Digitalizing Historical Consciousness

What is a "historical" video game, let alone a successful one ? It is difficult to answer this question because all our definitions of history have been constructed in a linear-narrative cultural context that is currently being challenged and in large part displaced by digital media, especially video games. I therefore consider this question from the point of view of historical semantics and in relation to the impact of digital technology on all aspects of the historiographical operation, from the establishment of digital archives, to the production of e-texts, to the digital remediation of visual modes of historical representation. Seen from this dual perspective, video games appear to participate in a process of spatialization and virtualization of historical semantics. In the first place, video games have begun to detach the notion of history from its double reference to the past and to the real-"what essentially happened"-that it had acquired at the end of the eighteenth century. Second, they also challenge the semiotic production of "historic events" that has characterized the construction of modern historical consciousness. Historical video games, in other words, replace representation with simulation and presence with virtuality, thereby marginalizing the oscillation of the modern historical imagination between historical facts and historic events, transcendence and immanence, representation and presence. Although digital reworkings of historical semantics have not produced any grammatical transformation of the signifier, history-nor does this essay propose one-I do argue that the impact of video games on our contemporary historic(al) culture is of paradigmatic proportions similar to those described by Reinhart Koselleck for the dawn of the modern age. Focusing on one of the most successful contemporary video games, Sid Meier's Civilization, I show how the remediation of cinematic genres by video games is pushing the processes of de-temporalization and de-referentialization of history toward the formation of a new notion of the historical that may be conceptualized as the inversion of the classic Aristotelian paradigm: history has replaced poetry and philosophy as the realm of the possible.