New Directions in Classics, Gaming, and Extended Reality

On 3rd – 4th June 2024, the Lab hosted a conference on New Directions in Classics, Gaming, and Extended Reality, organised by Dr Richard Cole (Lecturer in Digital Classics, University of Bristol) and generously sponsored by the  University of Bristol Faculty of ArtsInstitute of Greece, Rome, and the Classical Tradition, Centre for Creative Technologies.

The conference featured 24 presentations across two days, from both academic and industry speakers, representing eight different countries, and all working at the cutting edge of their field. Between papers, there were demo sessions featuring the innovative work of Zubr.coThe Newt in Somerset, Time Machine DesignsPRELOADED, and Education Evolved, as well as academic XR projects, including the Virtual Reality Oracle and the team behind Bristol’s The Uncertain Space. The conference culminated in a 12 player, hybrid co-op session of Age of Mythology.

You can check out the Programme and abstracts, Richard’s Welcome talk, the List of demos, conference Handouts, and the original Call for papers.



asses.masses, by Patrick Blenkarn and Milton Lim, is an epic, 7+ hour, custom-made video game about labour, technophobia and sharing the load of revolution designed to be played from beginning to end by a live audience. This is gaming as performance; an immersive, cheeky and highly original work. Brave spectators take turns at the controller to lead the herd through a post-Industrial society, where asses are valued more for their hides than their potential. Confronting automation driven job loss, nostalgia as a barrier to progress, and the role of technology in adaptation, we are encouraged to find space between the work that defines us and the play that frees us. asses.masses is Animal Farm meets Pokémon meets Final Fantasy: as exciting in form as it is in content.

As part of the Lab’s sponsorship of the UK premiere of asses.masses at Mayfest 2024, we co-hosted a lunchtime talk at the Pervasive Media Studio with the artists in conversation with members of the Lab. You can catch the full recording of this conversation below.

The Pervasive Media Studio is a partnership between the Watershed, University of the West of England and University of Bristol. The lunchtime talks are partly supported by MyWorld, a project led by the University of Bristol to support creative industries in the region. Watershed is supported by Arts Council England.

Exposing Algorithmic Bias – A ‘Concept’ Game Jam

On the 29 November 2023, the Lab hosted its inaugural ‘concept’ game jam, co-organised with the Centre for Creative Technologies and sponsored by MyWorld. The theme? Exposing Algorithmic Bias. The time scale? Four hours.

The idea for this game jam came from Professor Ed King’s project Challenging Algorithmic Racism through Digital Cultures in Brazil. In Ed’s words, “The project interrogates how cultural practices, including video game design, can be used to challenge the ways in which, despite their sheen of neutrality, new technologies often reproduce existing social biases and power hierarchies.”

From education and health to financial services and facial recognition, algorithms have become key components in scaling decision making. The danger, of course, is they can embed and augment existing biases, or even generate new types of bias within complex systems. This danger is only amplified by the application of machine learning and AI.

The aim of this condensed game jam was to think about how the mechanisms of gaming and play can expose these processes. Teams were not expected to create a fully fledged game within the time limit. Rather, the event was about exploring the potential of game design. We had over 60 people sign up to take part, and on the day eight teams worked on six games.

Below, you can enjoy a selection of the games and concepts that the teams worked on, as well as a video interview about the jam. For more about the inspiration behind the theme, check out Professor Ed King’s Intro to the jam or our Tackling algorithmic biases through gaming article.

Investigating Bias in LLM-Based Translation

Our idea was to investigate how large language models (LLMs) may introduce bias as they translate from Chinese to English. The game allows you to translate a story, one page at a time, from Chinese to English using an LLM. You then have to answer questions about the story, considering the bias that the LLM has introduced as you do so. You can play the game on

Lost in Translation

Our concept explores the algorithmic bias in system design and user interfaces. By putting humans into a scenario where they all experience algorithmic bias, we try to demonstrate to those who don’t experience it in their day-to-day lives how it works and feels, thus improving empathetic understanding. Furthermore, we have tried to expose the bias blindspot – where one sees themselves as less biased than others – to try and demonstrate functions of algorithmic bias without trivialising the issue by emulating it directly. By forcing people into a position where their assumptions are challenged by the fact everyone can experience algorithmic bias, we highlight the work that needs to be done to avoid it.

