SIG spotlight: Serious Games in the Humanities and Heritage domain

Humanities and Heritage comprehend all the disciplines dealing with  Manhood: its history, language, art, behaviour, societal structure, belief, including its environment. In other words, Humanities and Heritage (H&H) are all what concerns Man (as an individual or a society) and his existence in space and time.

Unfortunately, in these critical times for the global economy, governments pay less and less attention to culture. “You can’t eat culture” said the former Italian ministry of economy commenting the public funding reduction to the cultural sector.  Thus ICTs (and serious games in particular) provide powerful (and relatively cheap) tools to build cultural heritage applications enabling a better understanding and appreciation of our present and past, supporting the preservation, reproduction, representation and fruition of artefacts, sites and intangible goods. The majority of serious games in the field of H&H address the general public and have the great ambition of raising the awareness and the love for culture.

Among the many objectives for SGs in the domain I will stress here two of them: cultural awareness and cultural heritage.

In spite of the globalization, there is still an surprising ignorance (if not xenophobia or even racism) towards different cultures or little sensitivity and respect for the conditions of minorities. I believe that SGs are really effective in this sense: they are able to realistically make you walk in somebody else’ shoes, being it a Third World Farmer, an Austrian tourist in Japan (ICURA), a Spartan soldier in 480 B.C (The Battle of Thermopylae), the curator of an art museum (Thiatro), or Cleopatra (Cleopatra’s mystery). It is through empathy with the game character that we can actually succeed in deeply understanding historical events, different cultures, other’s feelings, problems and decisions or behaviours. And indeed considering others’ points of view, situations and difficulties is the first step towards better coexistence. This is true not only at global / societal scale, but also at individual scale: imagine how it feels to hear your husband complaining about a hard day at work, while your daily schedule has been something like: dress up children – take them to school – go to work – do the shopping – take the children home – do some housekeeping – prepare for supper! And he wonders why you are so nervous?!?!? Well, make him play Soccer Mom (just to start with)!

Re-focusing a bit on culture and cultural heritage in particular, we are currently witnessing a huge effort at European level towards the long-term preservation and accessibility of digital heritage through many initiatives, for instance Europeana (www.europeana.eu). While multimedia archives and the digitization of artefacts and sites offer easy access to cultural content to people regardless space and time constraints, it is through game mechanics that the large public could be motivated to explore these impressive resources.

SGs can enable potential tourists to explore a realistic and engaging virtual environment which leaves them thirsting for more; UNESCO sites, palaces, interesting lives, can become interactive scenarios raising enthusiasm about the rich history and culture or a place. In turn, by increasing interaction, visitors will be encouraged to act on their new interests in reality.

In this respect Serious Games for H&H have the potential to reach and engage a vast amount of people, especially the youngster who are more acquainted with game mechanics. I think the best SGs in this domain can do is to grow children’s curiosity on the world around them, making them eager to explore it and to understand the past and its effects on the present. This is the way to shape new generations of more responsible citizens, aware about the impact of today’s actions and behaviours over our future.

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