Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Historical Strategy

Historical Strategy
A look at the application of strategy games

When I was in school there was a particularly popular trend among those of that took history classes. That trend was that we all played historically based strategy games - mainly Age of Empires or Total War. I honestly don't feel it's jump to say that these games had an influence on our interests in history, and influenced our decisions to pursue further study in chosen topic areas.

For those of you not familiar with these titles here's a quick run down of the basics. Age of Empires is a Real Time Strategy game in which players take control of a historical faction after have to manage scenarios in real time. The player must construct buildings, manage economy and workforce and take control of military units to command victory. The game contains a number of historic factions and is set in three games over three periods; prehistory - iron age, dark ages - late medieval, late medieval - enlightenment. Aside from playing against other players and computer AI in random scenarios, there are also historical campaigns which follow real histories and narrate them as the user plays. Such scenarios include the rise of rome, saladin and the crusades, Genghis khan, the ottoman seige of Malta and many many more.

The total war series is similar to Age of Empires in that it's historically focused, however the game lets users manage their Empires on a 'Risk' style board, with the main focus of gameplay being the military encounters which the player fights on a 'battle map' and has to use strategy and military tactics to win. The 'realism' and accuracy of these battle maps inspired a TV series called 'Time Commanders' which aired for two series between 2003-2005.

I think these two games are an example of one of the most obvious and most basic approaches to how video games can be integrated into Archaeology. Showcasing historical societies to the public in ways which lets people take control of their favorite civilizations is a very rewarding and fun experience for the users, and the realism provides a decent level of education which promotes a certain level of further interest. 

For me personally these two game series were a big starting point in my archaeological career and encouraged me to engage in other media like documentaries and museums that were relevant to the histories that I had learnt or encountered during my time playing these games. I think this media should be tied in more with lower level education and also integrate into museums - either with visuals from the games or by selling them in museum shops. By giving the user-base an engaging way to interact with history and archaeology from home it promotes and stimulates further interest.

If you haven't ever played these games, or don't consider yourself much of a 'gamer' I strongly suggest taking an hour to go and experience these titles for yourself. A quick google search for age of empires demo or total war demo will provide you all you need to get started. The full games are also available for cheap at various online retailers. 

I'll leave you with this celebrity edition of Time Commanders, and will later add a video of myself doing a playthrough of one of the Age of Empires historic scenarios.

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