geniessen die Spiele eine ähnliche Autorität, wie sie den Geschichtsmuseen oder den Dokumentarfilmen zugesprochen wird.[26] Im Unterschied zum Museumspersonal sind die Spieleentwickler allerdings keine Geschichtsexpert*innen. Einige von ihnen kümmern sich kaum um präzise historische Narrative.[27] Für die Produzenten und Entwickler der Spiele ist Spielbarkeit wichtiger als historische Genauigkeit und Bildungswert der Spiele.[28] Dies entspricht den Erwartungen der Spieler. Attraktivität, nicht Genauigkeit, verkauft das Produkt.[29]

Wie Jerome de Groot (2016, S. 159) beim Interviewen von Spieleentwicklern herausgefunden hat, betrachten diese das Niveau aus der Kinderliteratur-Abteilung als etwas, das die Bedürfnisse und Ansprüche ihrer gewünschten Zielgruppe befriedigt.

“Wir versuchen die Leute zu unterhalten, und nicht, diese mit unserer Wissenschaftlichkeit zu beeindrucken. Die besten Referenzmaterialien finden sich oft in der Kinderabteilung [einer Bibliothek], weil diese das Niveau des historischen Interesses des Grossteils unseres Spielpublikums widerspiegelt.”[30]

Whitaker (2016) stimmt mit diesen Erkenntnissen überein und meint:

“Die meisten Studios, die Spiele entwickeln, benutzen die Geschichte als reine Augenwischerei, und die wenigen Studios, welche wirklich Recherchen über die Vergangenheit anstellen, verlassen sich auf Inhouse-Forschungsteams, welche ohne Berufshistoriker arbeiten. Spieler, die Modifikationen erstellen, basieren ihre Zusätze auf einem schnellen Überfliegen von Wikipedia, anstatt einen ausgesprochen nicht-spielerfreundlichen Ort zu nutzen, die Bibliothek.”[31]

Andererseits gibt es Berichte von Historiker*innen, die von Ubisoft zugezogen werden, um den Entwicklern der Assassin’s Creed-Serie den historischen Background der Spiele, zu vermitteln. Einige von ihnen empfanden dadurch Wertschätzung und waren stolz auf ihren Einfluss auf die historische Genauigkeit der Endprodukte.[32] Laurent Turcot, welcher als Berater für Assassin’s Creed Unity arbeitete, zeigte sich nicht so optimistisch. Er beklagte sich darüber, dass die Entwickler nur sehr selektiv auf das von ihm bereitgestellte historische Quellenmaterial zurückgriffen und er sich das Produkt nicht ansehen konnte, bevor es offiziell lanciert wurde.

“Nach dem Screening des ersten Trailers schickte ich ihnen eine Liste der Anachronismen zu. […]  Es gibt unzählige Elemente im Spiel, welche Anlass zu einer Diskussion gäben. Vergessen wir nicht, dass sich Geschichte aus lauter Lücken zusammensetzt. Das Spiel ist gespickt mit ihnen.”[33]

Spieleentwickler*innen verfügen somit nicht über die berufliche Identität von Historiker*innen, selbst wenn sie in Tat und Wahrheit die Rolle von Public Historians einnehmen – diejenigen, welche das Wissen der breiten Öffentlichkeit über die Vergangenheit prägen. Dieser Fall wirft eine Reihe von Fragen über die Berufsdefinition von Public Historians auf: Müsste man Historiker*in sein, um zu einem Public Historian zu werden? Muss man über eine Berufsidentität verfügen, um sich Public Historian nennen zu können? Kann jemand als Public Historian bezeichnet werden, der sich dieser Rolle ganz offen verweigert?

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Literaturhinweise

  • Chapman, Adam. Digital games as history: How videogames represent the past and offer access to historical practice. New York: Routledge, 2016.
  • Kempshall, Chris. The First World war in computer games. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
  • McCall, Jeremiah. “Video Games as Participatory Public History.” In A Companion to Public History, ed. by David M. Dean, 405-416. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2018.

