The Hall of Historic (Anti) Heroes

The Hall of Historic (Anti) Heroes

The use of historic figures in popular culture and video games runs a wide gamut. Sometimes they are employed to create an atmosphere of authenticity, Assassin Creed series, at other times they are employed for odd counterfactual commentary on the American condition, see Bioshock. This current exploration looks at the use of some seminal anti-heroes in Call of Juarez: Gunslinger published by Ubisoft in 2013 for all major platforms.  In this version of the Call of Juarez series, the central figure, Silas Greaves, relives his past exploits in a saloon in Abeliene, KS in 1910. His small audience is keenly interested in his life as a bounty hunter and his connections and friendships to real individuals from the late 19th century American West. 

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The Hall of Historic Heroes

The Hall of Historic Heroes

Welcome to The Hall of Historic Heroes, the first edition of what we hope will become a weekly feature on our blog. In these posts we’ll briefly explore American exceptionalism as it appears in video games (both past and present) and/or in video game advertisements or box art.

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Playing Without Quarters: Women and the Domestication of the Home Video Console

Playing Without Quarters: Women and the Domestication of the Home Video Console

The popular image of nerdy male gamer was born in the heyday of the coin operated arcade, where men ostensibly dominated all aspects of arcade gaming culture and the arcade became a haven for a new form of masculinity. While Family Fun Centers and family-friendly arcades like Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theater attempted to soften the hyper masculine image of the video game arcade, women remained a minority in cultural representations of these environments. If they were found in arcades, popular culture held that it was as arm candy to the local quarter jockey or a girlfriend cheerleader who watched from the sidelines as her boyfriend rescued the damsel from that damn dirty ape Donkey Kong. There was seemingly no place for women to actively engage in this new phenomenon, thus creating the stereotypical male gamer image and the image of the arcade as a purely masculine space. 

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Red Dead Redemption II Trailer III or: how I learned to stop worrying and love the western myth

Red Dead Redemption II Trailer III or: how I learned to stop worrying and love the western myth

Last week, Rockstar Games revealed the third trailer for the long anticipated and oft delayed “Red Dead Redemption 2.” Many in the game press and community were impressed with the visual impact of the trailer and the stunning graphics of the various cut scenes that the trailer highlights, noting the attention to detail and cinema like qualities – qualities that also revel in the mythic images and Hollywood tropes that plague this style of game, making players complicit in the reinforcement of Turnerverian ideals. The game’s trailer does what countless other westerns, both contemporary and those dating back to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, do: they stage a West that blends both history and myth together in a way that for the player/observer legitimates Manifest Destiny, elevates violence as a marker of masculinity, celebrates the triumph of civilization over savagery, and equates both with the extension of freedom over untamed frontier. And like the creators of the westerns that came before, Red Dead’s developers see no hypocrisy in lamenting the passing of this era and the emasculation of white men at the hands of the same civilizing processes they celebrate. In the trailer, Rockstar both celebrates the mythic West that purportedly redefined masculinity and brought civilization and modernity to the frontier while simultaneously mourning its passing.

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[Caricature by Design] Illustration and Representation of Historical Actors in Tabletop Games.

[Caricature by Design]   Illustration and Representation of Historical Actors in Tabletop Games.

In a recent gaming session playing Freedom: The Underground Railroad with our students, we were struck by the the choice of imagery used on the box and instruction art, and the illustrations on the playing pieces, cards, and game board used to convey the story of slavery and the Underground Railroad. What began as a sketch for a larger project, soon became very involved, taking many turns. Ultimately, we decided to sit on the ideas to give us more time to construct a more thorough and cohesive argument. We also plan to flesh out some of these ideas with our inaugural podcast, which is planned in the next few weeks. What follows is a portion of the original introduction and some of the key questions that we are mostly concerned with. We welcome comments and criticism.

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Victoria and Albert Museum in London and Video Games

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London will be hosting an exhibition and residency that focuses on video games and game design from the early 2000s. According to their website, the show will feature, "from concept art to moving footage, prototypes, character design sketches, and interactive installations." As the article points out this exhibition joins a growing interest in video games as a form of art worthy of a museum's attention (the Smithsonian and MoMa have hosted similar exhibitions in the past few years).


