Monday, 2 July 2012

Video Games and World History

I have a strong interest in writing systems, and I rather like a website called Ancient Scripts.  It's a fantastic site (even though many of the pundits in the comments are madder than a bag of cut snakes), and I have supplemented my understanding of writing systems by using it as a reference.  I think it would be fair to say that I have quite a good grasp of writing systems.

In any case, I'm not a gamer, but I had the time and opportunity to play Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, a game of the Indiana-Jones-esque adventuring tradition involving gunfights, a pseudohistorical plot, and lots of lovely exotic locales.  The plot takes the player to Yemen by way of France and Syria in a search for the "lost city" (classic!) of Iram, supposedly sought after by Francis Drake and T. E. Lawrence (but which was likely nothing more than an Arab literary trope).  The game places the city of Iram in Yemen, and I was surprised to find a series of puzzles involving the Sabaean script, a script from pre-Islamic south Arabia and used in the Sabaean and Minaean kingdoms.  An example of the script may be found on Ancient Scripts; it's quite chunky and blocky, and as an abjad (a consonantal alphabet where vowels are usually unrepresented), it has a small number of characters (29, in fact).  This makes it a good choice for use in a game like Uncharted, where the player uses a journal (I think it was T. E. Lawrence's) to solve puzzles by manipulating blocks or stepping on the right succession of plates ("In Latin Jehovah begins with an 'I'!").

The Sabaean kingdom is claimed to be the Biblical Sheba, where, yep, the Queen of Sheba reigned.  The game's plot reveals that a curse was placed on Iram, presumably a part of Sabaea, by none other than King Solomon himself, the Biblical Hebrew warlord, hence the city's disappearance from history.  That's all absolute nonsense, of course, but what impressed me was the fact that the game repeatedly referred to correct representations of the Sabaean script and got its provenance and associations correct.  Yes, it's a silly story, but I'm hopeful that some players of the game (which has been slated as, ahem, a little bit xenophobic) would see these puzzles as an impetus for learning a bit about the history of south Arabia and maybe even its place in Indian Ocean trade.  That's probably far too hopeful, but in any case, it's nice to see epigraphic esoteria in unlikely places.

The game was quite fun to play, as well.


  1. Thanks for sharing video games history. Really Thankful to you. And try to Post interesting video games topics.. Keep it up.

  2. I don't post much about games because I don't really play them very often, if ever. I'm a bit too busy. But I have played a bit of the other games in the Uncharted series, so I suppose I could find something to say about those. We'll see!


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