Learning to Write History with Video Games

This isn’t a post about procedural rhetoric, or about games being arguments in code for a particular understanding of the world (for that, see Bogost).

No, this is a post about playing a game, and writing the history of the world of which you briefly were a part, and is inspired by this article in The Escapist. This is kind of similar to things I’ve proposed before, especially re Civilization IV and game diaries. Any cursory glance around the forums of CivFanatics or Apolyton will find lots of stories detailing the rise and fall of the digital empires. But according to the reporter, there is something more literary beginning to emerge:

But the work of our man Jim, a mild-mannered student from England, is part of a wave of writing that’s attempting to make the concept a little more mainstream. So far, his repertoire includes tales of his Roman family’s conquest of Europe in Rome: Total War, the life and times of a man mistaken for Agent 47 in Hitman: Blood Money and the beginnings of an alternate history of Ancient Egypt in the classic strategy game Pharaoh.

So I followed the link to Jim’s website, and found the following entry:

204BC – Roma Victor
Quintus II finally reaches the front, having abandoned his infantry for extra speed, but all he gets to do is hunt down a Brutian family member that’s just hanging around. Galerius goes to the boot of Italy and sieges Croton, while Lentulus hits Tarentum on the heel. Meanwhile, a scipian fleet carrying 2000 troops is sunk in the Tyrhennian sea. Takes about fifteen separate attacks to sink a single ship, but still. I did it.

Tarentum sally with the aid of the last Brutian stack of troops. The pre-battle odds give me 1:2, I think this is meant to be one I lose. Screw that, while I may have no chance in a straight defence, they won’t be expecting an attack. As the troops leave the gates, my siege towers rumble up to their walls, and all the melee infantry I can spare rush in. Under heavy fire from the gate and just generally being heavily on fire from boiling oil, they force their way into the city. Racing to the square, they manage to engage the relieving cavalry before they can get to the square. The enemy pour through the streets as they realise the countdown timer for city possession has begun, but thanks to the dogs holding them for precious seconds, they can’t reach it in time. It’s almost a bloodless victory

This is quite cool. In fact, it’s not all that different from Caesar’s accounts of attacking, and conquering, Gaul.

If I had a class and the resources, what I would love to do is this: a multiplayer match in one of these kinds of games, with each student/player recording their own perspective on the game (as does Jim above). These diaries would then become the primary documents that I would have other students analyse, and construct an ‘official’ history from, to be presented to the combatants. Would they recognise that history from what they themselves experienced? Would it become like the ‘Dresden bombing’ controversy at the Canadian War Museum, where the history-as-explained-by-historians was thoroughly disputed by the veteran aviators?

I’m just fizzing with ideas today, after an 8-hour road trip and way too much caffeine… but I think I see the beginnings of something interesting….

2 thoughts on “Learning to Write History with Video Games

  1. Funny thing that you mention the idea of a multiplayer game reported from multiple viewpoints, because just that has been done the last week or so on RPS with indie-TBS-game Solium Infernum: A month-long play-by-email game covered from (I think) four of the six players independently: Gameboys from Hell. A great read.

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