Between the 22-23 June this year The British Academy staged its first-ever Summer Showcase, ‘a free festival of ideas for curious minds’ which featured interactive exhibits by academics from 15 British universities, celebrating the fascinating research and ideas shaping the world in which we live.
The Centre for American Studies’ Dr John Wills was one of the researchers selected to take part, with a hands-on exhibit highlighting his research on how America has been depicted in popular videogames from the 1970s onwards.
Entitled, Playing Cowboys and Criminals: Videogame Depictions of the Frontier and Urban West, Dr Wills’ exhibition offered visitors the chance to try their hand at some iconic retro-videogames, while learning how these have shaped our lense on American history and culture. Focusing on ‘Wild West’ titles such as The Oregon Trail (1971), an educational adventure used to teach the history of the frontier, as well as games based on the modern American city, such as LA Noire (2011).
Said Dr Wills of the event;
Over 1,700 people visited the first British Academy Summer Showcase – a mix of families and school children, through to couples and special VIP guests. It was an amazing event. Nicolas Blower, Hollie Bramwell, and I created an exhibit where visitors could try first-hand a range of vintage games (including Atari Pong and a 1966 Williams pinball machine) through to more modern titles such as Sega’s Crazy Taxi, and ask us questions about how games worked and how they depicted the United States. It was striking how positive people were over my research and how much they felt both excitement and nostalgia for the medium. I felt very privileged to be there.
Read more about John Wills’ research on how America has been depicted in videogames in his piece for the British Academy’s Summer Showcase blog, ‘How Far Cry 5’s depiction of a conflicted nation is subtler than you thought’.
The British Academy is the UK’s national body for the humanities and social sciences – the study of peoples, cultures and societies, past, present and future. To learn more about the organisation and its work, please visit The British Academy website.
Dr John Wills is a Reader in American History and Culture at the University of Kent. He specialises in environmental issues and popular culture, and edits the journal European Journal of American Culture. His most recent publication is Disney Culture (2017) with Rutgers University Press, with a book on video games forthcoming with Johns Hopkins University Press.