History as a game

Military analyst Niall Ferguson writes, "Gaming history is not a crass attempt to make the subject relevant to today’s kids. Rather it’s an attempt to revitalize history with the kind of technology that kids have pioneered. And why not?"

I'll say why not. The game is entertainment structured around the designer's interpretation of historical events and/or his attempt to translate events into "playability." If you already know about the underlying events, you can experience the fun of dynamically working through someone's interpretation and evaluating it.

Games are also story machines reworking a known narrative in the way script doctors work on screenplays. Again, your starting point is the accepted narrative and timeline; if you don't know those going into the game, the game makes sense only on the level of sci-fi with no backstory.

The game, "as education," should logically follow as second step after reading at least one narrative history of the underlying events. But in that case, we're still doing stories, not doing history ... and we're seeing events without seeing consequences.

Ferguson seems to be using strategy games to develop his kids' interest in reading about the events played. What depresses one here is that through gaming he hopes to inveigle his boys into reading fast-paced, novelistic nonfiction tales with loads of dialog and drama.

Sort of like sending your kids to play with Big Bird toys to prepare them for Road Runner cartoons later in life. Better they learn some zoology this way than none at all?