Games alliance plays to historians’ strengths

Historians at Edinburgh are using video and table top games to help build a better understanding of the past.

History Games

They are collaborating with gamers and designers to create opportunities that will bring key historical events to life.

Staff from the recently launched History and Games Lab are including computer and board games in their teaching programmes for students.

They are also evaluating how games portray historical events and exploring ways in which these can be used to support research.

And, outside of the classroom, researchers are working with designers to ensure that new games with historical themes are factually correct.

Promoting research

Lab coordinator Dr Gianluca Raccagni, a Lecturer in Medieval History, says games are an excellent way to increase public understanding of the past.

People increasingly use games to source historical information, but historians rarely take a leading role in their desigin. This, he suggests, is a signicant gap that needs to be filled.

“Historians have a lot to offer the creative process,” says Dr Raccagni. “Think of Tolkien – a medievalist at Oxford who based his fantasy world on his historical and literary knowledge.”

Conversely, the booming games sector has a lot to offer historians. Games are a feature of Edinburgh courses and history researchers study how games represent key themes.

Vast potential

The games industry, says Dr Raccagni, is largely an untapped area for academics and one in which historians can make a positive and significant contribution.

Dr Raccagni is working with the University’s commercialisation service, Edinburgh Innovations, to launch a spinout company, which will be the publishing arm of the History and Games Lab.

Lab staff have already been involved in two game designs projects, including one launched this summer by Kickstarter – the US-based funding platform for creative projects.

The Fall of the King i recreates part of the Battle of Fossalta in 1249 – a key event in which the armies of the northern Italian city republics fought the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II.

Joint venture

The Kickstarter campaign was a collaboration with Italian companies Top Hat Games and Cobblepot Games. The campaign reached its funding goal in just 24 hours.

The second game design project was a collaboration with designer Daniel Mersey, winner of the 2019 Best New Miniatures Rules Award of the UK Games Expo.

It is an expansion of his popular Lion Rampant: Medieval Wargaming Rules, which shows how to play that game in the setting of the Crusader States of the Holy Land.

It is currently one of the bestselling titles on the DriveThruRPG platforms, which is the leading online selling platform in that sector of the games industry.

Accessible events

A number of events organised by Lab staff, which are open to all, are seeking to promote public understanding of history.

An online seminar series, which started this autumn, began with Pirates of the Digital Caribbean by Dr David Silkenat, a Senior Lecturer in American History

A Games Lab podcast series, launched this summer, features discussions with game creators, historians and people working in the heritage sector.

Other Lab activities – which focus on analogue and table top games as well digital – include workshops, game design, playtests and participation at gaming events.

Varied disciplines

Although based in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, the Lab draws on other academic disciplines.

Dr Raccagni’s fellow coordinators are Classics scholar Niels Gaul, who is Professor of Byzantine Studies, and Anna Vaninskaya, a Senior Lecturer in English Literature and a Fellow of Edinburgh Futures Institute. 

Lab staff also engage with cultural and heritage bodies as well as people involved in the world of gaming.

The History and Games Lab was launched with the support of the Knowledge Exchange and Impact office of the University’s College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. 

The games industry is a key component of the creative economy and one in which historians can make an unequivocal and very significant contribution.

Dr Gianluca RaccagniEdinburgh History and Games Lab

Related links

History and Games Lab

Knowledge Exchange and Impact Team