Despite Adam Chapman’s hope that “by no few deny that contemporary game series like Civilization or Assassin’s Creed constitute history,” the validity of games (even less commercial ones such as Pox and the City) as history, and specifically historical scholarship, remains both debated or, for many professional historians, openly denied. Partially, this is part of a larger conversation about what constitutes history, with similar debates occurring around popular histories and historical films. As Chapman points out, much of the argument against games as history rests on an assumption of the scholarly book as equivalent to “history.” Chapman, in an extremely elegant intellectual argument, instead proposes that all forms of history (or any form of representation) necessarily must include simplification and reductionism. Thus the complaints of critics about games are not the result of inherent flaws in the medium, but of inherent flaws in representation of history itself, and merely differ in their manifestation from similar flaws inherent in other mediums such as the literary narrative. Chapman’s argument, with its implication of the impossibility of recovering the past (or the truth?) has a strong flavor of post-modernism, but he does raise important issues and provides a better paradigm for the analysis of games as history with a focus on both form as well as content (which at least is more intellectually useful and interesting then playing “gotcha” with anachronisms).
On a deeper level, however, Chapman’s argument merely recasts the old debate about what constitutes history. While games certainly provide some benefit to the historical field by increasing interest among the general population, there are certainly few commercial games that would meet any wide held definition of a scholarly work. Certainly Civilizations provides no citations to ground its historical-representation decision on primary sources or within the greater historical debate. Additionally, going back to the definition for “serious history” provided by Carl Smith in Week 8, most academics with see an interpretive argument as a critical element of a scholarly work. This is inherently difficult in games, as a large element of the attraction of games is on their interactiveness with users, and the ability to provide non-linearity. This makes it hard to construct and convey an argument. Indeed, as the creators of Pox and the City discovered, a too-tight focus on actual historical facts and events is almost unfeasibly constraining on the construction of appealing game play.
While games may constitute history, broadly defined, they largely lack the attributes of scholarly history, as it is currently recognized. Whether this current definition is valid is a broader question, one that is as hotly debated as the still unrecognized status of games as history, despite the hopes of Adam Chapman