Authenticity, Archives, Storytelling, and Gaming

As an archivist, I spend a lot of time thinking about documentation, what makes one document indicative of one period or another, what makes the probable date of a photograph be the 1890s instead of the 1870s, what makes this computer file the authentic copy that the donor wanted to send me, versus some weird copy I got off a disk.   Basically, I think about the things that make something real.

Authenticity is important in a host of areas, from relationships (is this person being honest with me?), to websites (What do you mean the certificate isn’t good?), to what your aging relatives say (I’m pretty sure the internet isn’t a series of tubes…). It is especially important in academia, and storytelling.    Writers have this mostly down already.  There’s a whole host of ways to fact check your latest story. There are communities dedicated to checking to see if a story “feels” real. No one expects a 1:1 relationship to reality in fiction, so the feeling of authenticity is especially important.  I would argue that it is one of the things that drags you into the world.

Games however, sometimes seem to miss this, which drives me up the wall.  As someone who spent her early years steeping in history like the world’s strongest tea, watching games tackle various time periods (and/or fantasy worlds) nearly always ends badly, which baffles me, because it’s easy to find various pieces of evidence that will make your world more realistic.  Basically, if you’re making a game located in the last 200 years or so, you have documentation of what it was like back then, often with photographs, or plates, you have newspapers, diaries, invitations, pieces of clothing, artifacts… There’s no excuse to miss this stuff.

I’m going to pick on The Order 1886 (Located in a real time period, in a fantasy London), since it started this whole line of thought.

Ironically, the production designers for The Order did see old photographs from London:

Which is pretty nifty.  That looks like Big Ben.  Good job.

Let’s ignore the landmarks and look at some street views of London:

There are at least 7 questionable things in this image

Ok, there’s a lot going on here.

First, let’s talk about what they did right.

-The post box is pretty much correct.  It might not be 100% accurate, but it’s A.) close enough, and B.) an important recognizable marker of modern British life.

Except it doesn’t entirely feel authentic.

This place is way too tidy.  It feels sanitized.  There are no homeless children ( a HUGE issue during this period).  This looks like England a la Epcot.

The building on the far left is probably more at home in 1930 than 1880.  The overhanging thing looks more French than British.

Weirdly enough, the designers made the woman’s dress wider than it was, showing a lack of restraint in skirt width that fashionable member of 1886 society would have found old fashioned, but I’m tempted to give them a pass on this since I’ve never seen a video game render a skirt well.  Still, one would suspect it would be easier to design an authentic skirt and it’s movement than a wider skirt.  The gentleman on the right is wearing hunting clothing(?) which makes him look out of place on a city street.

There’s a few markers here, but the one that struck me immediately were the fonts.  They don’t look right.  They look very modern. for example, here’s an 1890s picture of Elephant and Castle.

While modern design prides itself on it’s cleanness and simplicity, the Victorians did not seem to care for ANY of that.  Look at all that text. All those fonts. The game image?  It shows restraint, something that Victorian sign makers clearly didn’t think applied to them.

Again with the fonts:


Look at that white space.  Look at those photographs (probably too expensive to print which is why there aren’t a lot of photographs on extant mass media).  Here’s a flyer for an event taking place 4 years later.

1st font, second font, 3rd font, 4th font, floor

I could go on and on with this stuff.

If your story or game play are good, then you can maybe be less accurate in your portrayal of a time period of location. Little details can make or break an environment, and when you ignore them in favor of something else (The Order 1886 did not receive glowing reviews), then you’re basically saying you don’t care if the world is believable. People want to enjoy themselves and will give you the benefit of the doubt.  If your story or game play are not great, focusing on the world building details can help people gloss over the problems (see: Bioshock Infinite).

Authenticity matters, especially if you want to tell a story.  This has always been the case.  Stories are great because part of us wants to believe that they are true, even if the story is as implausible as werewolves and magic in London.  Anything that pulls the audience out of the world will damage your ability to tell a story or create an experience.  People who tell stories must be aware of that and understand the important role it plays in hooking an audience.

Image sources are as follows

  1. Image from The Order 1886‘s website.
  2. In game still from The Order 1886.
  3. Elephant and Castle intersection, taken from If someone could provide a better citation or repository, that would be wonderful.
  4. In game still from The Order 1886.
  5. From the Jewish Museum, London. Image taken from,,1443388,00.html

Crazy Pants in the Archives


Most of my professional circle does not know that I have major depression and anxiety.  I’ve had these lovely brain chemicals as pets since I was in elementary school, and they’ve continued to tag along to everything I do.  They’re like very creative and poorly trained dogs.

Unless you met me before 2006, you don’t know me without medication. I know many people see medication as something that dulls the mind and creativity.   I see medication as my way to actually live a normal life.  I don’t always freak out about going out with friends.  I don’t always spend my time convinced I am a failure.   I’m not always angry and frustrated with myself for this shit.   I still have those feelings but I don’t feel like dying about it 98% of the time.

