Recently, I have more extensively explored serious games for teaching and research communication in the humanities. In a workshop aimed primarily at religious studies scholars, I intended to address analogue board games as well as hybrid and exclusively digital games. And apart from games I myself had used or contributed to, I hoped to present other examples in different languages. Especially in the field of hybrid and digital humanities games, however, my search retrieved few results. This post summarises the vivid discussion with participants that followed my invited talk “Seriously, games?” in the #digitalDonnerstag workshop series hosted by Arbeitskreis Mittelbau und Nachwuchs der Deutschen Vereinigung für Religionswissenschaft e.V. (AKMN).
While most workshop participants had some first-hand experience with digital quizzes (e.g. through teaching platforms like Moodle), experience with more sophisticated games in religious studies or other humanities subjects was very limited. Above all, most of us did not know of any other researchers interested in exploring or developing games for the classroom or outreach activities.
There is, of course, an abundance of board and computer games with historical story-lines, but most of them do not serve the purposes of education and self-reflection you would expect in serious game. Furthermore, most of these games are not developed by humanities scholars as part of their teaching and research communication. Games created in distinctly academic contexts pay special attention to data security, ethical challenges, factual clarity and transparency, which makes them hard to compare to commercially or privately developed applications.
The same is true for the many socially or politically aware games like the ones promoted by the non-profit organisation “Games for Change”. Although they address topics that also interest humanities scholars, these games are not designed to fit into existing teaching curricula or complement research methods.
So where are the games designed by humanities scholars? Is it simply hard to find them, or is the community really that small?
Looking back at some twitter conversations colleagues and I have had in recent years, I assume it’s both. People have repeatedly asked for paper recommendations on games created for teaching or academic outreach, and even within the Digital Humanities, there doesn’t seem to be a go-to hub for academics who are designing their own table-top games, card games, or digital games.
For my workshop contribution, I eventually chose “Journey with Me”, a mobile app game on refugee experiences developed by researchers in Canada. However, I could not find similar games developed in Germany or in the field of religious studies.
After my workshop presentation, the participants had a lively discussion on this presumed absence of (digital) games at least in the German-speaking humanities. And we agreed that there is a need for better networking.
Analogue role-play, for instance, is already well established in religious studies and pastoral counselling, and some recent experiments have shown that they can also work well in video conferences. Workshop participant Petra Tillessen, for instance, has co-authored a book on role-play for acquiring “religious competence” (“Religionskompetenz”). The Münster “Escape Room” telling the life story of Cardinal von Galen, who famously resisted Nazi policy, is a blend of traditional role-play, an object-based treasure hunt and digital performance, including sound design.
The only natively digital game with religious content that more than one workshop participant seemed to know, however, was the 2004 educational game “Religiopolis” introducing school children to the world’s largest religious communities. Another participant noted that there was a digital game explaining the Egyptian Book of the Dead, but none of us could find the link.
Two digital games for children seem to have been developed with the Reformation jubilee in mind, but these, too, weren’t easy to find:
The author of “Martin Luthers Abenteuer”, Nicola Rössert, wrote that she created the game because there were surprisingly few online offerings for children on Reformation history.
But serious game should not only address young audiences. People of all ages enjoy games and can profit from the motivation boosts and increased interaction games bring to what we do. One hybrid game relevant to religious studies and aiming at more diverse user groups may be Saving Antiquities – Hintergründe und Funktionsweisen des Kulturgutschutzes, which is currently being developed by Berliner Antike-Kolleg. We are all looking forward to seeing results soon.
In the meantime, we are eager to learn more about the humanities / religious studies games we may have missed, especially those available in languages other than English. You are welcome to post links and recommendations in the comment section below.
Maybe it is possible to create a more thorough compilation of humanities games over time and organise events that brings us together. In June 2020, Roopika Risam also suggested creating a special games issue for Reviews in DH. Let us know if you are interested in co-editing or contributing to a volume like it.
- Reading list on public engagement, serious game etc.
- Deutscher Kulturrat: Handbuch Gameskultur (recommended by Leon)
- Interkulturelles Memory (recommended by Anja Lüpken)
- Interkulturelles Mau-Mau (recommended by Petra Tillessen)
- Board games and archaeology (ZOTERO group created by Tom Brughmans)
- IGNITE Unit 6: Game.Play.Design in the Arts and Humanities (MA module designed by the IGNITE project team for #dariahTeach)