Vidi grant for Angus Mol: ‘Historical games are like time machines’
How do games help shape our perception of the past? Associate Professor Angus Mol receives a Vidi grant to answer this question.
‘Many people think games and history are an interesting combination,’ says Mol. ‘The Assassin’s Creed game series, for example, has sold over 155 million copies. That alone proves that those games are worth researching, but I also think they’re really interesting from a conceptual perspective. Games function as a time machine: you get thrown into another time, instead of feeling like you’re in the here and now. However, that time was shaped in the present day. That’s a fascinating paradox you also see in literature and film. The main difference with games is that you get to interact directly with the medium.’
Games, developers and players
Mol does not want to limit himself in his research only to game developers and the games they ultimately create. Players’ experiences will also play an important role. ‘Of course we’re going to look at what elements a developer uses to create the past, but the interactions with players always play a prominent role,’ he explains. ‘They don't just take the game for what it is; they all have their own ideas, knowledge and values they apply when interacting with the game.’
they all have their own ideas, knowledge and values they apply when gaming.
In order to find out how their interactions with games lead to a creation of the past, Mol wants to track players while they are gaming. ‘How do players, for example, react to historical figures in the game? Do they google them or does it not really matter to them?’ After finishing a game, players often share their thoughts on it by leaving reviews on Facebook or Reddit. ‘We’re also going to look at such posts to learn more about people’s experiences and their reaction to those experiences.’
Mol wants to use the study to raise the understanding of the impact of games to a higher level. ‘If I had any criticism of game studies, I’d say that the focus is often on the individual game critic. A person plays a game and then puts their thoughts about the experience on paper in the form of coherent arguments. ‘I want to increase the scale. Rather than focusing on “What do I think is important?”, I want to focus on “What do the players overall think about this?” For example, we’re planning on gaming with a group of different types of gamers and we’re going to look at discussions on Reddit and other social-media platforms to see what people are discussing.’
Looking beyond shooting games
Ultimately, the results should not only lead to new insights for researchers within game studies. Mol believes his research will benefit anyone involved in the world of games. ‘I intend to translate our observations into insights that players, game developers and people whose professional focus is on the past can make use of.’
I intend to translate our observations into insights that players, game developers and people whose professional focus is on the past can make use of.
‘A lot of people, in the museum business for example, see games as an enormous opportunity, but don’t exactly know how best to utilise them. I want to approach them with specific knowledge and a broader perspective on possible starting points for game developers to use that knowledge. A lot of games are set in the Second World War. A gun is shoved into the player’s hands or they have to sit in a tank and shoot. While keeping in mind that it has to be entertaining, I’d like to see how to go about supporting more diverse initiatives.’