About Ludic Historian

Stated simply, the Ludic Historian is about the history of ludic experiences, by which is meant games. More broadly, this could be taken to focus on anything that was designed to provide entertainment, whether commercial or otherwise. Even allowing for that, my focus will be initially focused around not just games but games in a computing context in particular.

That’s the ludic part. The historian part is that I’m very interested in the various historical contexts that led to games and gaming. This context has many facets, sociological and technological being two of them. Games were created by specific people in a specific cultural context. You can learn a lot about the games themselves by looking at those contexts.

François Baudouin referred to what he called “the office of historian.” By this he meant practitioners that had responsibilities both to the past (of capturing and understanding its integrity) and to the present (of keeping the past alive in service to contemporary life). This site is my own way of showing my own practice of “office of historian.” Given that I’m writing about the history or games, and most often of computer and video games, I’m largely doing so by focusing on the responsibilities to the past part of Baudouin’s statement.

Pursuing Knowledge

The pursuit of historical knowledge has a lot of intricacies around ontological, epistemological and ontogenic categories.

  • Epistemology is about the way we know things. (Think “theory of knowledge.”)
  • Ontology is about what things are. (Think “theory of being.”)
  • Ontogeny is about the history of changes that preserve the integrity of things. (Think “theory of identity.”)

These three areas are crucial to understanding, and perhaps explaining, the provisionality of all historical interpretation. These have particular interest to a ludic historian because games often have a specific thing they are (say, shooter) but also how they change and evolve (say, shooter with RPG elements).

Objective History?

One of the key questions people who study history generally come around to asking eventually is: can any history be “objective” in the sense of being the story and explanation of precisely what happened in the past. This is essentially asking if whatever account we come up with can be incontestable, universally accepted, value-free, authoritative, and final?

That’s a lot to ask!

“Value-free” is a tricky quality in particular because it means an account that is impartial, detached, without a (over-dominating) point of view, and not distorted by historians’ own times. And if you’re a human and writing history, it’s hard to be “free” of all those things and questionable whether you even should be.

So the answer to the above question is generally: no. There can’t be a truly objective history. All history, by this logic, is to some extent incomplete, perspectival, provisional, and influenced by the circumstances, not to mention temperaments, of the historian.

If that’s the case, a reasonable question asserts itself: how can any history be considered truthful, accurate, and dependable?

The Immutability of the Past

One thing we can recognize is that any study of the past, regardless of the subject of study, is grounded in one incontrovertible fact: there is an ineradicable distance between history as it (may have) happened and history as we choose to interpret it and record it.

There’s a challenge related to that: the past itself cannot be entirely replicated. We do have what the past has left behind: reports and artifacts. In the context of a ludic historian, that might mean articles about games in trade magazines, design notes from development studies, developer interviews, and, of course, the games themselves.

What we have, in short, is surviving evidence. And it’s in such evidence that historians begin their work.

Evidence and Purpose

As a historian, professionally or just playing one on a blog, you have to always check the strength of evidence you have and increase your ability to build intellectually sound interpretations from that evidence. Along the way you have to be in a state of constant questioning regarding the origins, intentions, veracity, and potential bias of the evidence you do choose to use.

As a historian you start to hone various evidence-checking techniques. One such technique is comparing different — and different kinds of — evidence. Another technique is learning how to balance conflicting accounts. Yet another technique is assessing the authority and reliability of first-hand reporting as well as long-after-the-fact recollections. Finally, a core technique is learning how to correct for memory defects and lapses and being able to spot categories of error in thinking, both those applied at the time of history being studied and those applied retroactively.

All of these techniques can give you confidence that that you are bringing the past reasonably accurately to the present.

It can’t be overstated that historians must strive to be as true to existing evidence as they can be. This means you use all known resources about a subject, including those that might not comport with a viewpoint you already hold. This also means being faithful to the known facts, giving all sides of a question a fair hearing, and making clear (to the degree you are conscious of them) your own particular viewpoints and biases.

In other words, when you act as a historian, you have to provide plausible reports of the past. You need to have high confidence in the validity of your evidence, in the soundness of your arguments, and therefore in the stability of your interpretive statements about that evidence.

This is done by using substantiated historical evidence, plausible historical perspectives, and strongly argued, evidence-based interpretations.

Thus does the evidence provide a focus for the purpose.

And that is what the blog Ludic Historian is about: providing a variety of evidence to bring to light a lot of history about ludic experiences. This is how I, at least, am choosing to be a ludic historian.