Playing the Past
While walking through the faculty office building one day, a flyer caught my attention, the flyer pictured teenagers huddling around an arcade game and the paper read, “History 306: Playing the Past.” As I read the course description I became enticed by the idea of a video game class that focused on historical narratives and content as I believe pop culture is becoming one of the major sources of historical content. The course may seem unorthodox from the outside looking in, but it was enriched with historical content such as masculinity in America, colonialism, imperialism, how you can pull historical narratives from fictional works, and how to create a fictional work using historical content.
History 306 taught how masculinity not only can be found in video games but also how video games impacted masculinity in America. In games such as Red Dead Redemption II, masculinity is exerted by the characters in the game through their wielding of guns, gunfights, and bar fights. Although a fictional video game, its representation of masculinity is historically accurate because, in the nineteenth century, men in the Wild West of America exerted their masculinity this way. The course also taught how video games also impacted masculinity in American society. It was intriguing to learn about how video games gave gamers (primarily men) a masculine identity they didn’t have before. This identity would be attributed to factors such as arcade systems and the gaming community’s promotion of sexualized women. By doing this, it gave gamers the idea that that’s the type of woman they could impress by competing and winning in gaming tournaments.
While taking this course, terms such as colonialism were constantly discussed. As I learned, colonialism is constantly put into games, whether directly or indirectly. Colonialism is found in games where everything is a resource that must be collected, games that condone and accept the killing of anyone who isn’t you, and games where consumption is prioritized over sustainability. Colonialism is also found in video games where exploration is considered noble and a just cause in order to find your player a home or a place to exploit for monetary value.These multiple types of colonialism can be found in games such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild,Skyrim, and also Red Dead Redemption II.
As part of the final for the course, the class had to come up with and design a video game that had historical content within it. For our group, I tried to think of a historical event that could incorporate everything we had learned so far in the course. The group believed topics such as colonialism and masculinity would be good to incorporate within the game and with that, I felt a game about the Trail of Tears would be perfect. It was hard initially thinking of a way to have a game that would be intriguing, worth playing, and contain historical information. Then came the idea of having a narrative based game that follows a military officer and his experience during the Trail of Tears. After we came up with the background to the character it was then time to draw up the storyboard and figure out how to incorporate historical information into a fictional game. The group decided that the historical information would have to come from the interactions between our player, and the other groups in the game such as the military officers and the Natives being escorted from their native lands. For example, in one of the interactions of the game, our character hears the Natives talk about their disapproval of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Though this would come as no surprise to anyone, this dialogue within the game came from a source the group found about a Native chief named John Ross, who during the nineteenth century went to the Supreme Court and protested the Removal Act policies.There were also small details that required researching, such as where the Natives were when they got picked up and dropped off (if the player reached that ending). We had our character and his fellow military officers pick up the Natives in Georgia because after researching the Creek natives in America during the nineteenth century, we found that they primarily resided in Georgia during that time.I believe those small details and the historical content that comes from the interactions between the characters in the game, made for an intriguing game that highlighted parts of the Trail of Tears that people might not have been aware.
In conclusion, the History 306 course may seem unorthodox from the outside looking in, but it was enriched with historical content such as masculinity in America, colonialism, imperialism, how one can pull historical narratives from fictional works, and how to create a fictional work using historical content. I believe that video games offer multiple ways to teach historical events, agents, and also teach how historical narratives can be pulled from fictional works. I would highly recommend the course and hope for the continuation of it for many years because it is my belief that pop culture is becoming one of the main sources for historical content in the world.
Sean Smith, Pixilated women: representations of women, sex, and sexuality in video games and historical simulations. (Lecture, Long Beach, CA, October 24, 2018).
Sean Smith, World History and cultural representation in video games. (Lecture, Long Beach, CA, October 03, 2018).
John Ross,Cherokee Chief John Ross Denounces U.S. Removal Policy, 1836. in Major Problems in American Relations Volume 1: To 1920, edited by Dennis Merrill and Thomas G. Patterson. Boston, Massachusetts: Cengage Publishing, 2009.
Robbie Ethridge, Creek Country: The Creek Indians and Their World. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2003. (Accessed October 21, 2018). ProQuest EbookCentral.https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/csulb/reader.action?docID=837903&query=