Finding the ancient in a virtual world

Finland has done a great deal of research into the culture of video games. Derek Fewster takes an archaeological-historical approach.

Founded ten years ago this August, Rovio Entertainment seems like quite the Methuselah compared to its contemporary competitors. A decade is an eternity in the games industry.

Researchers do their best to keep up and find what makes the culture tick – be their focus on the industry, the gamers themselves or the games they play. Historian Derek Fewster, a self-proclaimed avid gamer, considers Finland a pioneer in research on gaming culture.

“I’ve always been interested in the ways history is used. I focused on this topic in my dissertation, and am now exploring the same theme through video games,” explains Fewster, who is currently working as a university lecturer in the Kultur och kommunikation Master’s degree programme.

The Master's degree programme similarly has a practical perspective.

“Games hold tremendous importance, and that is why they warrant academic research. Games would be perfect as a thesis topic for a student in the Master's degree programme. We already have one student working on a Master’s thesis on the concept of history in the Fallout games.”

Last spring, Fewster gave an intensive course on this topic in English.

He points out that the audience for video games set in a historical milieu is far greater than the readership of any history book.

“Personally I’m interested in all games, including board games. I’m trying to understand how games generate and interpret history. How can you examine a virtual world from a historical perspective? Can games be used to successfully teach and learn history? How could historians be involved in the process of making such games?”

According to Fewster, most of the "serious" games currently used to teach history lack elements that would hook players in.

“They’ve forgotten the fun, and players are easily bored.”