The Interactive Past book

Video games, even though they are one of the present’s quintessential media and cultural forms, also have a surprising and many-sided relation with the past. From seminal series like Sid Meier’s Civilization or Assassin’s Creed to innovative indies like Never Alone and Herald, games have integrated heritages and histories as key components of their design, narrative, and play.

This has allowed hundreds of millions of people to experience humanity’s diverse heritage through the thrill of interactive and playful discovery, exploration, and (re-)creation. Just as video games have embraced the past, games themselves are also emerging as an exciting new field of inquiry in disciplines that study the past. Games and other interactive media are not only becoming more and more important as tools for knowledge dissemination and heritage communication, but they also provide a creative space for theoretical and methodological innovations.

The Interactive Past brings together a diverse group of thinkers — including archaeologists, heritage scholars, game creators, conservators and more — who explore the interface of video games and the past in a series of unique and engaging writings. They address such topics as how thinking about and creating games can inform on archaeological method and theory, how to leverage games for the communication of powerful and positive narratives, how games can be studied archaeologically and the challenges they present in terms of conservation, and why the deaths of virtual Romans and the treatment of video game chickens matters. The book also includes a crowd-sourced chapter in the form of a question-chain-game, written by the Kickstarter backers whose donations made this book possible. Together, these exciting and enlightening examples provide a convincing case for how interactive play can power the experience of the past and vice versa.

Download the book here (PDF, 4.4MB).

Paperback and Hardback editions

Through Sidestone Press, The Interactive Past (May 2017) was published entirely open access, but for those who want to have the look and feel of ‘good old’ paper, the book is also available as a paperback or hardcover. Leiden University students and faculty members get a discount of 25% for both printed versions of the book. Please visit The Interactive Past at Sidestone Press for pricing, ordering and shipping.

Table of contents

Tutorial: An introduction to archaeology, heritage, and video games
Angus A.A. Mol, Csilla E. Ariese-Vandemeulebroucke, Krijn H.J. Boom & Aris Politopoulos

Part One: Ethical Approaches to Heritage and Video Games

1. Storytelling for the Next Generation: How a non-profit in Alaska harnessed the power of video games to share and celebrate cultures
Cook Inlet Tribal Council

2. Tradigital Knowledge? Indigenous video games, copyright, and the protection of traditional knowledge
Gabrielle Hughes

3. Chickens in Video Games: Archaeology and ethics inform upon complex relationships
B. Tyr Fothergill & Catherine Flick

4. Herald: How Wispfire used history to create fiction
Roy van der Schilden & Bart Heijltjes

Part Two: Analysing and Designing Games from an Archaeological Perspective

5. Designing and Developing a Playful Past in Video Games
Tara Jane Copplestone

6. Video Games as Archaeological Sites: Treating digital entertainment as built environments
Andrew Reinhard

7. Single White Looter: Have whip, will travel
Erik Malcolm Champion

8. On Games that Play Themselves: Agent based models, archaeogaming, and the useful deaths of digital Romans
Shawn Graham

Part Three: Playful Heritage Outreach

9. Playing the Archive: ‘Let’s Play’ videos, game preservation, and the exhibition of play
René Glas, Jesse de Vos, Jasper van Vught & Hugo Zijlstra

10. Explaining Archaeological Research with Video Games: The case of Evolving Planet
Xavier Rubio-Campillo, Jorge Caro Saiz, Guillem H. Pongiluppi, Guillem Laborda Cabo & David Ramos Garcia

11. Crafting the Past: Unlocking new audiences
Julianne McGraw, Stephen Reid & Jeff Sanders

12. The Potential for Modding Communities in Cultural Heritage
Jakub Majewski

13. Looking for Group: A collective chapter writing game
The Interactive Past Community

Levelling Up: The playful promise of interactive pasts
Angus A.A. Mol, Csilla E. Ariese-Vandemeulebroucke, Krijn H.J. Boom & Aris Politopoulos


Colleen Morgan

Thanks to our backers for becoming virtually an archaeologist!