This thesis studies the configuration of historical time in four video games: Assassin’s Creed (2007), Call of Duty: World at War (2008), Age of Empires III (2005), and Sid Meier’s Civilization IV (2005). Historical time is the mediation of chronological (objective) time and the (subjective) time of a story. This mediation configures historical time by inscribing a story with details that refer to the past. Such a detail could be a calendar date, which contextualizes the story by referring to that point in time. The configuration of historical time is analysed by studying three temporal layers in games, namely: ludic time, represented time, and narrative time. The research question that this thesis answers is: what are the differences and similarities in the configuration of historical time in action- and strategy games, and how can these differences be explained in reference to different game mechanisms? I understand action games as games in which the player plays as a single game-character from a third- or first-person point of view. I consider strategy games to be games that take on a large-distance third person point of view in which the player acts as a deity-ruler of a civilization. What can be concluded is that there are no direct differences and similarities between the genres themselves. Instead, there were two general ways in which all games made use of history in their stories. There is constant representational opposition at play in all the analysed historical games. The games represent a historical setting, but also represent a passage of time within this setting to establish a narrative progression. Ludic time mediates this opposition through its mechanical level- and task-based structure. This structure allows the games to exist both as a representation of a historical setting, as well as a historical narrative. In represented time, all games refer to a series of chronologically arranged historical details to display a passage of time in the games. In narrative time, however, the games apply different strategies to configure historical time. While Assassin’s Creed and Age of Empires III represent historical temporalities in which fictional stories take place, Call of Duty and Civilization IV perform step-by-step re-enactments of historical processes. The analysed games configure historical time in two ways. First by representing a temporal setting, and secondly, by establishing a specific narrative progression.

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Keywords video games, history, historical time, ludology, narratology, emplotment, play, problem space
Thesis Advisor R.J. Adriaansen, M.C.R. Grever
Persistent URL
Series Maatschappijgeschiedenis / History of Society
S. Azrioual. (2016, March 31). Playing the Story. Maatschappijgeschiedenis / History of Society. Retrieved from