JFK: Reloaded and the critical potential of History in Computer Games
This paper will examine the computer game JFK: Reloaded. Specifically it will demonstrate that the strict adherence to the historic ‘facts’ incorporated into the game design, combined with its ideological underpinnings creates a potential for a critical reading by its audience that suggests simulation games that model history, or historic events, may provide a space for critical evaluation of history that contradicts the generally held opinion that in the postmodern era historical references are simply nostalgic, meaningless examples of surface play that lack depth, or critical concerns.
History and historical events are common themes in computer games, and have been from their pre-commercial days. Generally, the use of history in games can be divided into two main forms of representation. The first uses history as a diegetic backdrop and aesthetic influence (e.g. Medal of Honor, Crimson Skies), the second group simulates the flow of history, in particular the development of a culture through time (Civilization, Age of Empires). Both these categories of games are evaluated by their audiences in terms of the two potentially contradictory demands of ‘historical authenticity’ and ‘playability’. In fact in the case of JFK: Reloaded it is the strict adherence to the historic ‘facts’ that has led to its criticism in the mainstream media. The developers of the game Traffic Games have offered a $100,000 reward to the player who can most closely re-enact the assassination according to certain versions of the events. Thus the challenge in JFK: Reloaded is to recreate the virtuoso performance of Lee Harvey Oswald.