How Computer Game Helped The British Library In Reviving Long-Forgotten History

How Computer Game Helped The British Library In Reviving Long-Forgotten History

The British Library’s newest exhibition, Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth, uses some unexpected sources to bring the legends of a ruler to life. The Assassin’s Creed computer game franchise is foremost among them.

The most recent exhibition at the British Library is, to put it mildly, varied, with anything from a Scrooge McDuck-starring Disney comic book to an endless reel of footage from India’s most expensive TV show.

This show, which honors Alexander the Great‘s legacy but is really more about narrative than it is about one particular person, culminates in a demonstration of how technology can make such legends come to life.

Alexander the Great, who was actually born in Macedonia in 356 BC, traveled as far as northwest India. His immense kingdom, which stretched from Greece to Egypt, is depicted in these paintings, tablets, and scriptures, all of which would be at home in any of the world’s top museums.

However, his mythology had no such boundaries. Whether he was the valiant warrior who slayed a powerful dragon or the son of a serpent magician (Nectanebo, not Voldemort), George-style mythical stories involving Alexander first appeared during his lifetime and have continued ever since.

The Ebstorf map ties such adventures together. It was the greatest globe map in existence from the Middle Ages until it was destroyed during World War II, and it was first created in Germany around 1300.

It contained more than 2,000 entries spread across more than 30 parchment sheets, many of which were illustrated. More than a dozen of these entries were specifically about Alexander, including some of his fictitious adventures.

Students from visual effects school Escape Studios, which develops young talent and has worked on movies like Star Wars and video games like Assassin’s Creed, have produced a new interactive version for the British Library.

It depicts landmarks and turning points from Alexander’s real and imagined lives, exactly like the first map did, but this time in three dimensions. The presentation is similar to the opening credits sequence from Game of Thrones.

Curator of the British Library’s digital content exhibition, Yrja Thorsdottir, calls it “a combination of genuine places, physical locations, and utter fiction.”

She tells Sky News that the new map is an example of how curators can “bring lost things to life” thanks to technology.

The digital version of the map is fully interactive. Pics: British Library
How Computer Game Helped The British Library In Reviving Long-Forgotten History
How Computer Game Helped The British Library In Reviving Long-Forgotten History

“Technology enables us to recover lost history”

The final illustration of that is arguably the most stunning.

Alexander’s body was brought from Babylon to Egypt and interred in a long-lost mausoleum in Alexandria after his 32-year-old death, the likely reason of which continues to confound historians.

The show, which isn’t hesitant to switch between old books, movies, and even anime, comes to a close with a scaled-up, wall-projected recreation of the tomb from the video game Assassin’s Creed Origins.

Technology allows us to somewhat bring back the tomb and the map, according to Ms. Thorsdottir.

Since its release in 2007, which now seems positively old, Assassin’s Creed has made its recreations of the great cities of history something of a calling card.

Each decision, from Constantinople to Athens, demanded a world that was more expansive in scope but also more detailed than any that had come before.

According to Thierry Noel, in-house historian at producer Ubisoft, “our colleagues who produced the first Assassin’s Creed (set in the Holy Land during the Crusades) did a wonderful job and prepared the path for what it has become.”

But as the franchise gained popularity, it became clear that there would be an increasing need to recreate larger worlds, to be more realistic, and to collect more knowledge. For this reason, the team I lead was created.

It all comes down to making an experience,

The first work to benefit from Mr. Noel’s team, who scour museums, libraries, and historical sites around the world to bring them to life digitally, was Origins, which was published in 2017 and is set in Egypt between 49 and 43 BC.

In order to envision how the tomb may have been, he explains, “we used all we had.”

When creating the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla game, which is set in England during the time of the Vikings, his team drew inspiration from an earlier display of Anglo-Saxon art. This led to the partnership with the British Library.

How Computer Game Helped The British Library In Reviving Long-Forgotten History
Alexander depicted on an Ethiopian scroll. Pic: British Library

Some gamers might only ever use these settings as a playground in which to commit heinous crimes. Like many of the legends about Alexander, the thought of such a game being used at a place like the British Library may seem fantastical to some.

However, to the people behind this show, they offer enduring potential for storytelling.

Adrian Edwards, head of printed collections, believes that it is about “engaging people in multiple ways.”

“Theatre is a component of an exhibition like this because it helps to create an experience.

“The level of detail they put into visualizing these historical locations now gives you a true sense of what it would have been like,” says the author.

The British Library will host Alexander the Great: The Making Of A Myth through February 19, 2023.

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