'In 2015 was sitting on the sofa with a few colleagues. We were talking about how history is depicted in a videogame', says archeologist Angus Mol. 'We had the same idea: we should livestream this'
The rest is history. Since then Mol and his colleagues have been regularly live streaming games and discussing the historical context. What started out as volunteer work for the VALUE foundation, quickly became a whole research project at the Leiden University Centre for Digital Humanities, which can expand even further now with subsidy from the NWO National Science Agenda. Now, Mol wants to hire students. To play games and to do research.
At every moment of the day, about two million people are watching games on streaming platform Twitch. The past is a very popular theme. Games like Assassin’s Creed and Sid Meier’s Civilization draw in a lot of gamers and viewers alike.
'Games open up a new doorway to the past. They allow us to draw in a larger audience and talk about the historical background at the same time. There are a few scientists active on Twitch, but as far as we know no universities. We'll be the first.'
'We'll be doing a lot of let's plays, simply playing games. But we also want to produce vodcasts, where we go into games and the historical news of the week in more detail. A sort of historical newspodcast about games, really.'
Having the help of fellow Leiden scientist comes in handy, according to Mol. 'I recently played Assassin’s Creed Valhalla with Thijs Porck, who teaches Old English. We talked about how language is used in the game and what the characters look like.'
Despite the populairty, Mol thinks game developers can improve on how they depict the past. 'I love playing games like Europa Universalis, but they only show a very limited side of the past. The level of detail in games is increasing, but in the end it's still a colonial land-grab. One the aims of our project is to show people how you can learn to see and understand those kinds of things.'
Luckily, there are games that take a different approach, Mol says. Never Alone is a shining example for the industry. In this game, developed by Alaskan native Americans, the players travels through an important cultural story of the Iñupiat.
'By playing the game, you learn about the history and culture of Alaska. For me, it's still the golden standard of how games can interact with history.'
Since 2015, Mol has run the streaming project on a voluntary basis together with a group of archeologists, historians and museologists. With the subsidy from NWO, he and his colleagues Aris Politopoulos, Sybille Lammes and Carolien Stolte are planning to hire students to stream games for the university.
Job description: an interest in the past, willing to play games in front of a camera and interact with the audience. 'It does sound like a dream job', Mol admits. 'But it's a job nonetheless. The students will stream games for about half a day a week, but that requires a lot of research in advance.'
A history degree is not required to apply. 'I don't care what you study, as long as you have some kind affinity with history in all its facets. Showing interest and able to communicate about games in a clear way is the most important thing.'
Interested? Contact Angus Mol.
As part of the National Science Agenda, the Dutch organisation for scientific research NWO is giving out subsidies for science communication projects. A total of four Leiden projects have received a grant. Apart from Streaming the Past, Fred Janssen, Rebecca Schaeffer and Annelinde Vandenbroucke received funds for their projects on perspective-oriented education, the connection between music and science, and neurology for young people respectively. The projects will receive between 25,000 and 50,000 euro each.