“Show and Tell” Post: Hidden Agenda, A Game With A Clear Agenda

Alright, so before I launch into what Hidden Agenda is, I will let you know how to get the game. Since publishers no longer carry this game it is free. You can download it at this website along with some instructions: http://www.hotud.org/component/content/article/46-simulation/20195

You can also get it from the developer himself. All you need to do is send him an e-mail saying that you will donate to one of a number of charities with a focus in South America. I doubt any of you will do that, but it gives you some information on what kind of person made this game. Now once you have downloaded the game you are going to need a program called dosbox to run it, probably. You can find that here: http://www.dosbox.com/download.php?main=1

Essentially, if you want to play the game, you first install dosbox, and unzip the Hidden Agenda file. Then in the Hidden Agenda folder you will find a file called Agenda, drag and drop that into the icon for dosbox you will now see on your desktop. Now you should be running Hidden Agenda. If that seems far to complicated for you, you could just read what I have to say about it here.

The first thing I would like to point out, is that to download this game I had you go to a website that styles itself as a museum for video games. The reason I point this out is because I would like to ask an open ended question to you about the present and future utility of video games as historical sources. Some video games are played by several million people and have the ability to either reflect sentiments, or alter peoples understanding of the world around them. An easy example can be found by looking at the glut of games that now depict Americans in a war with Russia. With Russia being the old bag guy and showing some regional aggression now this could reflect something of how Americans perceive Russia. What do you all think about video games one day being a source for historians?

Now the second thing I would like to discuss is the game itself. The State department actually bought a single copy, pirated it, and then sent several hundred copies of it to diplomats. In addition to being a potential source, this game has a very clear argument. If you play it you will see what I am referring to.  Essentially the game places you as the leader of a fictional South American country, Chimerica. The game creator had witnesses violence and corruption in South America first hand. As the leader of this country you are given a number of policies you can set, and you are also presented with a number of crises. As you play through you will find you are being pulled several different directions. You may want to be the benevolent ruler of the people, but a strong military, the CIA, and more will all force you to weigh your decisions carefully. When I play through I usually get on the military’s and CIA’s bad sides, and then die in a bloody coup. If you want, play through it and let me know if you have a different experience. Anyways, the argument is that with all these different pressures, stability is out of reach for many South American countries, and the United States is certainly not helping anything.

As you can guess, the main reason why I bring this up is to present video games as not just  a primary source, but also as a secondary source. I think video games can be a good way of presenting historical arguments to students and the general public alike. Consider that the American Army pays for a video game to boost recruitment and provides it for free and that the history channel had games for major battles during WWII. This is a powerful medium. Let me know what you think about video games as potential historical texts!

Here are a few interesting links regarding the game:

An interview with the creator: http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/forum/fall03/ha.html

The website regarding the game the creator maintains: http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/proj/sw/games/hidden-agenda.html

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