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
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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.