Pixel Pasts: A Resource for Exploring Cultural Heritage in Videogame Worlds

Pixel Pasts Homepage ScreenshotMy Pixel Pasts project has been in development for over a year now but I am very pleased to announce that I have made the website live!

The project is an online database which acts as a catalogue of real-world art, architecture, places and people recreated in videogame environments. The aim of the catalogue is to be a starting search point for those wanting to begin their research in historical visualisation in games. The catalogue is ever-growing, and one day will include images. If you want to suggest any database entries please let me know via the Pixel Pasts website!

Visitors will be able to search via game title, developer, publisher, historical asset name and type (architecture, art, person, place etc), period, style and location. In addition to the general search bar I am currently working on a more advanced search tool for the “Discover” page.

There will also be an articles feature if anyone interested in videogames and historical visualisation would like to contribute?

There is still a long way to go and lots of coding tweaks to make, however the basic functions of the database are in place- please bear with me whilst I make the site more user friendly!

The idea for the project came about back in early 2014 when I was writing my MSc dissertation on the pedagogic potential of using videogame technologies for exploring architectural history. One thing which would have made my research a lot easier would have been a catalogue of historical buildings recreated in videogames, both accurately or implied by the Developers. So then I started developing Pixel Pasts as a response to both my own research need and a love for historical visualisation in videogames.

My thanks in particular go out to Simon Stamp of Block for his coding expertise and assistance with the database. Look out for updates and I hope that the site will be of use to those interested in historical visualisation.

www.pixelpasts.com   —  Twitter: @PixelPasts


A Video Tour of the Hull History Centre Recreated in Minecraft

Here’s a quick video I made of the Hull History Centre recreated in Minecraft as part of our HullCraft project. My idea behind recreating the centre in the game was so Minecrafters could be introduced to the concept of archives in an immersive and relatable way, the centre being the first building they see on entry to the HullCraft server.

From the searchrooms to the archive strongrooms, Minecrafters can explore the centre before heading through a portal to plots of land where they will recreate historical architecture from one of the archive’s architectural plans.

My video was recorded using the default texture as to be instantly recognisable as a Minecraft build. It gives a simple tour of the archives and (a very brief!) mentioning of some of the collection themes, hopefully providing an introductory overview of what the Hull History Centre has to offer!

Minecraft and Archives : HullCraft

Do you play Minecraft and want to contribute to a real, community project based on the amazing City of Culture that is Hull?

HullCraft is an exciting new heritage project I have been involved with in my work at the Hull History Centre and the University of Hull using Minecraft. We need lots of players to join our server and recreate real historical buildings from Hull’s history, starting with the beautiful Georgian architecture of Bridlington architect Francis Johnson. All of the buildings you will create will be from the archives based at the Hull History Centre, from simple townhouses to elaborate churches.

My Georgian builds in the HullCraft server
My Georgian builds in the HullCraft server

YOUR builds will be used to create a Minecraft world of Hull’s past periods, enabling you to travel back in time, adventure, learn, collaborate and ultimately have fun!

The project is for all ages and suitable for both newbies and Minecraft experts. Parents- if you would like your child to be involved there is information on our website on safeguarding and getting started.

The HullCraft server will have its official launch at the upcoming Platform Expo event in Hull- how exciting! So if you are in Hull on 14th November come and say hi to Joel, Simon and me on the HullCraft stand, we are always looking for players to join the server.

Check out our website on www.hullcraft.com for more information about taking part.

Meanwhile….. Creeper and Steve cause havoc at the Hull History Centre. Read the latest HullCraft blog post to find out why!

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My MSc Dissertation is now Online

It’s finally online! All the 3D work I’ve been posting recently on York St Mary’s Abbey is all in this dissertation submitted for my MSc in Digital Heritage at the University of York (Department of Archaeology) 🙂

This link will take you to my page on academia.edu where you can view/download the paper:

Hannah Rice (2014) ‘Exploring the Pedagogical Possibilities of applying Gaming Theory and Technologies to Historic Architectural Visualisation’.

Abstract: This paper deliberates how gaming theory and technologies can be applied to historic architectural visualisation for educational use by museums and its pedagogical potentials. It presents a proposal for a pedagogical digital game, Pilgrim’s Peril: St Mary’s Abbey, based on a qualitative survey and the discussed issues throughout the paper on Serious Games, commercial games and digital learning methods. Issues such as authenticity, gamification, edutainment, place and narrative are also considered together with the social and cultural significance of fusing gaming with historic architectural visualisation.

BioShock Infinite’s Columbia: the ‘Ideal’ City (*no spoilers)

Columbia(All in-game screenshots taken by the author)

After spending many hours playing BioShock Infinite, exploring the air-city of Columbia was the highlight for me. It reminded me of Steampunk fiction, with the air-ships and the idea of a technological revolution at the beginning of the 20th century. I’m also very interested in how Columbia’s environment reflects its ideals, and how it has been inspired by events in real American history to support the game’s narrative.

The in-game Columbia has been inspired by the World’s Columbian Exposition which was “a World’s Fair held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World in 1492.” It was designed to make Chicago look like the ‘ideal’ city. The idea of the perfect city is not new to to the BioShock series, as seen in the city of Rapture, but Columbia pushes this notion even further by alluding to the World’s Columbian Exposition architecturally and ideologically.


Columbia was built by America’s government and was heavily promoted and celebrated as an American utopia. Columbia’s neo-classical architecture, for example, is symbolic of the harmony, order and power of the ruling government. This is reminiscent of Chicago being known as the “White City” due to the classical buildings being clad in stucco, the exceptional amount of street lighting and the moral ideals that the World’s Fair tried to portray.


Another likeness to Columbia and the World’s Fair at Chicago is the focus on amusement parks. Chicago was the first World’s Fair to have a carnival and sideshow area, with it’s key ride being the ferris wheel. The ferris wheel can be seen to dominate the panorama of Columbia. The Worlds Fair’s heavy use of electricity to power the amusements and exhibits was considered a marvel, as industrial companies displayed their latest inventions that would help improve society.


The statuary in Columbia, of Columbia herself (the female personification of America) and also of the many powerful figures in the game, are also in the classical style akin to the original “Statue of the Republic” (see image below, source). They not only act as reminders of Columbia’s purpose as a city, but also act as propaganda and a ‘moralising’ watchful eye.


The purpose of the statuary and architecture is very similar to the artworks displayed around the walls of the buildings. All of them are propaganda for the city, motivating its inhabitants into believing Columbia’s purpose.

On the exterior, Columbia is seen as a utopian city full of celebration and promoting the ideas of exceptionalism (liberty, democracy) as it floats around the globe like a travelling World’s Fair. Though like Rapture, Columbia soon emerges as a dystopia where rivalling factions erupt alongside a corrupt dictatorship and chaos is imminent. Without spoiling the game for those who haven’t played it, it does turn out that the purpose of Columbia was not entirely as a city but as something else… This is the scary element of the game, as beneath the happy, bright outlook and patriotic propaganda there is an unnerving sense of war and corruption.

For more architecture in gaming click here!

Something for you to fill in…

If you have a spare 10 minutes (maybe to procrastinate?) please fill out my survey for my dissertation. It’s about gaming technologies for architectural heritage education, particularly in the experience of “place”. It will help me in designing my York St Mary’s Abbey game.

I would be grateful if you could fill it out, no gaming or heritage experience necessary, thanks in advance!