Beyond the Oregon Trail: Industry and History Working Together

All to often, video game developers look to history to create a fascinating context, plotline, or side quest for their game. For years, games such as the Assassin’s Creed franchise or Ghost of Tsushima have remained wildly popular, in part for their impressive use of historical events and settings. Even games such as The Witcher, based on a book series later turned into a popular Netflix show, use aspects of history and culture (in this case, Slavic folklore) to enhance gameplay for their users.

https://store.playstation.com/en-us/product/UP9000-CUSA11456_00-GHOSTSHIP0000001

All too often, however, some historic games end up missing the mark for accuracy or proper portrayal of the communities presented in their games. While many developers have managed to contract historians in the early phases of game development, what seems to be missing is inclusion of historians that follows through the testing of the video game.

As a result, my proposal calls for the creation of a website that allows for alpha and beta testing with historians in the field. Historians have the opportunity to test out new historical video games, and give their feedback on the representation of the history and peoples within the game, allowing developers to further enrich their video games and create a more immersive experience during gameplay.

While there are plenty of platforms available for alpha and beta testing video games, such as AlphaBetaGamer, who call themselves the “the world’s biggest beta testing site.” The site covers alpha and beta testing for all platforms, and for free, however, to have your game tested on the site it must be free itself.

In this case, not only would the site be specialized for a specific type of game development, it would also offer both free and paid options to expand the option for different developers making both free and paid games.

Just pretend there aren’t a million tabs open in this screenshot…

The audience for the platform would be both historians interested in gaming or the particular time period/plotline of the game, and gaming developers interested in finding an informed testing group. There could also be levels to the service; for example, a free version where anyone in the history field who has signed up as a tester can play your game, and paid versions where you can request individuals with specific background and research interests.

Publicity for this service would be twofold, to correctly build interest in both relevant audiences. Much of the contact with video game developers would include social media/web campaigns, as well as direct contact with manufacturers, distribution companies, etc. It would also be useful to have a physical presence at events such as the Game Developer’s Conference. For the academic outreach, larger national conferences (such as AHA) would be a good opportunity, as well as social media and platforms such as H-NET for reaching potential users. There could also be an opportunity to utilize graduate students in this process as well, and testing could be incorporated into a class syllabus.

Early iterations of the site would be tested by several selected developers and historians; ironically, the site itself would require it’s own alpha and beta testing to work out the logistics of the platform, which would need to have the ability to run a variety of video games for a large number of users at any given time.

Now, to find someone who can actually enact this idea, so I can play some video games and maybe get paid for it!

Folklore and the Fear Factor: The Evolution of Legends in the Era of Reddit

In the era of technology, modern medicine, and science, the concept that people still believe in, share, and adhere to folklore might sound absurd. Take, for instance, the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. The story of a colorfully dressed rat catcher, hired by the town of Hamelin, who plays his flute, entrancing the pests and leading them out of the town. When the town refused to pay for his services, however, the Piper used his flute to lure a new set of victims: the town’s children. Lured by his tune, the children left town and vanished never to be seen again. By today’s standards, this story sounds more than a little odd, the type of tale that would be unlikely to pass the test of time as it once did. However, if you dig more deeply into that story, a truth unfolds.

Pied Piper of Hamelin rendition, copied from the glass window of the Market Church in Hamelin.

While the rats were a later addition to the story, one common truth remained: a stranger came to town, and left with the children. In 1227, approximately 50 years prior to the story in Hamelin, the Holy Roman Empire and Denmark fought in a battle that pushed back Danish borders. Colorfully dressed Roman salesmen, often called “locators,” travelled the land to find skilled men and women to move north to protect the Empire’s new borders. For obvious reasons, this was a hard sell. For towns like Hamelin, losing skilled laborers could put the town at risk. As a result, it was common practice to sell or give away children to this cause when locators came into town. For Hamelin, the tracing of surnames to new towns proves the less savory version of this folktale: a town made the collective decision to sell their children to locators to ship off to new towns. From there a collective story was constructed as a way to cope with their actions for years to come, and the Pied Piper was born.

Much like those that came before us, humans still tell stories to make sense of the world. Most especially, we continue to be drawn in by stories of tragedy, of what hides in the dark, or what steals our children. Our modern legends can be traced in figures such as the Slender Man. Slender Man, an unnaturally thin and tall humanoid creature, is said to stalk, abduct, and traumatize it’s victims, usually children or young adults. His story began on the Something Awful forum, with a couple of doctored photos, but those on the forum (and on other forums, such as Reddit and 4chan) began adding narrative and visual art, building a mythos of Slender Man.

The legend increased in popularity, showing up first in video games, blending into traditional popular culture, and then movies. Unfortunately, much of this limelight was a result of a 2014 tragedy, when two 12 year old girls lured their friend into the woods and stabbed her as an “offering” to Slender Man. Their actions, as awful as it may seem, continue to show the pervasive power of folklore in the modern era.

Film poster for Slender Man Movie, released 2018

While the original Slender Man story proliferated on a pre-Reddit site, there is little doubt that Reddit has become a breeding ground for modern day folkore. Subreddits such as r/creepypasta, r/nosleep, r/letsnotmeet, and more have acted as a space for entire communities built around the purpose of creating, sharing, and commenting on scary stories.

For now, my primary question remains: when we compare these stories against more traditional folklore, what role does a medium such as Reddit or TikTok play in the creation and proliferation of folklore? And in the era of science and technology, are we somehow more beholden to these stories than ever before?

