Game Cultures – Historical Game Studies

Date & Time:

1st May, 16:00


C284, Curzon B, Birmingham City University


This event is part of the weekly research seminar series for the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research (BCMCR). Book tickets below to hear the following papers:

Esther Wright (University of Warwick)

Marketing “Authenticity”, and Rockstar Games as Historian

For two decades, Rockstar Games have been developing and publishing video games that interrogate and (re)mediate aspects of American society and culture, past and present, to critical acclaim and fan dedication. As a multinational developer-publisher with a proclivity for selling ‘Americana’, Rockstar has been afforded the status of cultural historian by critics and fans. Rockstar are, moreover, keen to embody and perform this role of historian, occupying space within promotional paratexts designed to precede and anticipate the release of their most explicitly historical titles.

This paper considers the way certain Rockstar games – particularly the Red Dead franchise (2010-2018) and L.A. Noire (2011) – were promoted, and how references to cultural history and “real” historical detail feature in the Rockstar-generated paratexts surrounding them. What consideration of these promotional materials ultimately reveals is the way Rockstar deliberately crafted a highly particular historical narrative, one specifically designed to manage expectations and encourage fans to view these games as an “authentic” experience of both America’s past, and of notable cultural genres. This paper explores what kind of history of America Rockstar have been telling – both within their games and outside of them.

Adam Chapman (University of Gothenburg)

Playing with Historical Interruption: Videogames and/as Deconstructionist History

Videogames with historical themes are increasingly subject to scholarly consideration, particularly concerning their pedagogical possibilities.  However, empirical studies have pointed to the process of information reduction in skill acquisition (Haider and Frensch 1999). This implies that the history in videogames that bears little relation to the game’s challenges is likely to become gradually ignored as players develop expertise.  Whilst this may disturb the pedagogical value of historical games, this talk instead considers the radical potential of this playful information reduction process.  Viewing this process as a form of interruption into conventional receptions of historical representations, this talk argues that these games may make connections to the interruptive techniques advocated within deconstructionist history and Brechtian theatre. However, the problematic limitations of this process as it is found in games in comparison to these other interruptive processes will also be considered. Nonetheless, examples of games that successfully utilise the inherent interruptions of gameplay into historical representation by self-reflexively drawing attention to this very process through the use of a ‘double interruption’, deployed as a means to achieve purposely critical ends, will also be discussed.  Exploring this issue implies that processes of reception must be considered if the epistemological discourses of historical games are to be fully understood. Furthermore, this reinforces the notion that these games can function through multiple, and even competing, epistemologies.

About the speakers:

Esther Wright is a PhD Candidate in History at the University of Warwick. Her research considers the representation of American history by Rockstar Games, and the role of promotional discourses and branding in selling historical video games. Her work has been published in Kinephanos: Journal of Media Studies and Popular Culture and Rethinking History, and has appeared in Bullet Points Monthly, History Extra, and the History Respawned podcast.

Adam Chapman is a senior lecturer at the University of Gothenburg. His research focuses on historical games, i.e. those games that in some way represent, or relate to, discourses about the past. He is the author of Digital Games as History: How Videogames Represent the Past and Offer Access to Historical Practice (Routledge, 2016), alongside a number of other publications on the topic of historical games. He is also the founder of the Historical Game Studies Network.