Digital cultural heritage and the gamification of the past

“Digital cultural heritage,” a field with a wide variety of definitions, has benefited greatly from the use of several emerging technologies to increase accessibility to cultures and historical content for a larger audience. As an example, Virtual Reality allows for users to simulate an embodied experience in geographic and temporal locales that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to experience. Similarly, entertainment media such as videogames often take inspiration from aspects of history and cultural heritage to situate their gameplay mechanics in a generally known world. This marriage of sensory and ludic experience with historical or cultural content allows for many opportunities to teach users about various aspects of the human condition. However, there are some aspects of these technological experiences that are not always beneficial to a user’s intellectual understanding of the complexities of the past.


Historical VR experiences generally lean toward “tourist”-type experiences, where users experience a notable location primarily through passive observation, often receiving some form of explanatory content or enrichment through text or audio commentary.These experiences are often closer to academic lectures than they are games and often leave users disinterested or disengaged from the content. On the other end of the spectrum, historical and cultural heritage materials have also been used as mise-en-scene for historically-themed games that seek to entertain users more than educate them. Using these experiences to convey accurate and useful information in cultural heritage education is therefore not always the best idea.


In this session, I would like to invite participants to discuss the benefits and drawbacks to approaching historical and cultural heritage education through the guise of virtual reality and video games, and discuss ways to thoughtfully evaluate how/whether the GLAM sector can learn from and engage with these materials to inform our work. In particular, I would like to discuss methods for adapting strategies used in Virtual Reality experiences and videogames to inform the outcome of ongoing work to digitize cultural heritage materials.