By Hanley Quintrell, Collections Management (Digitisation) Trainee
In a roundabout way, video games brought me into museums. Sure, I was dragged to a few as a kid, and used to pop into free galleries while killing time as a teenager, but history wasn’t particularly interesting to me until we got a PS3.
It had been redundant for a couple years by that point, so it was cheaper to get one as a streaming machine than any of the contemporary alternatives. I occasionally watched as my partner had a blast gaming, but generally the violence tended to be a little too much for me.
It was a totally normal day when he brought home Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag – up until he screamed at me excitedly to come at once and see this. I put down my book to join him, discovering a new hobby and eventually, a new career. I had no interest in the naval gameplay, the Golden Age of Piracy setting, or in anything, really – until he restarted the game so I could see the introduction of the only Welsh lead character I’d seen outside of our own fiction. (Well, and the Doctor Who universe, which apparently only extends as far as Wales. TARDIS’. Everywhere.)
Just like that, I became a gamer. Wanting to see more of protagonist Edward Kenway myself, without having to wait for my partner to progress, I dove in for an accent and came out obsessed with the period, composing reading lists to find the fact from the fiction – and then I discovered it was a whole series set in different locations and times throughout history, becoming an amateur historian in those periods, too. As history opened up to me, so did the world, and working somewhere like a museum began to seem a remote, yet plausible, possibility.
So when I was lucky enough to be selected for a traineeship this year, I knew I wanted to find some way to bring video games with me, as I know I’m not the only one who’s become an armchair historian; fiction is the only route many of us take into the past, and I’m certain there are people out there who’d love to see the collection, they just don’t know museums are for them yet. If I can make that journey, why can’t someone else?
My first step into this was a fun one, researching the medieval sections of Crash Bandicoot Warped, matching objects in the Collection to assets in the game … but that was only leading to the main event.
The new Assassins Creed game has parts set in Norfolk. 800s East Anglia, in fact. Quite good timing for someone working on the project restoring medieval elements of Norwich Castle. So that’s what I’m working on now – an exploration of a time our local history was shaped very differently, when even the castle was yet to exist.
At a time when many of us are unable to explore the beauty found in Norfolk, I cannot wait to show you how the series which brought history to my life will do the same for you.