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Playing the Past

History and Nostalgia in Video Games

Zach Whalen

Publication Year: 2008

Playing the Past brings together a group of interdisciplinary scholars to examine the complementary notions of history and nostalgia as they are expressed through video games and in gaming culture. The scope of these related concepts moves from the personal to the cultural, and essays in this collection address video game nostalgia as both an individual and societal phenomenon, connecting the fond memories many of us have of classic gaming to contemporary representations of historical periods and events in video games. From Ms. Pac-Man and Space Invaders to Call of Duty and JFK: Reloaded, the games many of us have played since childhood inform how we see the world today, and the games we make and play today help us communicate ideas about real world history. By focusing on specific games, historical periods and media ecologies, these essays collectively take an in depth look at the related topics of nostalgia for classic gaming, gaming and histories of other media, and representations of real history in video games.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press

Title Page

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pp. v-vi

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-viii

It is now seven years since Espen Aarseth declared 2001 to be “year one” of computer game studies, and while this nascent, interdisciplinary field has seen its share of vigorous debate, studying games remains an increasingly rich and important intellectual endeavor. Whether one considers the so-called ludology v. narratology...

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1. Playing the Past: An Introduction

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pp. 1-16

In late 2006, Sony’s PlayStation 3 console and Nintendo’s Wii (codenamed “The Revolution”) promised to usher in a new era of gaming with powerful graphics and innovative approaches to play. Joining the Xbox 360, these game systems complete the seventh console generation, and already (as of 2007) speculation is growing over the eighth. At the same time that gamers were lining...

Part I: Playing in the Past: Negotiating Nostalgia and Classic Gaming

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2. Why Old School is "Cool": A Brief Analysis of Classic Video Game Nostalgia

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pp. 19-31

I first played a video game in 1981; I was four at the time. I remember going to my neighbor’s house, where a boy a little older than me asked if I wanted to play PONG. I asked what PONG was, and he showed me a plastic box with wood paneling connected to the television. I am not sure which of the many...

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3. Homesick for Silent Hill: Modalities of Nostalgia in Fan Responses to Silent Hill 4: The Room

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pp. 32-50

Serial forms of entertainment rely upon and must contain varying degrees of textual change and transformation. Change, in terms of the “successive differences in form or configuration”1 between titles or episodes, is necessary if a series is to evolve. Yet, in the face of audience expectations, innovation must be balanced...

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4. Playing the Deja-New: “Plug it in and Play TV Games” and the Cultural Politics of Classic Gaming

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pp. 51-68

In D. B. Weiss’s novel Lucky Wander Boy, the protagonist Adam Pennyman reflects on the cultural and material fate of the world’s first commercial video games: The games themselves would live on thanks to MAME [Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator] and other such emulation programs, but due to their diversionary status and their laudable but deceptive simplicity, they...

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5. Hacks, Mods, Easter Eggs, and Fossils: Intentionality and Digitalism in the Video Game

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pp. 69-90

The term “interactive digital media” contains an often-overlooked adjective, digital. Espen Aarseth has given us a detailed study of the aesthetics of cybertext; Nick Montfort, the textuality of interactive fiction; and Mark J. P. Wolf, a strict review of the hardware requirements for a work to be labeled a video game. These authors...

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6. Screw the Grue: Mediality, Metalepsis, Recapture

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pp. 91-108

I begin with an assertion that I consider an axiom of videogame studies: Gameplay is the expression of combinations of definite semiotic elements in specific relations to equally definite technical elements. The semiotic plane of a game’s expression draws on the full range of common cultural material available to game designers and players, such as shared myth, conventions of genre and narrative...

Part II: Playing and the Past: Understanding Media History and Video Games

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7. Unlimited Minutes: Playing Games in the Palm of Your Hand

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pp. 111-125

First off, I have a disclaimer or two. Talking on the phone, whether to accomplish a task or to “keep in touch” with a remote friend or relative, is often an onerous chore. Some people love the phone—Andy Warhol spent much of his adult life on it. He even “wrote” his diary by placing a daily phone call to employee...

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8. Visions and Revisions of the Hollywood Golden Age and America in the Thirties and Forties: Prince of Persia and Crimson Skies

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pp. 126-144

Games such as Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge (2003) and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (2003) are strongly informed by the spirit of Hollywood Golden Age films of the 1930s and 1940s. Employing the nostalgic conventions of films of the period like their “breezy” tone, Crimson Skies and Prince of Persia explore potentially controversial situations unusual to gaming. Furthermore...

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9. Toward a New Sound for Games

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pp. 145-163

To advance the state of video game sound, there is a need for a theoretical framework of sound design for interactive media. While the application of sound to other forms of multimedia—such as film or television—has had years of scholarly theoretical assertions and empirical study, to date there is a surprising dearth...

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10. Remembrance of Things Fast: Conceptualizing Nostalgic-Play in the Battlestar Galactica Video Game

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pp. 164-180

It is ironic for a medium that is, relatively speaking, in its infancy that video games should rely so heavily on history and the past. Video game stores are replete with titles that allow players to fight wars already won or lost and visit cities and times long since gone. Yet video games can invoke the memory of the past...

Part III: Playing with the Past: Nostalgia and Real History in Video Games

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11. Just Less than Total War: Simulating World War II as Ludic Nostalgia

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pp. 183-200

In Homo Ludens, his landmark study of “the play element in culture,” Johan Huizinga claims that warfare has traditionally been a part of the ludic. Although bloody, violent, and often grimly serious, as long as war maintained a...

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12. Performing the (Virtual) Past: Online Character Interpretation as Living History at Old Sturbridge Village

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pp. 201-214

Old Sturbridge Village, a major living history museum in Massachusetts, stages and interprets a 1830s New England community for thousands of visitors year round. Recently, Sturbridge developed an online program that allows students...

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13. Documentary Games: Putting the Player in the Path of History

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pp. 215-238

The referential power of games—both visually and in terms of their underlying simulation—has grown dramatically in recent years. Where once games played primarily in the realm of abstract or exaggerated scenarios, we are now beginning to see game scenarios that attempt to represent and/or re-create historical...

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14. Of Puppets, Automatons, and Avatars: Automating the Reader-Player in Electronic Literature and Computer Games

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pp. 239-264

Ambivalence about the human simulacrum has a long history as well as what seems to be a very big future (in video games). Uncanny copies of human beings have been created with strings and cogwheels as well as through computer graphics and have gone by the names of puppet, doll, automaton, android...


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pp. 265-270


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pp. 271-286

E-ISBN-13: 9780826592460
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826516008

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2008