Lost in Translation design brief

AI concept art

Hire Intelligence

Our game is inspired by Amazon’s failed 2018 experiment in using algorithms for recruitment, which was scrapped after the algorithm consistently prioritized male applicants and deprioritized terms like ‘women’s chess club.’ In this game, you play as a job applicant for a randomly generated position-your aim is to ‘game the system’ by convincing the algorithm to give you the job.

Hire Intelligence

Algorithmic bias in Streaming preferences

Built in Excel, this game is designed to explore algorithmic bias in the selection of streaming content.

Streaming bias

“HDWGH?” is an ASCII aesthetic text-based adventure game. -USER-, a [currently] unidentified consciousness in our post-apocalyptic futures, is trying to figure out HOW DID WE GET HERE?

In a post-apocalyptic world where the majority of humanity has uploaded their consciousnesses into the huge central dataset located in the North Pole after a mysterious global disaster around 2110. There are no longer other living witnesses or material evidence to prove what really happened in the 21st century. The uploaded intelligences lived a short time in the digital paradise that was promised them before their memories become fragmented, corrupted, erased by mysterious forces, and, eventually, disappeared, leaving only clusters of ‘memory balls’ that are stored in ignored corners in the dataset.

You, -USER-, are the only remaining coherent consciousness in the dataset. You are suddenly woken from slumber one day and tasked with the mission to collect these fragmented ‘memory balls’ scattered in the system, relive the memories stored in them, solve the embedded mystery with the clues you can find, and find out what led to the current pitiable situation of humanity. In the process, you will also find out who you really are, and eventually decide what your mission is, which may have a chance of reversing what has happened to humanity.

You travel, via the ‘memory balls’, to the mid-21st Century conurbation of McTownship, exploring its institutions, looking through the eyes of its citizens & feeling their frustrations as the algorithms wreak increasing havoc in their lives. Can you identify the biases? Can you help the citizens? Can you find a way to turn all of this around?

Categorize This!

In this game, you play as a character whose job is to sort unidentifiable objects. The more you sort, the more it transpires that you are affecting the world around you. You realize that, by categorizing data, you have introduced a whole range of biases.

AI concept art

Funding Awarded for Game Conscious™ Characters

The Lab is delighted to be collaborating with Meaning Machine on their successful MyWorld Collaborative Research and Development bid, Game Conscious™ Characters. This year long project will involve research and development in generative AI systems for in-game characters. The project will be delivered in partnership with Dr Richard Cole and Dr Chris Bevan at the University of Bristol.

In the words of Meaning Machine: “We’re on a mission to make game characters as dynamic and interesting as the worlds they inhabit – and this extended phase of R&D will make it possible. No more lore dumps, no more generic barks, no more “wtf are you talking about, barkeep?”. Death to lifeless NPCs! Long live Meaning Machine!”

Dr Cole said: “We are extremely excited to be working with Meaning Machine as research partner on this innovative grant. Our aim is to analyze just how meaningful games can be with Game Conscious™ Characters. We’re looking forward to recruiting research participants through the Lab, and sharing project updates.”

You can read more about the aims of the project on the University of Bristol press release.

Bristol Digital Game Lab Work-in-Progress Workshop Recap

The postgraduate work-in-progress workshop convened by the Lab on Friday 23 February was a successful enterprise, hosting talks on a range of topics. From law and localisation to accessibility and inclusion, philosophy and myth, an encouraging platform allowed postgraduates to discuss their work.

We first heard from Dody Chen who illustrated the ambiguous and evolving relationship between fan-contributors and localisers in Chinese video games. Chen delved into her investigations of social and streaming platforms and exemplified a practice-led methodology based in netnography and content analysis, drawing on her own roles as both streamer and academic. Jemma Lousie Stafford followed, presenting on her work researching the impact of localization on audience-perception of Chinese games. Lousie enquires of how localization influences in-game elements such as menus and character design, deploying methodologies ranging from scouring Steam reviews to interviewing players after their experience of playing her case-studies. Jemma took us through the challenges of differing localization approaches, self-censorship and genre expectations, encompassing a research area that will no doubt prove fertile and exciting.

