Docugames: Documentary Process in Game Design

For my article summary, I chose the article Abstracting Evidence: Documentary Process in the Service of Fictional Gameworlds by Aaron Oldenburg and published in the journal Game Studies.

In this article, Oldenburg discusses Docugames as a genre and their effectiveness. He explores the genre by discussing the process that he used in the development of his own docugame, “1,000 Heads Among the Trees“, as well well as others in the genre.

Oldenburg begins by explaining that the defintion of what makes a docugame is “contested”, and refers to one such definition in a footnote: [1] Docugame is a term applied to videogames that are usually serious and/ or journalistic, about current or historical topics. There is discussion over whether games can ever be considered true documentaries, whether the name is descriptive or “aspirational pre-naming”, an attempt by game designers to borrow from the established cultural cachet of documentaries (Fullerton, 2005, p. 3). I think that docugames should be held with the same degree of seriousness that film based documentaries are. It is similar to the argument surrounding if art games should be considered art.

Oldenburg then explains how the game development process could benefit from taking elements of the documentary design process. “Using documentary content brings new constraints, inspirations and partnerships into the development process. An interview or a turn down a particular road may change the direction of an entire project. One may go into the documentary collection phase with no idea what the gameplay of the final product will be, and through the first-person sensations, connections and observations, discover gameplay that would not have arisen from the designer’s previous experience and worldview.“,  the preliminary data gathering experiences of the designer helps to develop the ideas surrounding the game as much as the process that goes into creating a game (Oldenburg, 2017).

Screenshot of a model of a Cachiche landmark compared with its reference image. (Oldenberg 2017)

1,000 Heads Among the Trees” is a docugame created by Oldenberg about “…a small suburban desert town in Peru, called Cachiche … which was founded by witches who had fled from the Peruvian Inquisition hundreds of years ago,” (
Oldenberg 2017). According to the steam page, the game uses a “generative narrative”, which allows the player to experience the story through play. This is a phenomon seen in other docugames, where the story is “filled by the player’s cognitive processes” of the player (Oldenberg 2017).

Docugames, like art games, bring a new experience to video games. Perhaps this will be a genre explored futher in the future.


Fullerton, T. (2005). Documentary Games: Putting the Player in the Path of History. Presented at the Playing the Past Conference, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL. Retrieved November 4, 2015, from

Oldenburg, Aaron. “Abstracting Evidence: Documentary Process in the Service of Fictional Gameworlds.” Game Studies, vol. 17, no. 1, July 2017,

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