Video games as public history: archives, empathy and affinity

Abbie Hartman*, Rowan Tulloch, Helen Young

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Videogames are a common way that members of the general public engage with historical material. This article argues that historical videogames can and should be considered as a new and significant form of public history. Public history occurs outside formal learning contexts, involves the general public, is participatory and straddles history and heritage. Gaming embodies these qualities, offering the player a chance to explore the past in immersive and engaging ways, and for substantial periods of time as they play and re-play. Drawing on game studies, public history studies and education theory, this article offers a theoretical framework for understanding games as public history through three key concepts: the interactive archive; historical empathy; and affinity spaces. It takes Ubisoft Montpellier’s Valiant Hearts: The Great War (Ubisoft, 2014) as an illustrative case study. We explore why it has been highly acclaimed as an example of a ‘good’ historical game by both academic and popular sources, and what can be learned about the public reception of historical material from this. We argue that although Valiant Hearts is unconventional in its representation of war, its play mechanics build on established gaming conventions and, as a result, it is a valuable illustration of the affordances of videogames as public history practice. This article aims to enable public historians to understand the significance and nature of an under-analysed medium, and to offer game scholars tools for understanding the broader context of historical games as public practices of history-making.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
JournalGame Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Public history
  • Interactive Archive
  • Affinity Space
  • Historical Empathy
  • World War One


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