How-to: heritage video gaming

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Cultural heritage games, one of our favourite topics, are ever-growing in multiple genres and purposes. The principles behind a good video game and accurate transmission of cultural heritage values are still in development in academic circles, which begs the question, how to create a good heritage video game?

While researchers put forward effective ways to weave together the two sectors, games and heritage in practice and broader understanding are not unified.

Several components constitute a game captivating, such as goals, audiovisual engagement, imagination, curiosity, challenge and randomness. These factors assure the enjoyment of the player and its success. In a nutshell :

An immersive video game experience allows the player to explore the world around them and introduce them to the designer’s role of examining the structures and objects. This attribute is particularly pertinent to heritage games and education.

Heritage games offer a different approach to transmitting values through role-play, narrative, a reenactment of the past; understanding distant, geographically and chronologically, cultures and places; and naturally raise questions on authenticity.

A combination of game design and imparting heritage values constitutes a successful learning gaming session. Essentially, we adapt heritage learning outcomes within the game environment, gameplay and story with game design principles. Defining the focus of the subject matter and then the interactions to get there.  Some guiding questions could be:

What is the learning outcome?

What actions can best achieve it?

What are the tools and strategies used?

How is it transferable and relatable IRL(in real life)?

Moreover, it is imperative to understand how the players use and interpret the game mechanics the logic that applies most of the time in a game is if I can destroy an object, I will, so what is my reward or punishment that can define my course of action?

Schematic example of game prototyping components. Erik M Champion

Games can be valuable tools to popularise accurate information and practices of the cultural sector, an archaeologist probably will not destroy half the urns in a tomb to get to the treasure at the end.  Heritage professionals have a duty to communicate values to game designers, as commercial games often base the story around historical events or environments.  In the case of designing a heritage specific game, the designer ought to inform the heritage team of the rules and principles of games to create the best possible tool.

An essential step to consider is the evaluation, and development of alternative evaluation tools, in measuring the success and learning outcomes of a heritage video game. The tools (questionnaires or group discussions) and framework are not enough to cover the entire gaming experience. Therefore, the result is not accomplished with the game release but rather after examining the reception and data with both heritage values and game design.

Erik Champion within his work “Theoretical Issues for Game-based Virtual Heritage” introduces the Critical Gaming Checklist:

“How can we ensure that our critical positions, theories, and arguments about gaming have merit? This is a work-in progress checklist that may help identify weak points in an argument. Ideally a critical position /argument about computer games should be:

1. Falsifiable and verifiable. Not such a common feature in the Humanities, and not always relevant, but in my opinion a good argument should be saying where and when it is contestable, and where and when it can be proven or disproven.

2. Extensible and scalable. We should be able to add to it, extend it, apply it to more research questions and research areas or add it to current research findings or critical frameworks.

3. Reconfigurable. Components are more useful than take it or leave it positions.

4. Is useful even if proven wrong in terms of data, findings, methods, or argument (possibly this heuristic should be combined with number 3).

5. Helpful to the current and future design of computer games, and has potential to forecast future changes in design, deployment or acceptance.

6. Not in danger of conflating describing computer games with prescribing how computer games should be. Several of the arguments cited in this book appear to make that mistake.

7. Understands the distinction between methods and methodology, the selection or rejection of methods should always be examined and communicated.

8. Is lucid and honest about the background, context, and motivations as factors driving it. The parameters of the argument should also be disclosed.

9. Aiming for validity and soundness of argument

10. Attempting to provide in a long-term and accessible way for the data, output, and results of any experiment or survey to be examinable by others. This suggestion is corroborated by the method employed in a recent journal article and survey on serious games [40], it determined

“high quality” publication by:

•The appropriateness of the research design for addressing the research question.

•The appropriateness of the methods and analysis.

• How generalizable the findings were (with respect to sample size and representativeness.

•The relevance of the focus of the study.

•The extent to which the study findings can be trusted in answering the question(s)”

Our take

Video games are already a significant part of life for the past few generations with increasing relevance and use. Already exist several commercial games that feature heritage and heritage education initiatives that create gaming content. The principles and concept delivery widely differ between the two asking for more active communication of the sectors.

I want to learn more:

Theoretical Issues for Game-based Virtual Heritage

Games People Dig: Are They Archaeological Experiences, Systems or Arguments

From Historical Models to Virtual Heritage Simulations

by Erik M Champion

The game of making an archaeology game: proposing a design framework for historical game design  by JFV Hiriart

A serious game model for cultural heritage by .Bellotti, R. Berta, A. De Gloria, V. Fioreand A. D’Ursi.

The Interactive Past Archaeology, Heritage, and Video Games, Edited by Angus A.A. Mol, Csilla E. Ariese-Vandemeulebroucke, Krijn H.J. Boom & Aris Politopoulos.

Find out heritage games and initiatives with our articles:

Gaming: a heritage learning tool

Nunalleq, Stories from the Village of Our Ancestors: education for the future

Cultural Heritage Video Gaming: Virtual Songlines

Mingei: Representation and Preservation of Heritage Crafts

PatriActívate: Peru’s heritage gaming app

Virtual Heritage: what now?

From Twitter Images to 3D reconstructions of cultural heritage

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