As of January 1st 2021 I have started working as an intern here at VALUE. In the coming weeks I will be contributing a host of in depth articles for Interactive Pasts, particularly on the many uses of alternate history storytelling. In this article I want to briefly introduce myself.
My name is Jochem “Guthixian” Scheelings and my internship at VALUE is a part of my MA in African Studies at Leiden University. I am mainly a historian and Africanist, of which it may surprise you to hear that there are many applications for both in the world of video games. In world simulation and war games such as Hearts of Iron IV and Victoria II the player base has developed a passionate community for custom scenarios that encompass the entire world, Africa included. The research involved in this process can, in my opinion, rival that of proper academic papers at times. Especially in settings where the premise is that global history had a turning point which we did not see in our world.
A good example is Kaiserreich: Legacy of the Weltkrieg. This scenario asks the question “What if Germany had won World War 1?” and turns this into an alternate 1936 where the player can take control of any country in the world to see how it experiences the process of history going forward. The developers used real primary sources such as the German war aims in WW1 to determine what Europe, as well as Africa, would look like in this setting. I will dive deep into this world and others like it for VALUE to examine the historical processes behind their creation. In a month or two from now you can also expect development diaries of an alternate historical experience set in Africa in the 1960’s and 70’s that I am developing myself.
As for what games I enjoy playing in my free time; I grew up playing lots of classic real-time strategy games like Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun (which is now freeware and available on CnCnet) and later got into modern CRPG titles such as the Divinity series and the recently released into Early Access Baldur’s Gate 3. I used to play a lot of the Civilization games as well but found that I prefer the more immersive historical sandbox games such as the excellent Cold War Extended mod for Victoria II over Civ’s more arcade-like gameplay.
That being said, my favourite game of all time has to be Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri. A landmark game at its time now only really held back by its outdated presentation, SMAC is both a game and a philosophical graphic novel exploring the building blocks of what makes us human. If that sounds a little pretentious, I assure you that checking it out for yourself will change your mind. It almost makes me wish we had an Interactive Futures at VALUE as well.
Expect to see the first in a series of articles on alternative history in video games by me soon.