Category: Gaming

The Litten and the Tiger: Chinese Folklore and Pokemon

The Litten and the Tiger: Chinese Folklore and Pokemon

The new Pokemon starts for Sun and Moon were announced a week ago. Aside from Rowlet, the round little owl which is obviously the best, the fire type Litten and the water type Popplio were also introduced. Litten bears a distinctive mark on his forehead, a mark that is influenced by Chinese folklore and the position of the tiger in Chinese culture.

Litten, one of the Sun and Moon starter Pokemon.

In Chinese mythology and folklore, the tiger is considered the king of beasts. To represent this, stylized images of the tiger are often depicted with the character 王 (wáng) on the forehead, with 王 meaning “king” in Chinese. The the stripes on the foreheads of real tigers are thought to also evoke the character 王. Due to kanji being derived from Chinese characters, 王 holds the same meaning in Japanese. As the fictional word of Pokemon is one apart from our own, placing 王 on Litten would be too much of a fourth-wall breaker, unduly challenging Pokemon’s own internal mythology. However, the altered marking serves the same purpose, as audiences aware of the the connotation will find the connection to the tiger and the symbolism of 王 readily apparent.

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.

History and Gaming: Spacewar!

History and Gaming: Spacewar!

While video games have become a ubiquitous part of modern life, easily available on smartphones, translated into films and the heart of a culture unto itself, its interesting to look back to a time when access to computers was the realm of a select few. Even then, the very human urge to tinker with expensive machines to play games manifested itself in the creation of the first computer games. Spacewar! has the distinction of being one of earliest video games, created in 1962 and primarily attributed to a programmer named Steve Russell.

Spacewar! was programmed on a PDP-1 computer, a system that was sold by Digital Equipment Corporation for the princely sum of $120,000 USD in 1962 (My Asus Aspire One cost me less than $200 USD). The PDP-1 was well suited for the creation of Spacewar! and other early computer innovations as it included a CRT display and an electronic keyboard (a converted typewriter). The basic premise of the game is simple, as befits the nascent age of computing it was programmed in: two spacecraft fight it out near a star. The game included additional factors such as a hyperspace option and gravity for the star the two ships fought around.

Two starships battle in the cold depths of space in the 1962 video game Spacewar!

In order to provide players with a visually interesting background, a program called the Expensive Planetarium was written for the game simulating a real section of the night sky.

Play Spacewar! on a Javascript PDP-1 emulator at :: http://spacewar.oversigma.com/

Read 1up.com’s article on Spacewar! placing it as number 1 in their list of the Essential 50 video games :: http://www.1up.com/features/essential-50-part-1-spacewar

History in Gaming: Empire and Allies

History in Gaming: Empire and Allies

The newest offering by Zynga, the company behind social gaming phenomenons like Farmville and Mafia Wars, is the strategy game Empires and Allies. Available for play through Facebook, in Empires and Allies players strive to build up an island empire and defeat the evil machinations of a shadowy enemy that has been systematically attacking neighboring islands. The game mixes elements of 4X style strategy games (explore, expand, exploit and exterminate) with turn based combat and limited interaction and diplomacy with other players. An additional hallmark of Zynga games is the fact the game is “freemium”–that is to say it is free to play but certain perks and items can be purchased, with the purchased items often giving a marked advantage or circumventing the need to play for long periods to achieve the same goal.

What makes Empires and Allies interesting for the historically minded is the introduction of themed weeks usually echoing historical events as well as military units based off real world equivalents. So far Empires and Allies has had themed weeks based around Bastille Day, the Space Race and the Dragon Boat Festival, among others. During these themed periods, special items are available for purchase such as P-40 Warhawks or statues of the Eagle moon lander. Unfortunately, the items and events are disconnected from any real-world explanations and occasionally have some curious decisions in their artwork that do not match up with the actual items. Due to the popularity of Zynga games, we here at Wired History have realized this is a great chance to discuss the history behind the in-game hardware and items and reach a large audience that might be curious about the items in the game they play. Starting this week we will be featuring podcasts and posts discussing the history of the themed weeks as well as the history of the items in the game.