DOWNLOADABLE CONTEXT: WHY A HISTORIAN OF HAITI CAME TO STUDY VIDEO GAMES
Posted on December 13, 2021by Age of Revolutions
*I dedicate this article to the late Tyler Stovall (1954 – 2021), who encouraged my work on histories of race in France as well as on video games, and who mentored and championed a generation of scholars interested in Black France and French colonial studies.
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By Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall
While the field of Historical Game Studies has blossomed in disciplines like Literature and Media Studies, historians in North America have long neglected video games, assuming that they trivialize the past. Unlike the Popular Culture Association or Society for Cinema and Media Studies, the American Historical Association does not have a Game Studies section. Moreover, the American Historical Review did not publish articles on Historical Game Studies (HGS) until March 2021.
As a historian, I too once ignored historical video games. However, after writing books on the French Revolution and on Haitian history, I became one of the first historians to publish a book on video games in my area of specialty, entitled Slave Revolt on Screen: The Haitian Revolution in Film and Video Games. I had realized, like a small but growing number of my colleagues, that historians must do this work, adding their perspectives alongside Game Studies scholars who are not subject-area specialists.
Why did I begin studying games? Though I am a non-gamer adult, I gamed as a child, years before home-gaming was mainstream. My father, Dr. Jerry Sepinwall, was a scientist; to access his lab data, he sometimes brought home a screenless terminal, which printed out information on paper like a typewriter rather than on a monitor. Occasionally, my siblings and I got to use the terminal for something rare at the time: playing a game using the computer. Our choices were rudimentary (Pong and possibly Hangman) and so were the black-ink-on-paper graphics. But, in playing over a dial-up modem in the late 1970s, we were among the world’s first online gamers. As a teenager in the 1980s, however, I lost interest in computer games; in college, I used computers only for writing papers.