History and Gaming: Her-storian

History and Gaming: Her-storian

Emily Balderdash introduces herself as a "her-storian" in the Facebook game "Adventure World"

The social gaming powerhouse Zynga recently released a new Facebook game called Adventure World.  The game puts the player in the position of a young archaeologist with the fictional Adventurer’s Society and tasks them to carry out a variety of missions. It shares the same underlying problem with other Zynga games, which is the incessant need (demand) to get friends to play the game–in fact the game grinds to a halt unless you know other people who are playing the game. It does however have the distinction of being associated with the Indiana Jones franchise–the main reason I decided to try the game out.

While playing I came across one moment which I found quite intriguing. At your base camp there is a character named Emily Balderdash. When you speak to her, she replies with information about herself. Emily describes herself as a historian, adding that she prefers the term her-storian as seen in the screenshot above. Although I have the impression the developers of the game meant it as a throwaway line, an obvious play on the terms his and her, the statement only added to my feeling that a fantastic opportunity to reach potentially millions of people is being lost. There is an entire dialogue about approaches to history that could have been conveyed to the players of the game. When I think back to my graduate teaching days, most students were unaware there was even such a thing as women’s history much less the debates that have surrounded it.

This lost opportunity extends to the fundamentals of Adventure World. Within the game itself, despite references to real-world locations and archeological sites, real information is sorely lacking. The artifacts recovered are generic and the game does little to improve the image of archeologists as other than people who pick up old things to put in museums. With the historical components of Adventure World and Empires and Allies, there is the chance to reach millions of people. At the same time, what responsibility does Zynga have other than to provide a fun game?

I believe both goals can be met, without resorting to the dread edu-tainment label. In the next few months I will be writing more pieces on the hidden history in gaming and ways to use it to teach and inform.

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