Playing the Past: The hegemonic memory politics of producing and playing historical digital games

Frankfurt, 24 April 2018 (Campus Westend, IG 1.414, 12-2 pm)

Talk by Emil Lundedal Hammar, PhD Candidate at the University of Tromsø, Norway

Even though games and play have always been part of culture, not much research has focused on how games and play take part in cultural memory. Yet it is also in play’s relationship with technology that digital games (or colloquially known as video- or computer games) have received a popular and highly commercial audiovisual form for some people to ‘play the past’.

This presentation lays the groundwork for such research on the memory politics of historical digital games. Using the frames of memory studies, game studies, political economy, and cultural studies, the presentation uncovers how digital games offer up certain memory-making potentials that players activate, negotiate, and appropriate for themselves via their own historical and political context. To give a proper introduction to the analysis of games, the presentation introduces the ontology of digital games to emphasize the specific computational properties that affect practices of play, i.e. how people perform within historical digital games. Building on this ontology, the presentation suggests examples of how players negotiate, for instance, colonial legacies like transatlantic slave trade in the Caribbean in the historical digital game Asssassin’s Freedom Cry via their own practices of play.

Then, based on qualitative interviews with historical game developers, the presentation explores how agents within the industry of digital games navigate the inherent challenges of game production within a capitalist system steeped in colonial legacies and, specifically, white Eurocentric visions of the past. This investigation determines to what extent contexts of production affect the memory-making potentials of a historical digital game. In turn, this relationship between production and memory-making potentials might impact previous research on how to analyze cultural memory.