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PRODUCING & PLAYING HEGEMONIC PASTS: HISTORICAL DIGITAL GAMES AS MEMORY-MAKING MEDIA

Emil Lundedal Hammar



 

This dissertation investigates the relation between digital games and common understandings of the past, which people experience through popular culture, formally called 'cultural memory processes'. Typically, so-called historical digital games depict historical scenarios such as World War II, the Cold War, and more recently, the War on Terror, as also seen in major film productions, TV series, and literature. However, at the same time, some historical digital games also manage to go beyond these conventional norms by allowing players to experience, for example, the transatlantic slave trade in the 18th century, or the American civil rights movement in the 1960s. The dissertation therefore raises the question of which understandings and subject-positions digital games systematically promote and invite to understand the past.


The research findings demonstrate that games’ formal devices, such as game mechanics, representation, and physical instantiation, motivate distinct understandings of history. By analyzing these formal devices, the dissertation contributes new knowledge on the role of digital games in the larger picture of cultural commemorative processes. On the one hand, the dissertation conducts a qualitative, formal analysis of the digital games Assassin's Creed Freedom Cry and Mafia III, and on the other, a quantitative content analysis of 208 different historical digital games. The close readings of the two games identify their meaning-potentials through which they are analyzed for their possible impact on memory-making processes. In turn, the quantitative analysis highlights the dataset’s dominant representations of the past. Here, general trends of historical representation emerge, where whiteness, masculinity, and simple violence are most common, the larger the production budget of each historical game. Therefore, the dissertation investigates how digital games systematically promote and invite specific understandings of the past on both a micro and macro-level of analysis, accomplished through the close readings and the quantitative analysis.


The research project also contextualizes its findings with attention to the contexts of production and reception of historical digital games. Firstly, the dissertation identifies the unstable working conditions, the economic structures, the technical challenges, and the social norms through which the digital games industry operates. These aspects highlight how digital games often develop games according to profit-maximizing purposes. Consequently, such games often represent dominant representations of the past, in which North American or European white men perform simplified violence against others. These dominant representations are encoded as meaning-potentials in the games themselves, whereby formal game analysis helps to identify them.


Secondly, the dissertation shifts focus to the practices of play that negotiate these dominant representations of the past. In this context, players activate, negotiate, or oppose the meaning-potentials in order to express their own personal values via the game’s formal devices. Based on Stuart Hall's Encoding / Decoding model, the dissertation shows how the communication process between the games industry and the players themselves is discursive, dynamic, and negotiable.


Overall, the dissertation identifies the economic, technical, and social processes undergirding the production of historical digital games, which predispose developers to encode dominant representations of the past as the game's meaning-potentials. These meaning-potentials are analyzed through a formal game analysis with an emphasis on the formal devices that contribute to historical beliefs. Simultaneously, the dissertation highlights that these significant potentials are only actualized through practices of play, where players activate, negotiate, or even oppose the dominant representations of the past that historical digital games usually follow. In doing so, the dissertation unveils the movement of cultural commemorative processes across production, game form, and practices play in historical digital games.

 

PUBLICATION DETAILS

LANGUAGE

BINDING

EDITION

ISBN

YEAR

PAGES

English

Paperback


N/A

2020

189

English

eBook


N/A

2020

189

 

TAGS


Publishers: #TheArcticUniversityOfNorway (The Arctic University of Norway)

Languages: #English

Accessibility: N/A

Year: #Year2020


Companies:

N/A


Public Figures:

N/A


Games:

#AssassinsCreed (Assassin's Creed: Freedom Cry)

#Mafia (Mafia III)


Misc:

N/A

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