Souvik Mukherjee

Souvik Photo

Melanie Swalwell

Melanie Photo

Dr Souvik Mukherjee teaches English Literature at Presidency University, Kolkata. Souvik’s main research is in Game Studies, specifically storytelling in videogames, and Digital Humanities. His monograph, Videogames and Storytelling: Reading Games and Playing Books, has been published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2015 and has recently completed his second book-project on videogames and postcolonialism. Besides publishing widely on Game Studies, Souvik also works on (the) Digital Humanities and Early Modern Literature.  As part of his Digital Humanities research, he has completed two curated digital archives of colonial cemeteries in India and is working on related projects on digitising colonial heritage. Souvik also writes a column on videogames in the Times of India.

Title: Playing Alternative Histories: Postcolonialism, History and Videogames

In Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry, the ex-slave protagonist Adewale’s appearance in and departure from the island of Saint-Domingue is said to be a definite influence on the Haitian slave rebellion. According to the history books and archives, of course, this never happened. One might argue that the records were destroyed and that the events could have been remembered and passed down for generations. Then again, whose memories are to be considered acceptable? In postcolonialist historiography, the past is often viewed as a colonised terrain where indigenous histories have been eradicated and rewritten by colonising powers. Postcolonial reactions to such historiography, in turn, are themselves prone to rewritings. As videogames research begins to address questions of diversity and inclusion, it is high time that the treatment of empire and ‘the global South’ in videogames also finds a place in such discussions. In the replaying (and, therefore, rewriting) of history by players, whether a ‘subaltern’ history that was hitherto neglected or suppressed now emerges is a moot question.

This paper will address the key problems regarding the postcolonial (re)construction of temporality and history in terms of how videogames provide a hitherto unique perspective on the issue. In doing so, it aims to highlight a closer connect between Game Studies and Postcolonial theory as well as re-examine how videogames address notions of empire and thereby, also larger questions of race, identity and history.

Melanie Swalwell is a scholar of digital media arts, cultures, and histories. She is the author of many chapters and articles on the histories of digital games, and co-editor of The Pleasures of Computer Gaming: Essays on cultural history, theory and aesthetics (McFarland, 2008), and Fans and Videogames: Histories, fandom, archives (Routledge, 2017). Between 2012-15, Melanie was Project Leader and Chief Investigator on the ARC Linkage Project “Play It Again”, which, in conjunction with its cultural partners – the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision, and the Berlin Computerspiele Museum – researched the history and preservation of 1980s digital games in New Zealand and Australia. She is currently completing a monograph, Homebrew Gaming and the Beginnings of Vernacular Digitality (MIT Press) and editing another collection, Game History and the Local. Melanie’s latest research is on the histories of ‘creative microcomputing’ in Australia between 1976 and 1992. She is an Associate Professor and ARC Future Fellow in the Screen and Media Department at Flinders University.

Title: From Homebrew to High Art? 1980s microcomputing shows the way

The early period of digital game historiography was not only dominated by a focus on the major markets of the US and Japan, but also by an orientation toward console and arcade games and gaming. This has started to shift as more scholars from outside of these ‘centres’ start to undertake game historical scholarship, and discuss the other major series of platforms for which digital games were produced in the period, namely microcomputers. The advent of ‘micros’, as they were known, marks the moment when games and computing came within reach of laypeople. Crucially, games were not just something that one played on a micro, they were something one made; users experimented and created with them. However, following Michel de Certeau and Luce Giard, I suggest that we still know little about what people actually did with microcomputers. This makes the question of ‘how will the micro era be remembered?’ a significant one.

My current book project attempts to map some of the overlooked history of the reception of micro-computers, drawing on archival research and oral histories conducted with 1980s homebrew game creators from Australia and New Zealand. In this talk, I argue that digital game history and preservation efforts are in the vanguard of research into digital cultural history and microcomputer heritage, more generally.