Webressourcen

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[1] Robert Whitaker, “Backward compatible: Gamers as a public history audience. Perspectives on History,” Perspectives on History January 2016, https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/january-2016/backward-compatible-gamers-as-a-public-history-audience (letzter Zugriff 19. März 2020).
[2] Jeremiah McCall, “Video Games as Participatory Public History,” in A Companion to Public History, ed. David M. Dean (Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2018), 405-416.
[3] Scott A. Metzger, and Richard J. Paxton “Gaming history: A framework for what video games teach about the past,” Theory & Research in Social Education 44, no. 4 (2016), 532.
[4] Richard J. Paxton and Alan S. Marcus, 2018. “Film media in history teaching and learning,” in The Wiley international handbook of history teaching and learning, eds. Scott A. Metzger and Lauren M. Harris (Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2018), 579-601.
[5] Sam Wineburg, Susan Mosborg, Dan Porat, and Ariel Duncan (2007). “Common belief and the cultural curriculum: An intergenerational study of historical consciousness,” American Educational Research Journal 44, no. 1, 40–76.
[6] Metzger and Paxton, Gaming history, 532-564.
[7] Cory Wright‐Maley, John K. Lee, and Adam Friedman, “Digital simulations and games in history education,” in The Wiley international handbook of history teaching and learning, eds. Scott A. Metzger and Lauren M. Harris (Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2018), 603-629.
[8] Whitaker, Backward compatible.
[9] Adam Chapman, “Is Sid Meier’s Civilization history?” Rethinking history 17, no. 3( 2013), 312-332.
[10] Metzger and Paxton, Gaming history, 532-564.
[11] Johannes Koski, “Reflections of history: representations of the Second World War in Valkyria Chronicles,” Rethinking History 21, no. 3 (2017), 396–414 and Eugen Pfister, “Of Monsters and Men – Shoah in Digital Games,” Public History Weekly 6, no. 23 (2018).
[12] Adam Chapman, Digital games as history: How videogames represent the past and offer access to historical practice (New York: Routledge, 2016) and Chris Kempshall, The First World war in computer games (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)
[13] Metzger and Paxton, Gaming history, 532-564.
[14] Rebecca Mir and Trevor Owens, “Modeling indigenous peoples: Unpacking ideology in Sid Meier’s colonization,” in Playing with the past: Digital games and the simulation of history, eds. Matthew W. Kapell and Andrew B.R. Elliot (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 91–106.
[15] Rebecca Mir, Playing at Slavery. Modding Colonization for authenticity, http://www.playthepast.org/?p=2856 (letzter Zugriff 19. März 2020); Trevor Owens, “Modding the history of science: Values at play in modder discussions of Sid Meier’s Civilization,” Simulation & Gaming 42, no. 4 (2011), 481–495 and Kurt Squire, (2011) “Video games and learning,” Teaching and participatory culture in the digital age (New York: Teachers College Print, 2011).
[16] I.e. a game that can be regarded as an expression of historians’ findings presented not in the form of a monograph or research article, but in the form of a videogame.
[17] Adam Chapman (2016) “It’s hard to play in the trenches: World War I, collective memory and videogames,” Game Studies 16, no. 2 (2016).
[18] Jonas Carlquist, “Playing the story: Computer games as a narrative genre,” Human IT: Journal for Information Technology Studies as a Human Science 6, no. 3 (2003).
[19] A. Martin Wainwright, “Teaching historical theory through video games,” The History Teacher 47, no. 4 (2014), 579–612.
[20] Metzger and Paxton, Gaming history, 532-564.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Ibid.
[23] McCall, Video Games, 405-416.
[24] Paxton and Marcus, Film media, 585.
[25] Van Sledright, cited in Paxton and Marcus, Film media, 585.
[26] Alan S. Marcus, Jeremy D. Stoddard, and Walter W. Woodward (2017). Teaching history with museums: Strategies for K-12 social studies (New York: Routledge, 2017), 9.
[27] McCall, Video Games, 406.
[28] Ibid, 406-407.
[29] Metzger and Paxton, Gaming history, 532-564.
[30] Jerome De Groot, Consuming history: Historians and heritage in contemporary popular culture (New York: Routledge 2016), 159.
[31] Whitaker, Backward compatible.
[32] María E. Navarro (interviewed by Manuel Saga ), “What It’s Like to Be an Architectural Consultant for Assassin’s Creed II,” Archdaily (2015), https://www.archdaily.com/774210/maria-elisa-navarro-the-architectural-consultant-for-assassins-creed-ii (last accessed 20 March 2020); Stéphanie-Anne Ruatta (interviewed by Andrew Reinhard), “Consulting for Ubisoft on Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey,” Archeogaming, https://archaeogaming.com/2019/04/19/consulting-for-ubisoft-on-assassins-creed-odyssey/ (last accessed 20 March 2020) and Chad Sapieha, “How Ubisoft Montreal used historians to make Ancient Egypt authentic in Assassin’s Creed Origins,” Financial Post, https://business.financialpost.com/technology/gaming/how-ubisoft-montreal-used-historians-to-make-ancient-egypt-authentic-in-assassins-creed-origins (last accessed 20 March 2020).
[33] Laurent Turcot and Anna Jenkin, “Meet The Historical Experts: Laurent Turcot On ‘Assassins Creed: Unity’,” History Matters. History Brought alive by the university of Sheffield, 2015, http://www.historymatters.group.shef.ac.uk/meet-historical-experts-laurent-turcot-assassins-creed-unity/ (last accessed 20 March 2020).

