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Review: The Interactive Past

I frequently write here about the potential for using games in the classroom, and I’m always on the lookout for interesting transdisciplinary engagement with this idea. So I was excited to see the recent open-access Sidestone Press release of The Interactive Past: Archaeology, Heritage & Video Games edited by Angus A.A. Mol, Csilla E. Ariese-Vandemeulebroucke, Krijn H.J. Boom & Aris Politopoulos. The project is interesting both as an academic approach (it was funded via Kickstarter) and as a collection assembling a diverse collection addressing video games both as representations of the past and as vanishing artifacts in need of archiving. As the editors describe in their introduction:

Linking the past with interactive, virtual media has not only taken place academically, but…is also demonstrated by the wealth of existing games that are set in, or inspired by, the past. By participating in these settings where the “imaginary meets the real,” people experience histories and heritages that are equally imaginary yet real. Virtual pasts are convincing, authentic, and malleable, yet their experience takes place largely outside of the traditional channels that produce and communicate knowledge about the past (Champion 2015). (9-10)

One of my favorite sections of the book addresses ethics, a topic that doesn’t come up as frequently in the discourse of games. The Cook Inlet Tribal Council shares the approach of a tribal non-profit collaborating to create Never Alone (Upper One Games 2014); Gabrielle Hughes addresses indigenous video games and concerns of protection and copyright; B. Tyr Fothergill and Catherine Flick examine representations of ethics through a surprising look at interactions with virtual chickens; and Roy van der Schilden & Bart Heijltjes examine the ongoing question of games as a space for empathy.

Tara Jane Copplestone’s chapter on making games as a form of scholarly publication is particularly recommended for those interested in challenges to traditional models of knowledge dissemination and publication. Copplestone describes how she found herself feeling limited by the expressive modes of traditional scholarship, and thus was drawn to games as an expressive form:

The act of creating through the video game media form provides a potential space which can, if effectively leveraged, disrupt the normative practices and creates a space in which the participants get to think in a different way, producing outcomes and ideas that otherwise would be an uneasy fit with traditional mediums. The value is thus not necessarily in the outcomes alone, but in the process that goes into designing and making them. (95)

These provocations offer promising ideas for exploring this scholarly model that definitely have implications outside of archaeology.

Whatever your field, if you are interested in the impact games can have on a discipline, I recommend The Interactive Past as a compelling (and free!) read.

["Second Life's Third Birthday 176" by TORLEY is licensed under CC BY-SA]

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