Resurrection Man and Historiographic Play

Resurrection Man is my video game project, currently in alpha phase, that compliments and serves as example for my written Master’s thesis of Media Arts. I will graduate from the University of South Carolina Media Art’s program in May 2014. My written thesis will be available online at that time.

For my thesis, project and written, I am exploring the ways in which games and gameplay serve a pedagogic or interpretative role for thinking about and evaluating historic individuals, moments and events. Other scholars, such as Tracy Fullerton, Steven F. Anderson and Ian Bogost have discussed and elaborated on the documentary function of computational artifacts. In video game scholarship, these types of games are often categorized as “documentary games,” or “docu-games.” However, I posit that this label is insufficient to describe how video games and other digial media may represent and simulate the past. I argue for a historiographic approach to designing historically contextualized games and play. Video games, via simulation and player-based interaction, can do more for history than simply preserve it as documentary record of the past. I believe that the interactive experience afforded by a gameworld engages players within a historical instance and that this may lead to new insights and perspective regarding the past.

My game project, Resurrection Man, is historically situated via character, narrative and play. Players are historically situated in the 19th century and control slave turned body snatcher Grandison Harris. Harris was a Gullah man purchased from the Charleston, SC slave block by the Georgia Medical school in Augusta in 1852. The medical school was in desperate need of fresh corpses for the student’s dissections and anatomy lessons and this unsavory task was given to Harris. In the game, player’s sneak into a moonlight cemetery to avoid detection from night watchmen, dig graves, axe coffins, and steal cadavers to return them to the medical school. Through the simulated grave robbing scenario, players are invited to question, evaluate and interpret the institution of slavery in service of 19th century medical education and practice.

Of course, there is a lot more covered by my research and much that I will continue to learn and expand upon as I read, write and design. For now, this post simply serves as an introductory discussion of what I am pursuing for my written thesis and game project.