Mason made some excellent points about the nature of interactivity on the Web. In particular, Mason discussed the potentially “cheesy” appearance that an otherwise serious historical Web site might have if the designers leaned too far toward the gaming aspect of interactivity. Such an appearance would almost certainly undermine the historical message and cause the site’s purpose to fall flat.
I’ve never been a big fan of video games, primarily because I find them to be tedious and predictable. The goal of these games always seemed to be how the player could master the designer’s algorithm and win the “gold ring” in the end. Arghhh. Not for me. I watched my son grow up playing video games, many of them with historic themes, only to find out after quizzing him later that he learned next to nothing about the game’s historical setting. He was more focused on “beating” the algorithms or finding codes online that would allow him to bring German Tiger tanks onto a medieval battlefield and “win the day.” No contest there. And certainly no learning, either. But I must admit to being amused when I watched a bunch of knuckleheads in heavy armor and on foot trying to escape a high-velocity 88mm round fired from the King Tiger. Again, no contest there.
Like Mason, I admire the efforts of historians like Edward Ayers and Michael O’Malley who have delved into something different, something unknown, to try and create a new Web-based “language” that can enhance, or possibly even replace, the way we historians present our arguments and subject matter. Like these men, the visual component to history is extremely important to me, and the Web offers so many possibilities in this regard. I am happy beyond words to have learned how to create and publish a Web site in Clio II, but I wish I had more technical expertise to contribute to the efforts of historians like Ayers and O’Malley. But right now, I just want to ensure that my online historical efforts don’t become goofy avatars of fantasy-based Nintendo video games. History, for the most part, is not a game. We can have fun with our historical subject matter, though, but not at the expense of forfeiting the meaning behind that subject matter.