Written by Robby Mangum
What could be cooler than playing video games and learning? Not much. From November 18-22, an interactive exhibit on history through the lens of video games was on display in the Bank Building. The display was put together by Roanoke College senior Paul Martin and was the conclusion of his distinction project for the Honors Program.
The exhibit invited visitors to experience six video games from the past thirty decades and think about how they were portraying history. One could play Red Dead Redemption 2 and ponder the way it shows the so-called Wild West, and whether that challenges the player’s preconceived notions of the time period.
Martin discussed how he went into the project with the goal of interrogating each video game for a variety of things: the expression of history through story and through genre, how the technology influenced the depiction of history, and how the time period the game was made in influenced the historiography. Historiography is a term that refers to how people in a certain time period think about history (a notable example is the ‘lost cause’ narrative of the Civil War). Martin said that one of the games, Medal of Honor, was actually produced by Steven Spielberg and fits excellently into the same historical view as “Saving Private Ryan.”
Every game was selected because it was ‘authentic’ to the time period. Martin pointed out that accuracy is “getting every factual detail correct,” and the simple fact that a player can interact with the world means that a game will have inaccurate events. Authenticity is often more important since it captures the feelings of the time period.
Paul Martin is a history and religious studies double major with a concentration in public history. He completed his distinction project with help from Gregory Rosenthal of the History Department. All students in the Honors Program are required to complete a distinction project, which requires a deeper interrogation of a topic and a finished product. Be sure to keep your eyes out for fellow students who are doing research!