Workshop: Playing with history:  Games, antiquity and history

Games have often found inspiration from ancient times to contemporary history. Popular game series such as the Creative Assembly’s Total War or Sid Meier’s Civilisation have provided entertaining alternative simulations to established historical narratives. Playing with the past and connecting it to the present provides a greater understanding and arguably appreciation, of the human condition.

Despite the potential for games to deliver visualisations of and interactions with historical events, the uptake and use of games, game design and technology as a research or teaching tool by historians and educators has been relatively slow. In part this is due to the established pedagogical methods of studying history as a discipline, combined with the lack of digital skills of subject experts and the perceived complexity of the technology.

Games have also often garnered a reputation for playing too loosely with historical fact and arguably the most popular game genres have relied heavily on violence both as a core mechanic and for the bulk of content, and this creates a limitation on how games can be deployed in the classroom. However, we are at a point where as the digital skills of researchers have increased, the technical barriers to game technology have been lowered, and when combined with the increasing digitisation of research and archive material, games are not just an increasingly an important tool for visualising data and disseminating research, but are also a vital element in allowing people to play with different and challenging historical narratives and in constructing popular understandings of the past.

The workshop aims to discuss relevant theories, perspectives and techniques that can be used to better understand how game designs and history can interact with each other and how games can be used, and played with, to influence players’ perceptions and understanding of historical narratives. A wide range of questions can be explored:

  • How do videogames represent particular pasts?
  • What opportunities and pressures does the game form introduce to historical representation?
  • How do researchers, academics, developers and the media (including the gaming press) view historical content within games?
  • How well do these perceptions reflect the players’ understanding of historical game content?
  • Is there a discrepancy between the players’ perceptions of historical content and established historical narratives?
  • Does the setting, establishment and accuracy of historical content in games disrupt immersion or player’s gameplay?
  • How much should historical games encourage playing with historical outcomes? Does the playfulness of the medium challenge the boundaries of how to teach and study history? How does gaming subvert dominant narratives (gender, race, colonial theory, etc.)?
  • How does the increasing availability of advanced technology (Smartphone, VR, Wearables, 3D printing, Motion Controls) affect how we use games with history?

The workshop is intended to explore new ideas and directions, submission of incomplete and in-progress results are encouraged. This workshop therefore seeks submissions that:

  • Explore the nature of games as a form for historical representation.
  • Explore the audience reception of historical games.
  • Explore how interdisciplinary approaches and practices can enhance the study of game design, historical research, and critical theory.
  • Analyse established digital practices in historical research together with new and emergent practices in game design and technology for enhancing historical narratives.
  • Identify games, game design techniques and game technology that can be used by historians and educators to stimulate audiences and encourage wider discussion of historical narratives.
  • Develop games that encourage interaction with history (e.g. interactive Documentary) or foster audiences playing with narratives.
  • Demonstrate how game design approaches (such as paper craft, physical prototyping and game jams) can be applied to improve and challenge historical research and established narratives.

The organisers are keen that games academics and scholars together with historians, archaeologists, classics and other related disciplines are represented. Research or development experiences from the games industry are also encouraged but not necessary.

Submission Details

The workshop takes place on 1 August 2016 at DiGRA/FDG 2016, August 1st-6th at Abertay University (

Important dates:

  • Paper submission: 25 April, 2016
  • Notification to authors: 23 May, 2016
  • Camera Ready: 27 Jun 2016

Workshop organization:

Paper submission: The research paper program will consist of short papers (4 pages) and full papers (8 pages) selected via a peer-review process. Since the workshop is intended to explore new ideas and directions, submission of incomplete and in-process results are encouraged.

Demonstrations: We are also inviting demonstrations of historical games or games that play with history. Game demonstrations should be submitted with an accompanying 1-2 page abstract describing the game and its research purpose.

Papers should be formatted using the DiGRA/FDG template

Papers can be submitted using this EasyChair link.

The workshop will be separated into two sessions. Each session will consist of individual presentations, selected on the paper submissions and grouped thematically. Plenary discussions contextualizing the perspectives presented will occur in each session.

Presentations and discussions from the workshop will form the background for a Call for Papers for a research seminar and future anthology on the topic.


  • Iain Donald, Abertay University, Dundee, Scotland, UK
  • Adam Chapman, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden
  • Anna Foka, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden
  • Andrew Elliott, University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK
  • Robert Houghton, University of Winchester, Winchester, UK

Contact: For more information, contact Dr Iain Donald at