Why ‘environments’ in games are always historical: a provocation

16 Sep, 2022

Why ‘environments’ in games are always historical: a provocation

Emma Fraser's "Why ‘environments’ in games are always historical: a provocation" is featured in Historical Games Network.

At first, Emma recalled her memory of the historical games she played such as Tomb Raider, Prince of Persia, even the 1987 fantastical action RPG platformer Wonder Boy. They don’t deal in any way with narratives of formal history (as in the progress-oriented objectives of the Civilization series), nor are they set in historical eras or contexts (as in Assassin’s Creed‘s 15th Century Venice, for example). Nevertheless, she would argue that there is something of the past in the designs, settings and architectures of many games that we would never otherwise interpret as historical or heritage-related works. Then, she utilized Tomb Raider as an example to illustrate that the setting, narratives, logistics and environment in Tomb Raider is "a citation of historical frames".

Next, she explains the definition of "environment" in two ways. Quote: "from here, I would suggest two initial ways to think of ‘environment’ in games: as a representation of the space, place, world, and landscape of the game; and as a technical term for the design and interaction with this represented space. In the case of the former, we might begin by talking about the imagination of the past that pre-dates digital gaming, and which is immediately bound up in discourses about ‘savagery’ and ‘civilisation’, history, progress and human nature: the idea of a natural pre-modern world, where people and animals run ‘wild’ (the kind of primordial forests that feature in many RPG and adventure games, or in the landscape of early Wonder Boy games); the colonial narrative of a landscape to be tamed, brought to heel by human development and progress, a line that runs from pre-human to civilisation, and on to the stars (consider the evolution-focused Spore as a case in point, or Outer Wilds’ depiction of interstellar colonisation). "

Finally, she used more games to evaluate the historical elements and the reality.

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