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Abbildungsnachweis

Gamescom 2017 © 2017 Tim Bartel, CC-BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr.

Empfohlene Zitierweise

Wojdon, Joanna: Public Historians und ihre Berufsidentität. In: Public History Weekly 8 (2020) 4, DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1515/phw-2020-15676.

Translated by Kurt Brügger swissamericanlanguageexpert https://www.swissamericanlanguageexpert.ch/

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Categories: 8 (2020) 4
DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1515/phw-2020-15676

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4 replies »

  1. For an english version please scroll down.

    Was unterscheidet gute von schlechten historischen Videospielen? – Sie bieten kein fixfertiges Narrativ, sondern unterschiedliche Deutungsräume im Kosmos der Erzählungen des historisch Möglichen. Diese Qualität haben «gute Videospiele» mit guten Fachbüchern, historischen Darstellungen oder Geschichtsromanen gemein. Das blosse Nacherzählen von historischen Ereignissen regt weder im einen, noch im anderen Medium Rezipient*innen zum reflektierten Nachdenken über Vergangenheit an. Dennoch sind es vor allem Videospiele, die häufig Anlass von – mal mehr, mal weniger gerechtfertigter – Kritik sind. Der Vorwurf historischer Ungenauigkeit richtet sich im besten Falle gegen eine anachronistische Erzählweise, im schlechtesten gegen blosse Falschdarstellungen. Den meisten Kritiker*innen geht es jedoch weniger um die daraus möglicherweise generierten Effekte auf das Nacherzählen und Interpretieren von Geschichte durch die Videospieler*innen. Vielmehr bietet sich hier, wie Johanna Wojdon aufmerksam beobachtet hat, ein Feld fachlicher Eitelkeiten, auf dem jede*r ihr/sein Recht auf Fachhoheit und -genauigkeit beansprucht (Fachhistoriker*innen sind darin besonders gut). Die Wahrheit ist jedoch: Wir wissen schlichtweg (noch) zu wenig über die Rezeptionseffekte von historischen Videospielen. In deren Beforschung liegt die Chance echter interdisziplinärer Zusammenarbeit – damit wir künftig nicht mehr über “professionelle Identitäten” diskutieren müssen, sondern uns auf das Wesentliche konzentrieren können.

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    What is the difference between good and bad historical video games? – They don’t offer a ready-made narrative, but different spaces for interpretation in the cosmos of narratives of the historically possible. This is a quality that “good video games” have in common with good textbooks, historical accounts or historical novels. The mere retelling of historical events does not encourage the recipient to reflect on the past, neither in one medium nor in another. Nevertheless, it is above all video games that are often the cause of – sometimes more, sometimes less justified – criticism. The accusation of historical inaccuracy is directed at best against an anachronistic narrative style, at worst against mere misrepresentations. Most critics, however, are less concerned with the effects this may have on the retelling and interpretation of history by video players. Rather, as Johanna Wojdon has carefully observed, there is a field of professional vanity in which everyone claims their right to professional sovereignty and accuracy (professional historians are particularly good at this). But the truth is: we simply know too little (yet) about the reception of historical video games. In the research of this reception lies the opportunity for genuine interdisciplinary cooperation – so that in future we no longer have to discuss “professional identities” but can concentrate on the essentials.

  2. To all our non-English speaking readers we recommend the automatic DeepL-Translator for 8 European languages. Just copy and paste.

    I find that this article provides some interesting perspectives on the role of game development companies and perhaps what one would call their responsibilities. As interactive media, games can be a powerful transformative tool. This goes beyond the depiction of history but also includes society, culture, politics and philosophy. The underlying worldview of a game designer directly influences the world they create. Take Sim City (Maxis 1989) for example. You are the mayor of a city and want to make it prosper. One of the tools at your hand is setting the tax rate. A high tax rate generates more income, while a lower tax rate attracts new citizens. The game however only allows you to set the tax rate between 0% and 20%. This is obviously a tax rate much lower than in many countries, but instills the feeling in the players that 20% is indeed an extremely high rate of tax…
    The described “imprecisions” in depiction of historical events and details – and their potential effects on players – can be found in several other aspects of games as well.