Closing our morning session were a pair of talks on accessibility in Chinese videogames. Yunke Deng spoke on accessibility for visually impaired players. Deng’s work maps existing accessibility options for visually impaired players, surveying the needs of such players before aspiring to interview developers around the practicalities and possibilities for incorporating accessibility features. Xuancheng Yu then presented on game accessibility for the hard of hearing. Yu traced the history of sound development across gaming from accessibility to inaccessibility to renewed exploration and improvement. Yu delineated a series of useful means to increase accessibility such as closed captions, accessible game design and the essentiality of visual and tactile feedback for auditory prompts. Yu engaged with the application of subtitles in game environments with a focus on the Chinese market, and evinced a methodology via which her important work will proceed.

Beginning the afternoon’s programme was Anyi Liu with a talk on privacy infringement in virtual reality games. Focusing on communities such as VR Chat and Horizon Worlds, Liu navigated a number of areas in her presentation, delving into the contrasts between informational and spatial privacy, illuminating the already relatively mature bonds being formed via VR communities and the overlap and collision attendant on interactions between game rules and coded law, and how such mechanical barriers can affect both play and privacy. Our next two presentations each dove into dark patterns in games. Weiwei Yi spoke on the difficulties of regulating the aforesaid patterns, the challenges even of locating them and then defining their appearance. Her work examines how major game companies may comply or coerce via algorithms. Maria Sameen then demonstrated her analyses of dark patterns in mobile games and explored the establishment of a taxonomy of the dark pattern, a lexical field via which we can begin to understand the characteristics, principles and architecture underlying dark patterns, plus ways by which to detect them.

Edward Knight spoke engagingly on the trajectory of inclusivity in the games industry between 2014-24, attempting to delineate afroprogression via criticism of afropessimism that is rooted in observation of the incremental yet improved black representation and visibility in the industry. Knight framed this as a rigorous drive toward afrooptimism facilitated via analysis of content production and dialogue with a wide range of industry members.

Our final two talks returned us to intersections of ludology and history. Will Price gave a paper on the act of playing Bloodborne’s Old Yharnam as resistant history – offering up concepts such as dark proceduralism and cyborg historicism in delineating his theorization of history as a playful act veering between psychopathy, necrophilia and the rabitic.

Closing the day was Yifan Liu discussing her work on reception of Greek mythology in Hades.  Liu presented on potential coalescences between game-mechanics and reinterpretations of both classical myth and readings of myth (such as in her illumination of how Hades is reading Sisyphus plus Camus’ Sisyphus). Liu elucidated how the mechanics of a genre such as the roguelike could harmonize with an authorial attempt to commentate myth.

All in all, the workshop was a multidisciplinary showcase of current gaming research. It created a collaborative environment that the Lab hopes will prove productive for all the researchers as they continue their exciting work.

A particular thanks to Will Price for this thoughtful write up of the event.

Can Games Teach?

This is part of a series of research/industry snapshots, capturing the work of those affiliated with the Bristol Digital Game Lab. For the second post in the series, we are delighted to showcase the work of Dr Lewis Alcott

If you remove Jurassic Park from popular media, how many members of the general public would be able to recognize a T-Rex? And how many palaeontologists were inspired to pursue their careers because of Jurassic Park? Films, TV, literature and many other forms of media have motivated members of the general public to engage with and learn about the natural world, so why can’t games? My research and outreach efforts attempts to explore the representation of the natural world in games, from the realism of geological formations such as volcanoes to the representation of climate change impacts of ecosystems.

This work originally grew from having more time than I had expected to enjoy and play games through the Covid-19 pandemic, finding myself playing God of War and googling some of the Norse mythology represented within the game and questioned how my own interest in games led to my career in Earth Sciences.

