My last two posts have detailed the amazing #CTP2015 conference. This post will quickly run through my presentation with the aim of overviewing the key issues raised within it and where this research might develop into the future. Presented at the top is the embedded slide deck (of horribly hand-drawn slides) and underneath I have added some notes to explain what I presented.

So! The talk was titled ‘The Great Divide: Differing Perceptions of Accuracy and Authenticity in Heritage Video-Games’ and it was more or less what it said on the packet. Using the data collected from 156 interviews during my MSc it aimed to understand how the three key stakeholder groupings of ‘players’, ‘video-game developers’ and ‘heritage proffesionals’ defined, implemented, critiqued and understood accuracy and authenticity in relation to heritage video-games.

The first few slides are dedicated to the usual set up material – an introduction, a brief overview of where the data was gathered from and a quick run down on who I am. In the introductory slides I pressed the point that heritage proffesionals have had alot to say over the years about the need (or lack of need) for accuracy and authenticity in media productions about heritage, yet we have gathered strikingly little primary player or production data ending up with what Jason Begy termed ‘The Players Do’ and ‘The Producers Do’ fallacies, in which we have a tendancy to make large statements about what players and producers are doing with heritage in video-games based largely on assumption, inference or our own perceptions of importance. This, somewhat ironically, is also true of the other stakeholders – when we look towards fan based forums for a particular game, or to developer community sites it isn’t long before you find statements about heritage and players which are based largely on inference or assumed practices. Part of the importance of the data gathered through my MSc research – and its application in this talk – was that it tried, through going straight to the horses mouths, to unpick what was going on and why within and between these stakeholder groups.

The method section detailed how the 156 interviews (52 from each stakeholder group) were collected – starting from four anchor points per group into a snowballing methodology as a way to access networks (especially within the video-game AAA sector) which otherwise were unnaccessible. The second section of the method detailed the questions which were under concideration for this paper – namely how each interviewee defined accuracy and authenticity, what types of things they would apply the terms to, how important they thought it was, and how they thought their definition might differ to other stakeholders.

For the purposes of this presentation I then ran the interviews through a structural part of speech reduction algorithm which (very basically) parses what is what in a sentance (to a particular probability threshold) and tags it so one can see incidence rates and usage of particular words. It was by no means a statistically valid method of quantifying the interviews – but rather I used it to pick up general trends in word usage and gramatical sentance structures to springboard into further discussion of the interviews on a case-by-base basis.

The results – not all that shockingly given the title of the paper – demonstrated that there is a big divide (at a surface level) in the definitions, understanding and critiques of accuracy and authenticity between the stakeholder groups. From the first question grouping the majority of the game-industry interviewees offered only one definition for both accuracy and authenticty whilst words like ‘right’ and ‘correct’ had significant incidence rates for use. By contrast the heritage group almost all offered ‘post-modernistic’ dual definitions whilst the players group had a majority incedence of dual definitions but also a high rate of affirmative language such as ‘correct’ – but the use tended to be in a diffeent context to those from the video-game industry, instead stressing correct use of sources or interpretation, rather than correctly reconstructing “the past”.

With regards to the application section the majority of the video-game industry respondants said that accuracy and authenticity (being the same thing mostly) applied to mostly built heritage or knowable information such as dates and names. By contrast the heritage group covered tangible, intangible and multivocal approaches whilst a number of those in the player category took it a step further and applied the terms to the historical processes (of actually writing history etc) and also talked about them with regards to couterfactual or imagined history (ie accuracy of systems, methods or ideas as applied in different situations).

From the importance section, again probably quite unsurprisingly, the majority of the video-game industry percieved it as being unimportant (except for when that was the point of the game) whilst the heritage interviewees jumped ship from their multivocal, multiplicity, post-modern approach to unequivocably take the view that it was important because otherwise players might be misled, becasue there was a duty of care to history or otherwise that history was being used and abused by not adhereing to a formal view of accuracy. By contrast players had a low importance index but again this was in a different vein to the video-game interviewees – instead it appears that the idea of counter-factual or non-accurate / authentic implementations could be just as valuable as those which adhered to formal accuracy / authenticity, provided they were contextualised or explained or made relevant.

Finally in the ‘differs’ section the ‘Players / Industry / Heritage Does’ fallacy became really clear. The industry group painted a picture of heritage stakeholders having a somewhat black and white, confining approach to accuracy and authenticity in heritage games whilst indicating that players simply didnt care. The heritage group had a dual approach – the majority saying that both other groups simply didnt care, whilst an aditional group expanded this by qualifying that they werent informed enough about history to be able to care. Finally the player group didnt actually have a representative trend overall.

Overall it would seem then that there are a buch of divides going on.

There is a divide between how how each of the stakeholders define accuracy and authenticity in heritage games. There is a divide in what they think the terms can apply to. There is a divide in why it might be important or not. There is a divide in what they think everyone else is doing with it.

Further to this though there are divides within groups.

There is the divide between how the heritage group defines accuracy and authenticity in the abstract and how they then want to apply it. There is a divide between how they define it in the multiplicity and multivocal and then want to backtrack that to mean ‘only we know enough to implement it in the right way.

The final thoughts of my paper were thus: there are clear divides between and within the stakeholder groupings in how ideas of accuracy and authenticity in heritage video-games are constructed, implemented and critiqued. These divides seem to be manifesting as ‘he-said-she-said-hes doing x’ communication breakdowns. If we want to move beyond this tower of Babel situation, where everyone is speaking a different language (sometimes even within their own group) we need to either take a step back, accept that this is the situation and move on, or alternatively really, truly start to critically assess the why and how  of what we actually are doing with heritage games, rather than simply shouting into the void from our ivory towers of heritage, glass encased game development studios or bricked up gaming lairs. My interviews only contributed a tiny, tiny drop of information to a pretty large, longstanding problem – a tiny drop which I think demonstrates that the divides are constructed and malleable. I think that these divides are bridgeable, but only if we start talking about the problems with reference to, and in ways which make sense to the other stakeholders. I also think we need to gather more data – alot more data.

It all sounds abit preachy, I know. Especially as I couldnt offer a substansive way to overcome these issues other than: talk to each other, in a language that is interoperable… take the time to get to know each others ideas and pressues from common ground. But this seems like the first step which has been flagrantly ignored in the vast majority of discussions regarding accuracy and authenticity.

I think that Tallahassee from Zombieland can conclude this post more elloquently than I:

We have long argued between and within stakeholders as to what accuracy and authenticity might mean in relation to heritage video-games. We have now identified that there are significant divides and communication breakdowns. And now it is time to either nut up and start to make tracks towards bridging these divides, meaningfully, or it is time to accept the divides are there and stop shouting into the void about it. I hope to rally behind the cause for the former.