The case against studying popular culture as ‘history’ (Dr Ross Clare, University of Liverpool)

5:00pm - 6:00pm / Tuesday 26th March 2019 / Venue: Seminar Room 10, Rendall Building
Type: Seminar / Category: Department / Series: Classics and Ancient History Seminar Series
  • Add this event to my calendar

    When you click on "Add this event to my calendar" your browser will download an ics file.

    Microsoft Outlook: Download the file, then you may be able to click on "Save & Close" to save it to your calendar. If that doesn't work go into Outlook, click on the File tab, then on Open, then Import. Select "Import an iCalendar (.ic or vCalendar file (.vcs)" then click on Next. Find the .ics file and click on OK.

    Google Calendar: download the file, then go into your calendar. On the right where it says "Other calendars" click on the arrow icon and then click on Import calendar. Click on Browse and select the .ics file, then click on Import.

    Apple Calendar: download the file, then you can either drag it to Calendar or import the file by going to File > Import > Import and choosing the .ics file.

This paper offers a new way of looking at the uses and functions of antiquity in popular culture media, particularly “ancient world videogames”. By locating antiquity within a transmedial framework, we are can locate representational strategies, subtexts and ideas pertaining to the imaginary of antiquity as they move across media. Doing so grants a new conception of popular antiquity as a nebulous, abstract phenomenon existing and operating dynamically within a wider popular culture continuum. This both indicates a shift away from seeing games as “historical” towards a designation of games as broadly “cultural”, and further permits us to see the complex, multifaceted and unique ways in which antiquity permeates popular media.

This nevertheless creates a necessarily messy picture of popular antiquity. In an attempt to remedy this, I provide an approach to the reception/gameplay process based on cognitive and memory theory. The “ancient gameplay” process is fed by general knowledge of, and informal past encounters with, a dimly recognisable popular antiquity. This is supported by a brief case study of the videogame 'Apotheon' (Alientrap, 2015), identifying the ways in which players come into contact with ancient source material, a vaguely “ancient” audio-visual presentation, motifs of cinematic antiquity and the demands of the action game genre. It is argued here that, as “authentic” as the game might seem, players must also satisfy the unique requirements of the game to go beyond the usual functions and practices of history, and into new territory.

This shows how popular antiquity is represented and made functional in videogames and how we as players operate it, even as it exists within a complex, interconnected “big picture” of antiquity within a wider pop-cultural media environment.

Ross Clare studied in Liverpool and completed his PhD through the NWCDTP in 2018. He is now Co-ordinator for the Liverpool Schools Classics Project and University Teacher in Classics and Ancient History.