Culturally Significant Presence in Single-player Computer Games

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Cultural presence is a term used to explain and evaluate cultural learning in virtual heritage projects but is less frequently used for video games. Given the increasing importance of video games to cultural heritage, this article investigates explanations of cultural presence that could be communicated by games, especially concerning UNESCO and ICOMOS definitions of cultural significance. The aim is to determine if cultural presence can be communicated via video games and across a range of game genres.

Observations derived from game prototyping workshops for history and heritage aided the development of a teachable list of desirable game elements. To distinguish itself from the vagueness surrounding theories of cultural presence, a theory of culturally significant presence is proposed. Culturally significant presence requires three components: culturally significant artifacts and practices; an overarching framework of a singular, identifiable cultural viewpoint; and awareness by the participant of both the culturally significant and the overarching cultural framework and perspective (which gives sites, artifacts, and practices their cultural significance and relational value).

As awareness of cultural presence requires time for reflection, single-player games were chosen that were not completely dependent on time-based challenges. Another criterion was cultural heritage content: They must simulate aspects of heritage and history, communicate a specific cultural framework, or explore and reconstruct a past culture. Four games were chosen that simulate a culture, explain archaeological methods, portray indigenous intangible heritage, or explain historical-based ecosystems of the past based on educational guidelines. The games are Assassin's Creed: Origins; Heaven's Vault; Never Alone; and a Ph.D. project: Saxon. Their genres could be described as first-person shooter/open world/virtual tour; dialogue-based puzzle game; 2D platform game; and turn-based strategy game.

The aim is not to evaluate the entire range of interactive virtual environments and games, but to examine the applicability and relevance of this new theory and to ascertain whether the four games provided useful feedback on the concept and usefulness of culturally significant presence. A more clearly demarcated theory may not only help focus evaluation studies but also encourage game developers to modify or allow modification of commercial games for classroom teaching of digital heritage.

Original languageEnglish
Article number29
Number of pages24
JournalACM Journal on Computing and Cultural Heritage
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


Dive into the research topics of 'Culturally Significant Presence in Single-player Computer Games'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this