Read more at https://www.wallpaper.com/art/victoria-and-albert-museum-video-games-exhibition#Z4gw7EhwXxXkHbyz.99

Interesting Discussion of Race and the Civil Rights Movement in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

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Recently, one of our favorite history and video games podcasts explored the portrayal of race and the role of the American Civil Rights movement in Bethesda Softworks Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. Rather than take on the obvious themes of the game Bob Whitaker, John Harney and Robert Green engage in a compelling conversation about the African American experience and how it's represented in this counterfactual history of America.  It's a great conversation that raises some interesting topics and we think it's important to support work like this. Listen to it here or visit their Youtube page

Pawns of Manifest Destiny: Native-American Agency and Visibility in History Based Tabletop Games.

Pawns of Manifest Destiny: Native-American Agency and Visibility in History Based Tabletop Games.

This piece is written as a follow up to the first three meetings of the Center’s History Games Club and serves as a critical reflection on our experiences playing with and observing student interactions with several history-based tabletop games.  

This post explores the representations and in-game use of Native Americans in three separate games: 1775: Rebellion; Discoveries: The Journals of Lewis and Clark; and, Bang! The Dice Game. While each game explores a different era with different mechanics, they all employ Native American characters as part of the gameplay. Most of this “inclusion” is to forward a particular narrative that reinforces or strengthens the Anglo protagonist(s) position. The purpose of this examination is not to engage in the totality of Native American representation, but to analyze the ways that the structure and mechanics of each game reinforce mythic identities in juxtaposition with a lack of purposeful agency for Native characters. The three games vary significantly in their organization and structure; however, they each employ Native Americans as passive and often aggressive. When there is an action for the Native characters in the games, it is initiated by or in service of the other player characters who are invariably Anglo. The representation of Native Americans on a variety of the gaming components (cards, dice, chits) utilize mythic and stereotypical imagery. The gaming narrative and interaction between player characters and the non-player Native American characters creates coded exchanges between game players about the mythic Native American, which furthers the marginalization of that group. The marginalization is closely coupled with the Native Americans lack of agency within each game and reinforced in the use or usefulness of those characters in the game.

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Masculinity and Video Games

Masculinity and Video Games

This paper was presented at the Southwest Popular / American Cultural Association conference in Albuquerque, NM on February 7, 2018.

The use and reuse of the epic and mythic West has been iterated in many forms throughout the years. This portrayed West, however, as Daniel R. Maher writes “is the copy of a copy of a fiction.” [1] The “copy of a copy of a fiction” goes back to the middle 19th century, but it was always an invention – an invention that sought to reorder and reorganize how society understood and imagined itself. Dime novels in the mid-19th century used Davy Crockett to encapsulate the individual and the West; Buffalo Bill and his Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World brought the “adventures” of Western settlement and war to large arenas in the East in the late 19th century; Films, beginning with The Great Train Robbery in 1903, and later T.V. in the 1950s began to infuse the tropes of a gendered, ordered, and necessarily controlled West; Film and T.V. copied the copies of the fiction and presented a mythic representation of the “Old West,” further enhancing the idea of a lawless West needing order. Video / arcade games have more recently incorporated, or layered, a new copy of the mythic West with its concomitant masculinity and violence into this newest medium. As video / arcade games rose in relevance and popularity in the 1970s, they borrowed heavily from the well of established western myths. Early versions of these video games included titles such as Gun Fight, Boot Hill, and High Noon. While rather simple in form and action, they contained the essential copied forms of earlier mediums. As video game technology improved, the gaming platforms provided a different and more immersive experience for gamers. And while the incorporation of the Western narrative has become more complex in many of these games, they all maintain a connection to the violence and the individual cowboy of western myth –  the copy of a copy ad nauseam. Many of these more recent games have garnered a strong following and some critical acclaim, including GUN, Call of Juarez, Red Dead Redemption, Lead and Gold, and Six-Guns.

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Playing with the Past: Can Video Games Teach History?

Playing with the Past: Can Video Games Teach History?

As most of us know the past three decades have seen an important evolution in video games and video gaming, taking them from a niche market and nerd culture oddity to an omnipresent form of mass media that has equaled and, in some cases, surpassed the film industry in popularity and global earnings. Many of the most popular games are set in historical eras, engage in historical narrative, or actively immerse players as historical figures. For many college-aged students, their first experience with history-based video games came through classroom experiences playing video games like "The Oregon Trail," a game based on the mass migration of thousands of Americans westward in the 1840s. First published in 1974 by the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC), it is still being played today and its popularity led to many other historically driven video games such as "The Yukon Trail," "Freedom!" and later "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego." Anyone who has spent any time in a history classroom, and many who have not, will know that these games have had a lasting impact on students' historical understanding and have shaped their understanding of those historical eras.

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