Is the Virtual Paul’s Cross Project Good History?

When people responded to Dr. Graham’s tweet asking for their favourite digital history projects, many were submitting what appeared to be their own work. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this – when one of the major players in a field asks for contributions, it is somewhat expected that people would want that player to see their work. However, it does mean that many of these may or may not be that… accurate. Which I suppose is why we are being posed this question.

The Virtual Paul’s Cross Project (VPCP hereon out) caused quite a ruckus in our discussion for a variety of reasons. The first being that it’s similar to the Voices [?] project Dr. Graham has shown in class before, which had quite a negative effect on some members of the class due to the cacophony of noise it produces. So some members of the group had that bias.

On a positive note, VPCP does not attempt to assume many things, and when it does, it makes it clear. For example, one can choose between a variety of options in terms of how many people are in the square, as the team creating the installation were unable to find conclusive information as to how many people were in the square.

The issue our group debated was whether the project itself, ie. the audio, was truly accurate. The project seeks to recreate the experience of being in the square on that day, and we had much debate over whether the levels of the ambient noise, in particular, were true to life. Several of us argued that it was quite possibly that it is just incredibly difficult to digitally recreate a truly accurate human experience in that regard, as people in such situations will generally be able to tune the background noise out and focus on the sermon. This experience was not reflected very well in the project, as for the most part, one can barely her the sermon.

Having researched a bit more into the project, I still slightly agree that it is probably near impossible to truly recreate such complex human reactions. However, I now know that the difficulty hearing the sermon actually IS accurate. Beyond the main page, there are vast troves of information, explaining why certain choices were made in the project, such as the ambient noise in the background. It was much cited that unless one was standing directly in front of the puplit, it became incredibly difficult to hear what was being said. So our complaints that we could not hear are actually part of the experience.

Overall, I find VPCP to be good history. It presents a seemingly small concept, but in reality, creating it was a massive undertaking. Every single choice they made in regards to the project is backed up by various primary and secondary sources, and I feel comfortable in saying that they likely created a very accurate and immersive representation of what it would have been like to be in the square.

Let’s play – Critical Play Workshop

Having read through the assigned reading, I still have no idea how to categorize the games that I watched being played. I currently do not understand how Aarseth et al.’s criteria can be applied to different sorts of games. So in that regard, to be determined, once I understand more. 

I’m going to focus on Bioshock: Infinite because I spent the most time watching this game. Both visually and historically, I find the entire Bioshock franchise to be stunning. Infinite in particular has very heavy religious themes, which I would say – while maybe not entirely historically accurate – takes great cues from human history. Within the intro, the player awakes in a pool surrounded by statues of Franklin, Washington, and Jefferson; but these men appear to be like Gods – creating the framework for this very “pro-America” theme that the game apparently has. (thanks internet)

What particularly resonates with me about the game is the style and artwork, but more than that is how those who made the game manage to blend excellent gameplay with learning. While the history learned form Bioshock may not be the most accurate, I believe that the game style and play lend itself beautifully to become a framework for other great historically accurate games.

It was quite fascinating to watch everyone interact during the gameplay. For the most part, those ‘watching’ did not really watch at all. At one station, everyone was working together to solve the puzzles in Braid, while people got quite snippy over Bioshock. The Bioshock station was particularly interesting because to me, it showed the greatest disparity in game play styles. Even though the part of the game being played is quite linear, with few options to detour, people played very differently. Some simply ran towards the goal, trying to trigger the next phase of the story, others wandered around collecting coins and such, while yet another roved around like a tourist – taking in the world and listening to the characters’ conversations. The last style in particular caused quite a ruckus, with one class member exasperatedly saying: “You can walk around, you know; you don’t have to stay in one place.” Luckily the player was not phased, and simply turned around, smiled, and replied, “this is how I play!”

This brings up an interesting thought for both the midterm and final piece – how do we account for different gameplay styles when creating our games?

Challenge #3 – Auschwitz: A Game for the Whole Family

As seen in the title of this post, my game is about Auschwitz. It follows the paths that a family may have taken upon entering Auschwitz-Birkenau via train. Built into the game is an option that explains what I felt were my shortcomings with this game, and where I think it would have to go in order to be the best game it could be (in a historical sense).

Fair warning, there’s a bit of graphic description/imagery and a touch of coarse language in this game.