My recent work has focused on commercially available off the shelf (COTS) games and using them as a tool for learning and engagement. There are several instances where representation of scientific concepts are not ideal to say the least, so screening of games that demonstrate the potential to teach a wide variety of learning is required. However, COTS have been shown to have better engagement than traditional educational games, as these games have essentially by design been made to entertain.

There are several ways in which people can learn from games. There is the interaction with game mechanics that can teach specific skills, such as map reading. With games becoming more and more open world adventures, the requirement of what can be considered orienteering skills becomes a necessity that is directly transferrable to the real world. Games can offer a significant vocabulary, much greater than what would be considered based on the average age range of games such as those from the Pokémon franchise, allowing students and children to associate animations to relatively complex terminology. Over the past few decades, gaming and especially video games have become social hubs, with interactions between players, developing negotiating skills and describing ideas in game. A fourth means of teaching is through tangential learning, i.e. learning through self-engagement by exposure to a topic, has been noted as an effective means to incentivize educational material, much like how I learnt about Norse mythology through God of War.

My ongoing work focuses on the representation of my own and other researchers’ work in games as a way to promote public engagement of research. Alongside this, I explore how narratives have evolved over the last few decades with the growing engagement and perception of the general public with climate change.

Renewable energies represented within the Pokémon franchise. Left: Pokémon Brilliant Diamond (2021). Right: Pokémon Scarlet (2022).

Dr Lewis Alcott is a Lecturer in Geochemistry in the School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol. Outside of games, he is interested in researching the evolution of a habitable planet and anthropogenic environmental change.

End of Year Wrap Up

The Bristol Digital Game Lab showcased a vibrant array of events throughout autumn 2023, providing a platform for scholars, students, and enthusiasts to delve into the multifaceted world of digital gaming.  

The Lab initiated the academic year with a thought-provoking online roundtable on October 24, where experts and major UK game lab leads gathered to discuss the implications of the Video Games Research Framework (launched by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in May) on individual research, and how game labs, centres, and networks could support its aims. The event featured two esteemed keynote speakers: Prof. Peter Etchells, who was involved in drafting the Framework, and Dr Tom Brock, the Chair of British DiGRA. 

Later in October, we judged the University of Bristol Computer Science Society 2023 GameJam, offering prizes for Best Narrative and Most Technically Accomplished. A very impressive range of entries, with over 70 students creating a total of 17 games! It was a pleasure to judge alongside the MyWorld Skills and Training team.

The Computer Science Society Game Jam 2023

Following this, on October 31, the Lab collaborated with Digital Scholarship @Oxford and organised a hybrid panel and roundtable titled “Music and Sound in Games.” Expert speakers from both industry and academia dissected the impact of music on gaming narratives, characters, and emotional engagement. The digital roundtable facilitated by Dr Richard Cole further delved into critical conversations surrounding this fascinating aspect of game design. 

The Music and Sound in Games hybrid roundtable.

November brought a Research Seminar in collaboration with the Department of Classics and Ancient History. Dr Dunstan Lowe, Senior Lecturer in Latin Literature at the University of Kent, presented on “History is not the Past”: Videogame Design and The Ancient Mediterranean. The seminar explored how video games portray ancient history, emphasising the diverse ways in which different genres and playstyles influence the conceptualisation of ancient worlds within digital games.


Dr Dunstan Lowe presenting his research seminar.

Towards the end of November, the Lab hosted an exciting inaugural event, the ‘Concept’ Game Jam, co-organised with the Centre for Creative Technologies and sponsored by MyWorld. The Game Jam challenged the 40 participants to explore how gaming mechanisms could shed light on the biases embedded in algorithms, especially in the realm of machine learning and AI. It stimulated creative thinking about the intersection of gaming and algorithmic bias and some teams came up with innovative working prototypes. We will be publishing the games developed, along with a film of the event, in the new year.

December started with the Antiquity Games Night, a novel monthly online meetup organised by Dr Richard Cole and Alexander Vandewalle (University of Antwerp/Ghent University). Scholars, students, and designers will gather to play antiquity games, fostering an engaging space that blends academic discussions with gaming experiences.


