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.Read More
Welcome to the Center for History of Video Games and Critical Play's Blog. This space is dedicated to publishing work that encourages gamers, scholars and students to consider how video and other games offer unique ways of looking at history and history pedagogy, the interpretation of games, game play, and the impact of games on culture. In doing so we hope to create a space where we engage in an academic conversations that focus on representations of history and historical narrative in both World and American histories through a variety of video and tabletop games. The work here will investigate the assumptions that guide such representations of history and analyze the extent to which the medium of history-themed video games can bring new questions and perspectives to academic history and history education.
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.