    The article also notes that “playability is more important than historical accuracy”. After all, this is the main purpose of games. Here, as a game designer, one should ask oneself: Is this statement necessarily true? While historical realism might negatively affect the envisioned narrative or the gameplay as such, historical accuracy is seen by some as the unique selling point of a game. If we look at the field of wargames for example, Advanced Squad Leader (Avalon Hill Games 1985) is trying as hard as it can to create a realistic simulation of WW2 with all the different types of combatants, units, and even down to characteristics of specific generals. Here, they do not strive to balance the scenarios players can engage with – instead they base it on the actual situation. This might mean that some scenarios are nearly unwinnable for the Allies – which in turn motivates the players instead of alienating them. Historical realism should therefore not only be seen as an obstacle but also as an opportunity to embrace.

    Lastly, I would like to discuss one of the two paradigms that Metzger & Paxton mention: “historical boundaries that make some topics playable and others (such as slavery, gender- or racist-violence) not. While this might be a popular viewpoint, I wholeheartedly disagree with the underlying assumption. I think all topics can potentially be turned into not only fun but also meaningful games. Of course, the designers need to be extra careful to tackle these (rightfully) sensitive topics. But – and here I am again calling games powerful transformative tools – they also offer unique chances when engaging appropriately with them. I do not necessarily expect big AAA titles to do so (although of course that would be laudable), but it has been done successfully again and again. Here, games offer the chance for players to really “live” through these difficult times and situations depicted in them. Players e.g. take on the role of minorities and by playing build empathy through thoughtful and effective game mechanics.

    I would like to close with some recommendations for such games:

    Freedom: The Underground Railroad (Academy Games 2013) is a cooperative board game that casts players in the abolitionist movement. https://www.academygames.com/pages/freedom

    This War of Mine (11 bit Studios 2014) focuses on the personal struggle and cost of living in a war zone. http://www.thiswarofmine.com/

    Train (Brenda Romero 2009) pulls out the rug from under the players when they suddenly realize what they were actually doing in this board game. http://brenda.games/train

    Halat Hisar (2013) is a live-action role playing game by Finnish and Palestinian creators that put the players into the roles of oppressors and suppressed alike. http://www.nordicrpg.fi/halathisar/

  3. To all our non-English speaking readers we recommend the automatic DeepL-Translator for 8 European languages. Just copy and paste.

    For sure, digital games will be the medium on which public historians will focus during the 21st century. Calling public historians, I mean historians who reflectively examine how societies construct the meaning of the past based on the media, collectives memories, traditions and so on.

    This second life of history in the public sphere is constructed by societies’ networks. I don’t see game developers as if they are public historians but part of this network. In this case, public historians should scrutinize networks of digital games and further the interplay between digital games and society. Doing so, they have to rethink their methodology and analysis due to the fact that this medium has a performative notion.

  4. To all our non-English speaking readers we recommend the automatic DeepL-Translator for 8 European languages. Just copy and paste.

    It seems to me that a definition of public historians as “the ones who shape the general public’s knowledge about the past” is not sufficient. It is a reasonably necessary condition, but there is certainly some other criterium that has to be added.

    From some definitions, I have encountered the requirement of some historical training (public history or similar university program) or at least the respect for some standards of historical work (in the case of local historians, public activists).

    If developers have at least some kind of a systematic method with dealing with historical sources (professional historians as consultants, even if they are listened to on an optional basis) I guess they are acting as public historians.

    There is also the aspect that public history ?might / has to? incorporate values like social justice, political activism, and community engagement (https://ncph.org/what-is-public-history/about-the-field/). Would a video game that deals with the past but distorts it in a very serious way to push some kind of political ideology to be disqualified as public history? There was a controversy regarding the 2018 Kingdom Come: Deliverance by Warhorse Studios that claimed “historical accuracy.”

    It might be said that all historical video games are to some extent, inaccurate. How do we define a line between public history in video games and pure manipulation and propaganda? Is there such a line? All are activities that shape the general public’s knowledge about the past public history?

    Is the PrageU “”If You Live in Freedom, Thank the British Empire” video a public history? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSnJSUU_7q0) The authors and the narrator certainly make a claim to present history from the point of view of historical authority and clearly want to and to some extent, probably influence the public.

    The discipline of public history still plays with this special kind of (if sometimes widely delegated) “historical” authority. I find the concepts of public history hard to grasp. If someone who rejects the identity of public historian would still fall under this definition, I suppose we run the risk of having an all-encompassing definition that gets void of utility.

    Historical video games probably can (sometimes?) be considered (depending on the use/interaction?) public history. I am not sure if historical game developers are public historians, I understand they are actors in the production of cultural memory (understood by Astrid Erll as “as “an umbrella term for all those processes of biological, medial, or social nature which relate past and present (and future) in sociocultural contexts”).

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