CfP: Digital Games through Muddled Pasts and Modded History

Edited by: Eduardo Luersen (Zukunftskolleg, Department of Literature, Art and Media Studies, University of Konstanz) and James Wilson (Zukunftskolleg, Department of History and Sociology, University of Konstanz)

Abstract submission:
  • Expressions of interest/Initial abstracts (max. 300 words) and short biographical note (max. 100 words) are due on: 25 August, 2024.
  • Submission of full papers: 25 January, 2025
  • Final versions with the amendments suggested by reviewers are due: 31 April, 2025.
Please send expressions of interest/initial abstracts and short biographical notes to Eduardo Luersen ( and James Wilson (


“My men do not fear death, they welcome it and the rewards it brings”

In recent decades, digital games have become an increasingly ubiquitous medium for popular engagement with history. For many players, these digital representations provide a deeper level of engagement with the past than the scientific and scholarly interpretations presented in academic monographs and journal articles.

The above quote is how players of Assassin’s Creed are first introduced to the so-called “leap of faith”, an important gameplay mechanic and navigational element where characters jump from implausible heights, before landing unharmed in carts filled with hay. It has since developed into a signature feature of the franchise, which encourages players to climb culturally and architecturally significant buildings to obtain more information about the surrounding area. Yet many players do not realise that the episode represented in the opening scene of this hugely popular game is adopted almost verbatim from a 13th-century Old French chronicle (Daftary, 1990: 6). Likewise, Assassin’s Creed: Mirage, set in 9th century Baghdad, actively engages with controversial historical subjects such as the ‘Islamic Golden Age’, the Zanj slave rebellion, and the ‘translation movement’ from Greek to Arabic that was patronised by the Abbasid Caliphate.

These and many other tropes in digital games raise questions about how historical imageries and imaginaries are developed for the medium. Inquiries include the extent to which game designers want to recover, select, update, and re-enact multifaceted, contested aspects of the past. Similarly, so-called Serious Games have been traditionally designed for education and training purposes across disciplines, but what are the implications of drawing upon historical leitmotifs within this format? Putting these questions into a broader perspective of the digitisation of culture and knowledge practices, this special issue of Digital Culture & Society addresses how knowledge about the past is crafted and curated in and for digital games.

In addition to developing deliberate visions of the past through narrative design and gameworld imagery, the embedded practical interactive experience provided by gaming has become an important means of making historical material accessible to wider audiences. This possibility, which has evolved over at least the past three decades through numerous genre codes into more multisensory experiences, led contemporary history-themed games to be compared to a form of historical tourism (Schwarz, 2024).

Therefore, while addressing sensitive historical themes, digital games are also expected to serve as new drivers of popular history. Consequently, they incorporate contemporary cultural debates into the historical settings they recreate. This phenomenon is not unique to gaming. Other mass media, from literature to cinema, have grappled with similar issues when representing the past. However, digital games highlight the need to update these discussions, as computer simulation, rule structures, and user-oriented media affordances can offer features to engage players through particular narrative architectures (Jenkins, 2004), procedural rhetoric (Bogost, 2007), and affective experiences (Jagoda & McDonald, 2018). Computer games exhibit similarities but also very significant differences to how other means, including traditional institutional structures and pedagogical platforms, propose engaging with history and heritage (Houghton, 2023). Therefore it is relevant to understand how these differences influence the representation of the past in digital games, especially in games that advert fidelity or realism as hallmarks of their worldbuilding.

As the scope of themes in digital games stretches to the past, gameworld imaginations paint vivid pictures of transcontinental expeditions, previous civilisations, and political or religious conflicts. Yet, while the representation and the immersive experiences based on these motifs raise several important epistemological questions, the concrete social contexts in which these historical images are created have received comparatively little attention. The social studies concerning the practical production of historical games remain only marginally explored (Sotamaa & Švelch, 2021). Observing how the decision-making process in historical games is tailored between developers, narrative designers, and historical advisors, one can better understand the importance placed on historical knowledge within the gaming industry, especially when questions of so-called historical ‘authenticity’ collide with the demands of user-oriented digital media.

