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Dr Esther Wright

Dr Esther Wright

Lecturer in Digital History

+44 (0)29 2087 4742
4.57, John Percival Building, Colum Drive, Cardiff, CF10 3EU
Available for postgraduate supervision


My work is situated within the field of Historical Game Studies, and to me, Digital History fundamentally requires that we critically examine how digital representations of the past found in popular visual media have the potential to shape public understandings of history. My monograph, "Rockstar Games and American History: Promotional Materials and the Construction of Authenticity", was published by De Gruyter in 2022, as part of the Video Games and the Humanities series. Based on my PhD thesis (awarded by the University of Warwick in August 2019), the book is the first substantive study of Rockstar Games as a game developer with a long-established project of negotiating and representing U.S. History in their games – in particular, focussing on Red Dead Redemption (2010), Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018), and L.A. Noire (2011).

My work argues for the importance of studying promotional materials, developer branding strategies, and other kinds of paratextual materials associated with the development and release of historical digital games. These materials are important digital sites and spaces through which game developers, like Rockstar, perform the role of historian and manage expectations for "historical authenticity" among players and critics. I use promotional materials to offer more nuanced interpretations of the influence of dominant understandings of U.S. History on game development and marketing decisions. These hegemonies, established by and through the conventions of pre-existing cultural "genres" like the Western and film noir, and popular narratives long-centred on the white and male experience, lead to games that exclude and marginalise other people and identities, and promotional practices that reaffirm exclusionary stories about America’s “real” past.

I have also co-edited (with Professor John Wills, University of Kent) a collection of essays on the Red Dead franchise: Red Dead Redemption: History, Myth and Violence in the Video Game West. The collection is forthcoming from Oklahoma University Press (March 2023).

I am co-convenor (with Nick Webber, Iain Donald, and Adam Chapman) of the Historical Games Network, a space for collaboration between academics, museum and heritage profesionals and game makers.

I am also interested in conversations around the use of born-digital sources for historical study, and their inherently ephemeral nature. I am interested in asking questions about how best to future-proof preservation practices to ensure we are able to account for and study a broad range of materials important to the history of digital games for years to come. My next research project, therefore, is intended as a broader methodological and practical consideration of how we can centre sources that have long been confined to the margins of (historical) game studies, and recognise their importance in our understandings of how digital games represent the past and function as a form of history.


October 2015- August 2019: Ph.D. Department of History, University of Warwick ("Rockstar Games and American History"). Funded by the Centre for Arts Doctoral Research Excellence (CADRE), University of Warwick.

October 2013-September 2014: MA History. Department of History, Swansea University. Funded by ESF Access to Masters Scholarship (in partnership with the National Botanic Garden of Wales).

2010-2013: BA History. Department of History, Swansea University.

Honours and awards

  • Honourable Mention – British Association for Film, Television and Screen Studies (BAFTSS) 2019 award for "Best Doctoral Student Article or Chapter" (for "Marketing Authenticity: Rockstar Games and the Use of Cinema in Video Game Promotion")

Professional memberships

Early Career Member, Royal Historical Society (2020-)

Fellow, Higher Education Academy (2022-)

Academic positions

August 2020- Lecturer in Digital History, School of History, Archaeology and Religion, Cardiff University

January 2020 - July 2020 Visiting Lecturer, Department of Media Arts, Royal Holloway University of London

2019 - 2020 Early Career Fellow, Institute of Advanced Study, University of Warwick

2018 - 2019 Associate Tutor, Department of History, University of Warwick

Speaking engagements

Invited Research Papers:


  • 'Expecting Authenticity from Rockstar Games', Media Cultures Research Seminar Series, University of Leicester, 3 November 2022. 


  • 'Rockstar Games and American History: Promotional Materials and the Construction of Authenticity', Game Studies Research Group Seminar, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, 21 April 2021.
  • 'American History in Rockstar Games', Playing with Purpose Lecture Series, California State University Long Beach, 29th April 2021.


  • ‘Historical Game Studies, the “developer-historian”, and constructions of “authenticity”’. Centre on Digital Arts and Humanities Seminar, Swansea University, 2 December 2020.
  • 'Historical Digital Game Promotion: Uses and Challenges'. DiGRA Italia Online Symposium: Histories in/at Play: Debates on Historical Video Game Studies. 5-6th November 2020.
  • ‘Rockstar Games as American Historian’, Media Arts Digital Research Seminar Series, Royal Holloway, University of London, 29 April 2020. **Postponed due to COVID-19.
  • ‘Historical Video Games, Promotional Paratexts, and the Construction of Authenticity’. Digital Culture Research Network Forum Series, University of Nottingham, 25 March 2020. **Postponed due to COVID-19.


  • ‘“To help ensure as authentic an experience as possible”: Selling Authenticity through Video Game Paratexts’. Clash of Realities Conference, Cologne Game Lab, 20 November 2019.
  • ‘Representing the Past and Selling Historical “Authenticity” in Rockstar Games’. Summer Research Seminar Series 2019, Science Museum, London, 30 July 2019.
  • ‘Marketing “Authenticity”, and Rockstar Games as Historian’. Game Cultures Research Seminar, Birmingham City University, 1 May 2019.


