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How we made a video game based on medieval records

Writer : William Hepburn, Analysis Fellow, Division of Divinity, Historical past, Philosophy & Artwork Historical past, College of Aberdeen

The yr is 1498. The city of Aberdeen in north-east Scotland has fallen prey to a “unusual illness” that’s the lethal plague. Illness is spreading in Europe, and persons are afraid, however how can the illness be stopped?

An aspiring younger councillor known as Robert Collison decides he should devise a method to shield the city, persuade the native governors to undertake his methods and stop extra deaths. Are you able to assist him reach slowing the unusual pandemic that threatens to engulf the area?

That is the premise of a online game we created not too long ago known as Unusual Illness. However we aren’t laptop recreation specialists or designers: we’re historians who based mostly the sport on our collaborative analysis into Aberdeen’s wealthy historic archive of medieval burgh information.

Establishing this experiment in merging historic information with digital storytelling, we enlisted the assistance of a online game designer and an artist. We realized quite a bit about laptop video games and the gaming trade, however most of all, we wished to indicate that historians can supply a special kind of authenticity than that marketed by common video video games in search of to move individuals into recreations of the previous.

A shot from a video game called Strange Sickness showing a two women, one in stocks and the medieval town of Aberdeen in the background.
A online game that makes use of medieval historic information as the muse of the narrative.
College of Aberdeen, Writer supplied (no reuse)

A lot of the dialog round common historic video games, resembling Murderer’s Creed and Name of Obligation, is about problems with accuracy and authenticity. These video games current a marketable phantasm of being transported right into a facsimile of the previous – a facsimile which is unimaginable.

After all let’s imagine that of all methods of presenting historical past. None can get better the previous, solely interpret it by way of surviving sources. The distinction with video games is their promise of interactivity and immersion, to move the participant from the on a regular basis into one other world which they will form by way of their selections and actions.

Typically the method to accuracy in video games is a little bit ridiculous. Name of Obligation video games set in WWII emphasise the historic accuracy of particulars resembling weapon design whereas gamers navigate by way of Hollywood-style set items and kill tons of of enemies. It’s a peculiar type of accuracy which recreates gear in exacting element whereas permitting gamers, like ultra-violent superheroes, to transcend the historic setting of WWII.

Historical past just isn’t a window into the previous, however one thing made by individuals wanting on the previous by way of no matter proof survives. Quite than hiding this course of behind a distracting – and probably dangerous – veneer of claims to historic accuracy, we wished historic sources and the historian’s analysis course of to be entrance and centre in Unusual Illness. We aimed for the sport, as a type of historical past, to be perceived as our creation as historians.

We believed this could match properly with the tradition of impartial recreation improvement, with its give attention to video games made by smaller groups. This permits a better give attention to the model and authorship of particular person creators than is often potential in big-budget video games made by large groups of individuals.

Sport on

We approached the event course of with the aim of bringing gamers face-to-face with historic sources, uncommon in video video games. Working with recreation designer Katharine Neil and artist Alana Bell, our instant focus needed to be on the practicalities of getting the sport made.

Together with her expertise within the video games trade to the mission, Katharine helped form our concepts in relation to the mechanics, characters, areas and themes that make a story recreation work. In conversations with Alana we recognized the important thing historic standards for the sport’s visuals whereas leaving area for artistic freedom and the calls for of the sport’s design.

A few of our unique concepts needed to go. As an example, the early concept to have all textual content within the recreation linked again to a proof of its historic provenance proved unworkable from each a technical and recreation design standpoint.

However the basis of our method remained. The sport that emerged stored historic sources at its core. It emphasised historical past as one thing authored reasonably than one thing merely discovered and revealed. To supply transparency on the sport’s adaptation of historic supplies we created a separate recreation web site, linked initially and finish of the sport. This offers a historian’s commentary about how key parts of the sport had been tailored from historic proof, with hyperlinks to major and secondary sources on-line.

This presents a transparent pathway from the sport to the underlying analysis and sources for gamers who select to observe it. One other method to emphasise how historical past is created is depicted throughout the recreation itself, the place the city clerk writes down what finally turn into the information which survive at present in Aberdeen’s metropolis archives.

For us, so long as the sport supplied a transparent hyperlink to historic analysis and sources, emphasising the authored nature of historical past, we felt free to develop a fictionalised narrative and work to the wants of recreation design.

Presenting historical past on this manner – as a clear strategy of development from the traces of the previous – is extra genuine than any try to create or declare a facsimile of the previous, regardless of how a lot time, cash and explosions are concerned.


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