Therefore, with this special volume of Digital Culture & Society, we wish to explore the epistemological, political, and practical issues that arise through the intermingling of digital games and history across multiple dimensions. We aim to do so by being open to multiple branches of research, ranging from the representational gameworlds and playful experiences about the past to the paratexts surrounding historical game releases, from the diverse methodological approaches applied to study the intermingling of games and history to the game production aspects that play a decisive role in how such games are shaped.

The special issue is led by a set of questions concerning the practical and conceptual intricacies of developing and presenting games about historical themes to a global audience:

  • How are the imageries of in-game historical conflicts or cross-cultural ‘tolerance’ developed?
  • How does the categorisation of digital games into different genres influence how we analyse historical aspects of this medium?
  • In which ways are history-based games serious?
  • How are game logics and structures used as engagement tools by organisations, companies, and states?
  • What are the different implications of digital games for the reception of historical knowledge when history is meant to be played as a user-oriented medium?
  • What are the benefits that can be gained from analysis of paratexts, and which insights can they provide into these processes?
  • How is the decision-making process tailored between developers, concept designers, and historical advisors?
  • What are the game studio dynamics that play a role in shaping how historical games are developed?
  • What interdisciplinary methods can be developed to study the intersection of digital games and historical knowledge?

We encourage historians, designers, anthropologists, sociologists, and researchers from other disciplines engaged with history-related topics in digital games to contribute to this special issue.

Journal Sections

When submitting an abstract, please state to which of the following issue sections you would like to submit your paper:

  1. Field Research and Case Studies (full paper: 6.000 – 8.000 words)

We welcome articles that explore empirical findings on the relationship between games and history. These articles may examine aspects ranging from gameworld representations and game paratexts to the processes involved in game production or reception. These studies might be based on empirical investigations or autoethnographic research.

  1. Conceptual/Theoretical Reflection (full paper: 6.000 – 8.000 words)

conceptual and theoretical dimensions of intertwining historical knowledge with digital games. This may involve examining the challenges posed to the discipline by the format of games, employing comparative media approaches to address the potential and pitfalls of engaging with the past through digital games, or exploring the inherent complexities of dealing with the past through this medium.

  1. Entering the Field (2.000 – 3.000 words; experimental formats welcome)

This experimental section presents initial and ongoing empirical work in historical game studies. The editors have created this section to provide a platform for researchers who would like to initiate a discussion concerning emerging (yet perhaps incomplete) research agendas and plans, as well as methodological approaches to historical game studies. Contributions may also include discussions about the handling of sources or archival work conducted specifically for developing digital games.

Publisher and Open Access

DCS is published by transcript. All articles will be published as open access on our website 12 months after the initial publication. Previous issues are available here:

Selected References

Bogost, Ian (2007) Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Daftary, Farhad (1990) The Isma’ilis: Their History and Doctrines. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Houghton, Robert (2023) ‘Awesome, but Impractical? Deeper Engagement with the Middle Ages through Commercial Digital Games’, Open Library of Humanities 9(2).

Jagoda, Patrick and McDonald, Peter (2018) ‘Game Mechanics, Experience Design, and Affective Play’, in Jentery Sayers (ed.) Routledge Companion to Media Studies and the Digital Humanities. New York: Routledge, pp. 174–182.

Jenkins, Henry (2004) ‘Game Design as Narrative Architecture’, in Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrington (ed.) First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. Cambridge: MIT Press, pp. 118–130.

Schwarz, Angela (2024) ‘Discovering the Past as a Virtual Foreign Country: Assassin’s Creed as Historical Tourism’, in Erik Champion and Juan Francisco Hiriart Vera (ed.) Assassin’s Creed in the Classroom: History’s Playground or a Stab in the Dark? Berlin: De Gruyter, pp. 169–187.

Sotamaa, Olli and Švelch, Jan (2021) Game Production Studies. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.