Serious Sims: Transforming Gaming in the Digital Humanities

valleysim mdPROJECT SUMMARY:  Sparked by the possibilities of introducing a humanities education to younger generations socialized by video games, social networks, and other forms of digital media, humanities teacher/scholars are breathing new life into the cultural repositories of archives, museums, libraries, and books by adding innovative social and gaming “layers” to humanities content. While exciting, the process of building new games and simulations is daunting, as not only is there no common game engine or platform from which to build digital games, but none of these “off the shelf” software platforms provide guidance that would help nonprogrammers feel confident in their ability to create a game on their own. Each gaming project must therefore be built from scratch, which is not only an expensive process, but also one that requires extensive and careful coordination between content providers and technologists, who typically possess markedly different backgrounds, skills, and mindsets.

To use an analogy, imagine if a standard process and workflow for writing and publishing a manuscript did not exist; scholars would not only be responsible for writing their book, but they would have to edit, review, bound, print, publish, and distribute it all by themselves as well. Fortunately, such a process and support system for publishing books does exist, and it enables faculty to concentrate their efforts on what they do best – conducting original research, writing, and teaching that expands our understanding of the richness of the human condition.

This project seeks to do for digital humanities gaming what publishers have done for books. Building on a highly successful NEH Start-Up grant to develop Valley Sim (for access to the original site, go to and enter “admin” for username and password), a web-based, multiplayer role-playing simulation on the Civil War built around primary documents featured in the Valley of the Shadow digital archive, this project creates six primary activities over the implementation grant period to simplify, scale and further legitimize the scholarly production and pedagogical application of games and simulations within the digital humanities.

PARTNER: Hope University and Penn State University

FUNDING & SUPPORT: Funding was made possible by National Endowment for the Humanities Digital Humanities Implementation Grant.


Team Biosketches