AGN Logo

Closing the year on a festive note, the Lab brought back its “Festive Gaming” event on December 14. This event invited participants to join in for an evening of social gaming, featuring the latest releases and playtests of upcoming games. The lineup included a fantastic lineup of local developers, including Catastrophic Overload, Meaning Machine, and Auroch Digital, as well as a former University of Bristol student group who developed the Escape from Pompeii board game as part of their Classics and Ancient History degree in 2023. Festive Gaming provided a platform for networking, exploration, and celebration within the gaming community. 

Festive Gaming 2023

In summary, the Bristol Digital Game Lab’s 2023 events were a testament to the diversity and richness of the digital gaming landscape. From scholarly discussions on research frameworks and ancient history to hands-on game jams and festive gaming, the Lab succeeded in creating a dynamic space that catered to a broad spectrum of interests within the gaming community. The Lab has expanded to a network with more than 150 members, gaining increasing recognition internationally.

Looking ahead to 2024, we will be hosting an ECR/Postgraduate work-in-progress event in January, followed by a series of industry talks with a headline from Ndemic Creations, a roundtable on accessibility, as well as a conference on New Directions in Classics, Gaming, and Extended Reality. We look forward to seeing you there!

Thanks to Dr Xiaochun Zhang for this wrap up to what has been an exciting year.

Bristol Digital Game Lab Events Autumn 2023

We are delighted to share details of several upcoming events hosted by the Bristol Digital Game Lab, as well as those where we are an organizing partner. We hope to see many of you there!

October 2023

We’ll be kicking off the new academic year with two events:

How to Make the Most of the Video Games Research Framework

On 30 May 2023, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport launched the Video Games Research Framework as a best-practice supporting tool for research into video games. In response to the Framework, the Bristol Digital Game Lab is hosting an online roundtable on Tuesday 24 October, 13:00-14:30 to discuss the Framework, in particular how game labs, centres and networks can support and build on its aims and ambitions. As part of this event, we are delighted to welcome two keynote speakers:
  • Prof. Peter Etchells (Bath Spa University), who was involved in the drafting of the Framework. Peter will give a keynote overview, providing both a background to the Framework, as well as future aspirations for the sort of research it might encourage.
  • Dr Tom Brock (Manchester Metropolitan University) will join the discussion as Chair of British DiGRA to share his perspective on the Framework.

Music and Sound in Games

Co-organised with Digital Scholarship @Oxford, this hybrid panel and roundtable on Tuesday 31 October, 12:00-16:00 focuses on the role of music in video games – what is unique about the composition of music for games? How does game music change as the technology behind video games evolves? How can music help a game to build its emotion, narrative, characterisation, and world? Find out from our panel of expert speakers from industry and academia, followed by a digital roundtable discussion, organised by the Bristol Digital Game Lab, with leading academics from the intersection of music with game and media studies, for an insight into the ongoing critical conversations around this fascinating topic. To sign up, visit DiSc’s event page.

November 2023

Research Seminar

Together with the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Bristol, we are delighted to be hosting a research seminar on Tuesday 14 November by Dr Dunstan Lowe, Senior Lecturer in Latin Literature at the University of Kent, on “History is not the Past”: Videogame Design and The Ancient Mediterranean. The seminar will run from 15:30-16:50, Humanities Research Space (3/5 Woodland Road), and will be followed by a drinks reception. All welcome, no booking necessary. A summary of the talk can be found below.

A screen shot from Secret of Evermore

‘History is not the past but a map of the past, drawn from a particular point of view, to be useful to the modern traveler’ (Henry Glassie, 1982). When video games portray ancient history, they draw the map in very different ways according to the conventions of different genres and playstyles: Action, strategy, scrolling shooters, racing, and versus fighting games all have distinct conventions, which are a matter of design as well as taste. These conventions have shaped ancient worlds for digital games: not only what they look like on the surface, but also how they are fundamentally conceived. Image: screenshot from Secret of Evermore.

‘Concept’ Game Jam

Come along to our inaugural ‘concept’ game jam, co-organised with the Centre for Creative Technologies at the University of Bristol and sponsored by MyWorld!

