The potential of video games for exploring deconstructionist history

Cruz Martinez, Manuel Alejandro (2020) The potential of video games for exploring deconstructionist history. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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Abstract

This thesis examines the potential of historical video games for exploring deconstructionist history. Historical video games have become one of the most popular and accessible forms of historical narratives in the 21st century, forming a key part of public engagement with history. This popularity has also placed these games under growing scrutiny, including calls for critically analysing their role in the construction and representation of historical narratives and epistemologies. For example, addressing topics like the emphasis on military history, the dominance of western perspectives and contexts, or teleological notions of progress. Such studies have become a central focus of historical video game studies, which has developed approaches for exploring how particular forms of historiographical representation and narrative arise and become embedded within historical video games.

This thesis develops a unique contribution to these debates by focusing on a deconstructionist approach to history. Defined by historian Alun Munslow (2007), the deconstructionist approach presents history as a constructed narrative and aims to identify discourses behind the process of writing history. In video games, the control that players have over the narrative experience can be described as unintentionally embedding a deconstructionist perspective. Expanding on this argument, this research addressed how formal aspects of the medium exert pressure over epistemology and how historiographical ideas can consciously be shared with players.

In contrast with previous approaches to the study of historical video games, this thesis goes beyond formal analysis of existing games, and includes design and reception perspectives. The arrangement of this study drew insights from several interdisciplinary fields, including the digital humanities, design and cultural studies. The result was a research through design methodology which engaged in the design, production, and evaluation of a historical video game prototype. Through the design process, the study set out to identify, implement, and test aspects of the medium that can emphasise a deconstructionist approach and allow players to reflect on their conceptualisation of history. This process involved multiple stages of data gathering and analysis.

The results show that perceptions of historical video games are marked by tensions between what is seen as historical and what is seen as fictional or ludic. This thesis proposes a framework to navigate through these tensions, and uses it to develop a video game prototype, Time Historians. The evaluation of this prototype shows that players recognised the deconstructionist approach and openly discussed historiography. The findings indicate the feasibility of intentionally embedding a deconstructionist historiographical approach by relying on core aspects of the medium and navigating through the discourses surrounding it.

The main contributions of the study include: a new approach for the analysis of historical video games; methodological reflections on the interdisciplinary combination of video game design and history; a set of epistemological guidelines for the design of historical video games; and new reflections on the role of video games as public history. Finally, this thesis expands on the discussions about historical video games and epistemology, offering a design-based perspective to approach this issue and unveiling further considerations on the potential of this medium.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Education and Social Work > Education
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D016 Methodology- General works
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GV Recreation. Leisure > GV1199 Games and amusements > GV1221 Indoor games and amusements > GV1469.15 Computer games. Video games. Fantasy games
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 02 Mar 2020 08:53
Last Modified: 02 Mar 2020 08:53
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/90194

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