While conducting research for my final exhibition, I came across an interesting and appropriate subheading for this week’s discussion of 3D and virtual environments in the Digital_Humanities reader coauthored by UCLA’s Peter Lunenfeld and Johanna Drucker, among several others at UCLA and abroad.
Under the section entitled “Humanities Gaming,” the text explains how “Digital Humanities gaming has begun to successfully engage with historical simulation, virtual cycles of competition, and the virtual construction of learning environments.” In conjunction with Diane Favro’s walk through historical simulation modeling at UCLA and Snyder’s “Virtual Reality for Humanities Scholarship,” I think interesting questions can be asked regarding both the form and function of 3D environments in academia today. Historically, games have never been held in high repute by academia, however recent developments in new media studies and narratology (the study of game narrative) have removed some of the stigma that was once attached to gaming. In the Digital_Humanities reader, several “case studies” surrounding virtual environments and interactive media are given as examples of experimental forms of interactive media that have might be incorporated into the pedagogy of the digital humanist.
One such example provided is the “Soweto ’76 3D” site, which is described as a unique 3D “archive interface” that allows visitors to easily guide themselves through a virtual recreation of the township combining both education and exploration as they learn about the places, people and past of Soweto. The front page of the site explains to visitors that with the formal end of Apartheid in 1994, public archives in South Africa underwent a massive transformation and were enlisted as vital community resources in the effort to build the fledgling democracy. According to the site, as a result of the “regularly used censorship, the destruction of documents, and restricted access to the archive as vehicles for the eradication of oppositional memories that might endanger the welfare of the state” during the Apartheid, many of the holdings of archival institutions in South Africa continue to be under threat today. The program is designed as an interactive exhibit in which users can click on locations, read about different buildings and even add their own insight and knowledge to the collection through a process of peer review.
I thought this example was a very interesting intermediary between what is commonly considered a game versus an academic resource. Games have rules and they are often commercial by design. Although some games such as Assassin’s Creed attempt to create virtual environments based on historically-accurate data, I think that the difference is really illuminated when players become participants and are allowed to alter the fabric of the environment themselves or are deliberately invited to interpret the scene with a critical eye, rather than one that is pushed in a certain direction or given only certain tools to construct meaning within the environment itself.