Theme: Exposing Algorithmic Bias
Where: Humanities Exhibition Gallery Space (7 Woodland Road)
When: Wednesday 29 November, 16:00-20:00

From education and health to financial services and facial recognition, algorithms have become key components in scaling decision making. The danger, of course, is they can embed and augment existing biases, or even generate new types of bias within complex systems. This danger is only amplified by the application of machine learning and AI. The aim of this condensed game jam is to think about how the mechanisms of gaming and play can expose these processes. For more about the inspiration behind the theme for this game jam, see Prof. Ed King’s Game-Jam-Intro.

If you would like to attend the jam, please complete our sign up form. The event is open to both University staff, students, and the wider public.

Pizza and drinks will be provided, thanks to the generous sponsorship of MyWorld.

If you have any questions about this event, please contact the organizer, Dr Richard Cole (


December 2023

Antiquity Games Night

The Lab is delighted to be supporting Antiquity Games Night – a new monthly online meetup where scholars, students & designers play antiquity games together, organised by Dr Richard Cole (University of Bristol) and Alexander Vandewalle (University of Antwerp/Ghent University). Think: ‘reading group, but with games’. All you need to do is sign up to the Discord via The first event is on Monday 4 December, 18:00 UTC. The AGN team will be setting up co-op sessions of the free-to-play game Smite (2014). No experience required – only finishing the tutorial. We look forward to seeing you there!

Festive Gaming

Back by popular demand, our Festive Gaming event will return on Thursday 14 December, 17:00-20:00 (Humanities Research Space, 3-5 Woodland Road). Join us for a drink while we try out some of the most recent social games, as well as playtest others that have not yet been released. We’ll have games and presentations from the following fantastic lineup:

We’re also delighted to welcome back the student team who developed the board game Escape From Pompeii as part of their Classics and Ancient History degree in 2023. Sam and the team will be on hand to demo the latest version of Escape from Pompeii.

If you would like to attend, please sign up via Eventbrite.

Further events will follow in 2024

VR, Games, & Storytelling Panel – ‘Platform Cultures’

The Lab’s VR, Games & Storytelling project is interested in the intersection between games, immersive theatre and VR storytelling, and the principles and frameworks for developing narrative material for immersive experiences. The project team brings together academic expertise in gaming (Richard Cole) and immersive theatre (Harry Wilson) with creative practitioners working in XR (Ruth Mariner and Eirini Lampiri). The project emerged following discussions at the Metaverse workshop, hosted by the Centre for Creative Technologies at the PM Studio, and was generously funded by the Centre’s seed corn initiative.

On Tuesday 25 July, the project team were delighted to collaborate with Jacqueline Ristola on her ‘Platform Cultures’ event and offer the keynote address. The keynote brought together two specialists, both XR Storytellers from different backgrounds:

  • Jo Mangan, a director coming to XR through a background in immersive theatre
  • Rob Morgan, who comes to XR from a background in video games.

Jo and Rob were asked to consider the following prompts:

  • How do the rules of environmental storytelling change when we move from a gaming or immersive theatre environment to a headset?
  • How do you use interactivity to increase immersion within a story? And, how might approaches to interactivity be different between a VR game, and VR theatre piece?

Our intention was to compare and contrast the different approaches to XR storytelling, and how each form influenced the approach to interweaving story and interactivity. Our ‘North Star’ was to work towards a set of ‘rules’ or principles for telling stories using XR. And although we didn’t reach a full framework, there was agreement around specific themes and issues.

Both speakers touched on the importance of narrative integration in different contexts. Rob spoke about how failure to integrate an audience member’s self-conscious feelings when participating in an immersive experience can be a barrier to immersion. Although a common perspective within the immersive sector is that self-consciousness itself is a barrier to immersion, Rob argued that the player is always aware, and that by emphasising the notion that self-consciousness is permitted, and weaving this into the narrative fabric, audiences can accept the ‘gap’ between how they feel and the role of the character within an immersive experience.

