Serious games research typically uses modified computer games as virtual learning environments. Virtual heritage projects typically aim to provide three-dimensional interactive digital environments that aid the understanding of new cultures and languages, rather than merely transfer learning terms and strategies from static prescriptive media such as books. As an intersection between the two fields, game-based historical learning aims to provide ways in which the technology, interactivity, or cultural conventions of computer gaming can help afford the cultural understanding of the self, of the past, or of others with mindsets quite different to our own. This chapter will outline the major technological, pedagogical, and evaluation issues pertinent to game-based historical learning, provide working definitions of virtual learning that may lend themselves to evaluations, and endeavor to explain how specific issues of gamebased historical learning may be addressed. It will also forecast trends and suggest approaches to help focus this diverse field.
In virtual heritage projects, the aim is typically to ‘recreate’ or ‘reconstruct’ the past through three-dimensional modeling, animation, and panorama photographs. Historical reconstructions have been a common reason for creating environments using virtual reality technology. Moreover, many of these virtual environments have aimed for realism rather than for meaningful interaction. Yet this may not be the most effective means of educating and engaging the public (Champion, 2006), for virtual heritage is a ‘visualization’ or ‘recreation’ of culture (UNESCO, 2003, 2007).
The point of virtual heritage is thus to visualize the significant and revealing aspects of a culture through its artifacts and the records it leaves behind. For example, the ICOMOS (1999) Burra Charter argues:
Cultural significance means aesthetic, historic, scientific, social or spiritual value for past, present or future generations. Cultural significance is embodied in the Place itself, its fabric, setting, use, associations, meanings, records, related places and related objects. Places may have a range of values for different individuals or groups.
Currently virtual heritage models fail most if not all the criteria for collection and dissemination of culturally significant information to various groups of people, for they are typically expensive, fixed in place, do not allow personalization, and require expert assistance. Yet heritage is not just that which physically remains, but also that which can be passed on, or conversely, something that is intangible.
Conveying the intangible is also an issue for digital history (which can be described as the visualization of historical resources using digital technology). Interactive history is a subset of digital heritage, the development of digital resources that teaches historical learning through interactive media, particularly by using the interactive and multimodal features found in computer games.
Game-based historical learning could be defined as the use of the in-game editors to modify (‘mod’) existing game levels in order to enhance learning about historical content. However, it has a wider scope than the use of game editors alone. Game-based historical learning could be more comprehensively defined as the focused use of real-time rendering engines, game editors, game platforms, game peripherals, and/or game-style interaction metaphors to help the public enhance their awareness of historical issues and heritage sites. Hence, game-based historical learning is an intersection of digital history and serious games (games designed to aid learning).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Virtual Heritage: Aimed at visualizing the significant and revealing aspects of a culture through its artifacts and the records it leaves behind. Virtual heritage is thus a ‘visualization’, ‘restoration’, ‘recreation’, or ‘reconstruction’ of objects, events, beliefs, and places of cultural significance.
Interactive History: A shortened form of the more unwieldy phrase ‘interactive digital history’, it can be seen as the development of digital resources that teaches historical learning through interactive media.
Cultural Presence: A visitor’s subjective impression when visiting a virtual environment that people with a different cultural perspective occupy or have occupied that virtual environment as a ‘place’. Such a definition suggests cultural presence is not just a feeling of ‘being there’ but of being in a ‘there and then’, not the cultural rules of the ‘here and now’.
Game-Based Historical Learning: The focused use of real-time rendering engines, game editors, game platforms, game peripherals, and/or game-style interaction metaphors to help the public enhance their awareness of historical issues and heritage sites. Generally, the term implies the virtual environment experience is best achieved by playing, but that what is learned through such game-play is designed to be perceived as being culturally or scientifically significant and authentic. This technology may also help scientists communicate, collaborate with each other, or otherwise evaluate various hypotheses on the validity, construction, significance, use, maintenance, or disappearance of historic- and heritage-based sites, artifacts, and cultural beliefs.
Digital History: Can be described as the visualization of historical resources using digital technology.
Mod: Many computer games now come with editors that allow users to modify the game or import their own ‘levels’, 3D assets, characters, or scripts. These new or modified game levels are called mods.
Cultural Significance: The ICOMOS (1999, p. 7) Burra Charter defines this as the “aesthetic, historic, scientific, social or spiritual value for past, present or future generations. Cultural significance is embodied in the place itself, its fabric, setting, use, associations, meanings, records, related places and related objects. Places may have a range of values for different individuals or groups.”
Intangible Heritage: UNESCO (2003) defines this as “the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills—as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith—that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage.”
Serious Games: Related terms are game-based learning, edutainment, and eduventures.The “Indiana Jones” dilemma: popular media such as Indiana Jones and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider have popularized archaeology, but they are actually violent action films and do not promote careful and deferential approaches to archaeological relics and heritage sites. This raises a dilemma: how should archaeology best make use of this popularization while distancing themselves from the vandalism, sensationalism, violence, and shoddy scholarship?