Bringing the workhouse to digital life

3d model of Gressenhall House of Industry around 1780 created by students of Carleton College, Minnesota

We are working with students of Carleton College to bring the House of Industry to life by creating a 3d model of the building in the gaming platform Unity and creating “day in the life games” where players take on roles of inmates. In this post, Nick, discusses how they have worked to balance making an enjoyable game with one that is historically accurate:

“The main issue that is facing our project at this point is balancing the autonomy, choices, and outcomes of our historical figures with a playable, yet accurate, video game. Each predetermined choice a player makes in a game has very calculated outcome. There is no way to give the player true autonomy, the way the real human being in the past would have, since we cannot create a path for every single choice or action possible. Especially in the case of the workhouse, we are confined to what we can get from our primary sources to determine exactly how much autonomy our game player’s character would have had, and, if we have to leave options out, which are the least relevant to the historical context.

Another aspect relating to autonomy is how those choices actually affect both the person making them and everyone around them. Both good and bad can come out of any choice that is made, regardless of whether it seems like a morally “right” or “wrong” one, and it is valuable to make that facet of decision-making a part of the game. Certain scenarios in our game may come down to whether breaking the law or letting your child go hungry is the best choice, but the full implications of that choice, beyond the obvious and immediate, can’t really be viewable to the player. If they were, it would likely make the game too cumbersome, unfocused and not fun to play – the ethical outcomes of most big choices made are more complex than a video game can fully explore. To be truly effective, we need to make sure that what we make is an engaging, yet historically accurate, way of representing both the choices available at the time and the outcomes of those decisions.”

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