In my project, I am hoping to explore some of the most popular subreddits and examples of modern folklore, examining how the medium of social media plays a part in the creation and proliferation of folklore. Without our knowledge, have these stories become even more important to our societies than the folktales we believe we have left behind?

For now, I will look at examples such as Slender Man (and other creepypasta figures) and trends such as Randonautica to track how they show up in social media (most likely using tools such as Voyant, Google n-gram, and topic modeling programs where possible). From there, I will attempt to assess the role these platforms play in the potency of the stories told, as well as assessing the lasting power of the legends in the context of “virality” and the fleeting nature of trends online.

Citations:

Blank, Trevor J., and Lynne S. McNeill. “Introduction: Fear Has No Face: Creepypasta as Digital Legendry.” In Slender Man Is Coming: Creepypasta and Contemporary Legends on the Internet, edited by Blank Trevor J. and McNeill Lynne S., 3-24. Logan: University Press of Colorado, 2018. Accessed February 24, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv5jxq0m.4.

Manhke, Aaron hosts, “A Stranger Among Us,” Lore (podcast). December 28, 2015. Accessed February 24, 2021. https://www.lorepodcast.com/episodes/24

photos:

https://www.cinematerial.com/movies/slender-man-i5690360/p/fwdpcmpf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pied_Piper_of_Hamelin

Projects as a Scholarly Genre: Readings 1-3 for 2/24

What exactly is a project? By most business standards today, it could be seen as any sort of plan or operation enacted to achieve a specific aim. For scholars, however, the answer becomes much more involved.

For example, the authors of Digital_Humanities outline how the field of Digital Humanities fits within the broader scholarly work of people in the humanities. The excerpt works through various sets of questions aimed at dispelling typical misconceptions about digital humanities. This spans from fundamental questions about the field, to questions about digital humanities projects, institutions, the evaluation of Digital Humanities work, methodology, outcomes, advocacy, and much more. Ultimately, this piece works to fit the work of academics in Digital Humanities within the more traditional scholarly field, going so far as to argue for the ways that Digital Humanities work builds upon the goals of most academics as a more successful option, for example, the use of post print tools in digital projects.

The other two primary readings work through a structured process that follows the creation and execution of a project, rather than answering questions. Daniel Brown’s Communicating Design focuses primarily on documentation, or specifically, deliverables, “a document created during the course of a web design project to facilitate communications, capture decisions, and stimulate innovation.”(1) In outlining the different types of necessary documentation that often remain an integral part of project creation and execution, Brown gives readers direct insight into the best practices for working on a web-based project. The book is exceptionally practical, carefully organized, and clearly written, making it easy to understand even for readers with little experience in the field of web design and/or web project creation.


By contrast, the IDEO’s “The Field Guide to Human Centered Design” offers some similar advice for project research, conception, and creation. However, it’s primary offering is more rooted in their self-defined philosophy of human centered design. By their definition, human centered design is “believing that all problems, even the seemingly intractable ones like poverty, gender equality, and clean water, are solvable. Moreover, it means believing that the people who face those problems every day are the ones who hold the key to their answer.” (09) Furthermore, those who call themselves human-centered designers are “optimists and makers” who work by 7 mindsets: Empathy, Optimism, Iteration, Creative Confidence, Making, Embracing Ambiguity, and Learning from Failure (10).

The IDEO field guide offers a clear and well organized guide for project processes, from initial inspiration and research, to ideation, iteration, and implementation. In some places, their philosophy seems very centered in the suggested practices (see: the importance of interviewing and immersion to the inspiration process, emphasis on iteration and fast prototyping to allow many rounds of feedback ). However, in others I personally cannot help but feel the advice feels more like your typical workplace project policies than something specifically “human centered” (see: synthesis of ideas through insight statements/how might we statements, integration of feedback, road mapping for implementation of a project).


Ultimately, the contrast of Brown’s book and the IDEO guide had me questioning: how important is it that we, as public historians or those involved in digital history, root our work in a broader philosophy or outlook? Brown and the Digitial_Humanities authors offer us a set of protocols for project creation that offer professionals a guide to prove their work as thorough and legitimate. The act of thorough research, peer review, etc. is what qualifies one’s work to be defined as a successful project based on the concepts laid out in their books. However, for IDEO, it also seems essential that members on their team ascribe to their philosophy to be part of a human-centered design process.

In the future, do you think it would be valuable, or even necessary, to have your team decide on a communal philosophy for project goals, actions, and execution? Or rather, do members only need to agree on a standard of work, as set in Brown’s book? Looking forward to your thoughts on this question and many others below and in class this week!

Introduction: Sajel Swartz

Hi Everyone!

My name is Sajel, and I’m currently studying at American University as part of their Public History Master’s program.

Me with my mom! 🙂

A little about me:

I’ve been living in D.C. and working full time at the DAR for the last several years; during that time I’ve also worked at a great local wine bar called Tyber Creek Wine Bar & Kitchen; if you are in D.C. in the Spring come check them out when they reopen! I spent most of my childhood in Kentucky, and returned to attend Centre College in Danville, KY for my undergraduate degree in History.

While I always had an interest in pursuing a career in the field of History, Public History became a more recent interest as a result of my work in Public Relations, where it became increasingly apparent to me how important the work of Public Historians can be. Although I ultimately hope to earn my PhD in History, I look forward to the opportunity to fully immerse myself as a professional in the Public History field.

In that same vein, I have been looking forward to participating in the History and New Media course. Media and the web have become an intrinsic part of living in the 21st century, and as such it is important not only that historians learn to utilize the tools available online, but also learn how to study these virtual aspects of life as new primary source material for understanding the past and present.

I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone! Please always feel free to reach out 🙂