I am more confident now.  I don’t apologize for what I like or think as much anymore.  I know I’m competent, despite occasional impostor syndrome.  Part of this isn’t meds, but rather a few years of therapy and self-help books.

To be honest, without some medication, I probably wouldn’t have made it through library school.  I probably wouldn’t have gotten a job.  I probably wouldn’t be here right now writing this.

That brings me to being crazy in the archives.  When I left my first archives job, I was convinced I didn’t want to do archives again, because I had felt so isolated from everyone both personally and professionally, despite the fact that archives are a good places for me to be.

Archives are filled with people.   Mostly dead ones, but I can’t hold that against them.  And as someone who goes in and sees archives as a world of stories to be shared, I think the best thing I can do professionally is share those stories, and occasionally help our students make them up.  The best thing I can do for my collections in the long run is to lower the ratio of dead people to live ones in the archives.


Analog Outreach!


For me, the quiet, sit in the basement archives experience isn’t for me.  Since that’s what I thought I wanted as a young whippersnapper, I am learning the skills to reach my community, in part because I’ve been the super crazy pants in the archives, and I know that’s no way for me to be.

Chilling effects: Sexism, Racism, and #thatdarnlist

If you haven’t been following the latest and greatest in Archivists ListServ drama, count yourself and your probably normal blood pressure measurements lucky.

To sum up:

  • FeministLibrarian wrote a post about Listserv changes to policy. You can see that here:  
  • A certain individual disagreed quite vehemently with FeministLibrarian’s blog posting.
  • A number of people disagreed quite vehemently to Certain individual.
  • Two weeks later, Certain individual returns to the list, proceeds to claim history as unbiased, western history as the bestest EVAR, while being racist and demands to know the credentials of a female member of the profession.
  • Throughout all this, Certain Individual called points raised by female posters as “irrational.”

Here’s Christopher Columbus saving the native population from their BBQing and no undergarment wearing ways by enslaving and killing them and raping them and basically committing genocide! YAY WESTERN HISTORY.

The post was eventually shut down, and there a number of people who can tell you all about western history and it’s inherent biases etc. etc.   However, I want to focus on something else because a lot of digital ink (including my own) has been spilled about western history.

The chilling effect this has on members of the profession.  Especially those who are not in places of power.  This means non-white archivists, non-western archivists, women archivists, LGBT archivists, and any individual who has felt themselves discounted by Western History.    As a white, cis-woman, I don’t feel like I’m entirely the person to be talking about this, but I will speak in general terms.

A Chilling effect is the effect of numerous minor discounting actions (called micro-aggressions) against certain populations who do not hold power that as a cumulative effect makes those groups not want to participate in or to leave the field in which they have worked.   This has been better documented in STEM, but I feel that it will hold true here as well.

This can include a lot of things:

  • Conflicting Roles between expectations due to gender, orientation or race and job expectations
  • perceived lack of authority
  • Small actions like being left out of committees and meetings that directly affect them.
  • Off hand comments regarding common stereotypes.
  • Discounting ideas that came up from someone from the minority group.
  • Ignoring or minimizing contributions

And I could go on.  And this has gone on, historically in the archivists listserv, specifically towards women in this case (although the blatant racism is also a chilling effect in the profession)

Now, I can already hear the cry of “BUT ARCHIVISTS ARE MOSTLY WOMEN.”  This is true.  We also tend not to be the ones in power in the listserv.  Or historically, we have not.

Notice, for instance, when male posters, who tend to be outspoken, get into disagreements on the list, they go after female posters, specifically, younger ones.  Those young women are silenced in the field, because it’s very hard to come back after getting throughly trounced, when other posters were ignored.

When the Certain Poster attacked the credentials of another archivist, he chose to attack the credentials of a woman who disagreed with him, despite the fact that people disagreeing with him were not only women. He also focused on how the contributions of commentary written by women was Irrational, while the men were merely factually incorrect.

This isn’t the first time this has happened.  This won’t be the last.  The first time I remember this happening I was in my first year as a professional.  Some posters went after a woman archivist and the terms used were not about how they disagreed with her interpretation of the facts, but rather that she was irrational and over emotional for disagreeing.  That was 7ish years ago.

As someone who is pretty outspoken when I’m not drowning under actual work (like I was this week), I find this frightening.  Many of us, myself included, get into archives to share information, to help tell those untold stories, and if we’re honest, because we don’t really want to get into fights with people (ok, most of the time I don’t want to fight).  Why do you think our policies tend to be so rigorous?

So many of us are silenced, just when our voices should most be heard.  The continual micro-agressions on the list prevent a future of our profession that looks different than it does now.  One where there is more diversity all throughout the field overall, as leaders on the list, in our literature, in our blogs, and our archives.

We do not want our future as a profession to look just like our past.  A vast majority of us will be women or persons of color or LGBT and the vast majority of loud voices will be white guys, telling us that we’re irrational.