Jo spoke about the need for narrative integration to signpost the audience around the space, and how it is important to let the environment guide the audience in a way that is integrated into the narrative, rather than asking the player to move directly. Referring to  immersive theatre, she touched on the example of bad spatial design, where audiences do not know how to inhabit the space, but are moved from one spot to another by stewards. In the virtual space, audiences should be given enough information from the environmental storytelling to know how to interact with the space.

Both speakers also touched on the subject of how to create meaningful choice, as well as feedback systems that immerse the audience by enabling them to feel they can impact the environment. This operates on multiple levels of the experience, from the ‘core’ of the piece and the narrative dramatic structure, to individual audience choices on how to view and experience the work at any given moment.

It was agreed that by making choices within a narrative framework, audience members need to feel that the consequence of their decision has an impact on the narrative. For example, if audience members are presented with a decision that feels serious, they will expect for there to be consequences which impact significantly on the direction of the narrative. If the consequence of their decision is minimised, or doesn’t impact the plot fully, they can feel let down.

On the ‘surface’ layer of the experience, where the audience choose how they experience the work, there is still a lot of agency that can be afforded. In Jo’s production for Irish National Opera, audience members could follow different sonic layers by changing the way that they tilted their head, leading them to explore and experiment with the way that they experienced the work, on a sensory level.

Finally, immersive experiences are closely linked to the 3D avatars of the audiences and/or players. Circling back to the initial theme of the audience’s feeling of self-consciousness, Rob spoke about the construction of the audience’s character in AR experiences, describing it as ‘a light, pliable character, like a silhouette’ instead of a fully fleshed out role. He went on: ‘often, being a protagonist in AR  is more like an extra dimension that you augment on to the player’s own identity.’ This gives more freedom to the player, enabling them to enact in ways that are perhaps more dangerous or risky than they would opt for in everyday life.

Our sincere thanks to Jo and Rob, as well as to Jacqueline for the simulating discussions that followed the keynote and carried on throughout the ‘Platform Cultures’ event.

Catch the full recording of the keynote address.

Race and Reception in MECC’s ‘Freedom’!

This is part of a series of research/industry snapshots, capturing the work of those affiliated with the Bristol Digital Game Lab. For the first post in the series, we are delighted to showcase the work of Claudia Jones, Bristol Digital Game Lab intern.

When history meets game experiences, players are virtually transported to an event in time, a setting once long forgotten but remembered, and characters that enliven the story. If historical games grant access to the past and engage with our history, whose history are we accessing? Who is allowed to grant this access? How can games act as a digital archive of our collective memories?

My dissertation for the Master of Arts in Black Humanities explores these questions, and many more during the course of my continued research this summer. I am currently conducting autoethnographic analyses of three historical games that focus on the Black American experience within historical contexts, while using secondary sources to critically evaluate them. One of the titles is Freedom!, a 1992 educational game that centered around characters escaping slavery in the United States. It was published through the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium, famous for its work on The Oregon Trail. After the title was tested at selected schools in the United States, but was subsequently pulled from release after receiving complaints.

I found it incredibly important for this to be the starting case study due to its sensitive content in an educational setting. Through an emulation found on the Internet archive, I was able to download Freedom! and play through its entirety three times. Each time, my character attempted an escape but was recaptured and sent to the deep south, where further chances of escape were slim.

As I played, I returned to the question of “whose history are we accessing?” and it slowly morphed into “is this the type of history that games should access?” While on the surface, it seems obvious as to why Freedom! would not be released for the general public. However, as I played with these characters, there is a multitude of symbols that inform my experience within Freedom’s game world. The use of vernacular. The feeling of hopelessness and confusion as you navigate. The anxiety in encountering violence. These characteristics are common in a multitude of games, but coupled with events such as the Transatlantic Slave Trade, ethical implications come in play.

Rather than the question whether these games should exist, which is valid, there should be an expansion of and why representation is vital in game worlds and how to ethically portray people of colour in these spaces. After over 30 years since Freedom’s creation, the work continues to be done to examine these questions, and I am thankful to be a part of it.

Claudia Jones is the Bristol Digital Game Lab intern studying in the Master of Arts in Black Humanities. She is a former librarian from the United States of America. Her research interests include Black historical narratives in video games, Black digital bodies, and games as archives.