What better news to kick off our new-fangled Field Reports with than news about Herald, the Dutch game about colonialism and identity in the 18th century.
Roy van der Schilden of Wispfire talked about the development of Herald during our Interactive Pasts Conference in 2016, and the second part of the game is now available for pre-order on their website! In order to get the attention of a future audience, Roy gives an interview in which he talks about how Herald addresses the Western views on colonialism and its effect on our current society. Although steps are being taken and awareness increases, the role slavery played in Dutch history is a touchy subject most people rather stay away from. But the game also addresses white normativity, racism, and other effects of colonialism that still shape our society.
It does this by having the player interact with the crew on board of the ship through the protagonist Devan Rensburg, an Indian boy who grew up in an alternative 19th century in the Anglosphere/Western world. Devan’s interactions with the crew exposes him to power-structures, (everyday) racism, conflicts, and relationships that existed back then and still exist nowadays. Stories that Wispfire can tell, because they’re not restricted like major developers in the industry. These stories have an important message, one that is not often told but very much needs to be heard. Roy is also exploring possibilities to introduce the game to Dutch high schools, so students can learn about and reflect on the Dutch colonial history and how it echoes through in our society. Because, as Roy mentions, there’s much room for improvement.
As an historian researching and writing about slavery and colonialism in Dutch history, I cannot applaud Wispfire’s undertaking enough. There’s a lot of misinformation, misunderstanding, and ignorance about the magnitude of slavery and slave trade in the Dutch colonial empire. Any and all attempts to address the dark side of our colonial history (because generally the focus lies on the wealth and martial prowess of the Dutch in the 17th and 18th century) should be encouraged. Slavery was a terrible part of the world’s history, and unfortunately it still exists in the world and the effects of colonialism still affect our society. And as part of the VALUE Foundation, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I think that video games are a perfect tool to do this. Let’s hope that high schools all over the world want to include Herald in their curriculum!