  • ‘American History and Rockstar Games’. Play/Pause seminar series, Centre for Digital Cultures, University of Birmingham, 29 November 2018.
  • ‘“Rockstar Games Presents”: American History (?)’. American Studies/Game Studies research seminar, University of Kent, 31 January 2018.

Conference Papers:


  • "At the edges of (L.A.) Noire". ASAP13, UCLA, 14-17th September 2022.
  • Roundtable: "Playing the Past: Digital Games in the History Classroom". The American Historical Association Annual Conference 2022, 6-9 January 2022.


  • Roundtable: “Taking Video Games Seriously”. Organization of American Historians Annual Conference 2021, 15-18 April 2021.
  • Roundtable: "Gaming American Studies: Video Games in Research and Teaching", British Association for American Studies 2021, 5-11 April 2021.


  • “This is what life in the West was like”: Controlling and Selling American (Cultural) History through Video Games. The International Association for Media and History Conference (IAMHIST XXVII). Northumbria University. 16-19 July 2019.
  • Roundtable Discussion: ‘American Studies Pedagogy and Praxis: A Conversation about Teaching’. British Association for American Studies 2019. University of Sussex. 25-27 April 2019.
  • ‘“A million little details” in a “Rockstar world”: Generating Expectations of Authenticity in Red Dead Redemption 2’, British Association for American Studies 2019, University of Sussex, 25-27 April 2019.


  • ‘Historical and Cinematic Information as Entertainment in Video Game Promotion’. Media Mutations 10. Universitá di Bologna. 21-22 May 2018.
  • ‘“Documenting” History in Mafia III: Playing with America’s Difficult Pasts’. EBAAS Conference 2018. King’s College London. 4-7 April 2018 (With Adam Chapman, University of Gothenburg).


  • ‘“It’s a sad story but this town has seen it play out a thousand times”: L.A. Noire’s “Historical” Women’. Hardboiled History: A Noir Lens on America’s Past. University of Warwick. 19 May 2017.
  • ‘Playing with Gender and Genre: Rockstar Games, American History, and American Cinema’. British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies Annual Conference. 20-21 April 2017.
  • ‘Promoting “Authenticity”: Rockstar Games, American History, and American Cinema’. British Association for American Studies Annual Conference. Canterbury Christ Church University. 6-8 April 2017.
  • ‘Rockstar Games’ “Difficult Men”: Contemporary Masculinity in Video Games and Television’. Society for Cinema and Media Studies Annual Conference 2017, Chicago, IL, 22-26 March 2017


  • ‘The “myth” and “reality” of the Old West: Rockstar Games and Western Authenticity’. Current Thinking on the Western III. University of Bradford. 13-15 June 2016.
  • ‘Gameplay vs Narrative: Choice and Restriction in Red Dead Redemption’. Play Me A Story: Video Games as Narrative. Lancaster University. 10 June 2016.


  • ‘“The first step in solving any problem is recognising there is one”: Reimagining the Past in the Present in Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom. Ethics of Storytelling: Historical Imagining in Contemporary Literature, Media and Visual Arts. University of Turku. 5 June 2015.

Committees and reviewing


  • Conference Organiser: The Present and Future of History and Games. 28 February 2020. University of Warwick. Funded by the Institute of Advanced Study, University of Warwick.
  • Monograph proposal reviewer: Routledge (Media, Cultural and Communication Studies); Bloomsbury.
  • Conference Abstract Reviewer: History and Games Conference 2020
  • Advisory Board: Video Games and the Humanities series, De Gruyter.


  • Conference Organisational Committee: Gaming the Gothic, 13th April 2018 at the University of Sheffield. Sponsored by the White Rose College of Arts and Humanities.


  • Conference Organiser (With Hannah Graves, University of Warwick): Hardboiled History: A Noir Lens on America's Past, May 19th 2017. Sponsored by Warwick History, the Warwick Humanities Research Centre, and the British Association for American Studies (BAAS).








Module Convenor: 

  • HS1602: Digital Games and the Practice of History

Through this module, students explore how the past is represented and history constructed in digital games, one of the most popular, financially successful, and powerful global media industries of the present day. Students will be introduced to core theoretical concepts and analytical tools that can be utilised when approaching digital games as a historical form, and apply them to case studies throughout the module. They will consider some of the ways in which digital games allow us to examine and challenge our understandings of the practice of history: What does it mean for game developers to occupy the role of historian? What do terms like ‘accuracy’ and ‘authenticity’ mean when applied to digital historical games? How do historical games deal with gender, race, and colonialism, or reflect certain political and ideological perspectives? How do historical games relate to other forms of popular historical fiction? By studying digital games, the digital and non-digital materials and spaces that surround them, and their relation to more traditional forms of historical writing and historiography, students will be able to assess what it means for a digital game to function as a way of representing the past, and how historical research skills inform digital worlds and narratives.

  • HS0002: Projecting the Past

This module explores the relationship between film, television, games, and other forms of media and the subjects that make up SHARE’s key disciplines: history, ancient history, archaeology and conservation, and religion.

I also teach on the following History modules:


  • HS1119: History in Practice Part 1: Questions, Frameworks and Audiences
  • HS1120: History in Practice Part 2: Sources, Evidence and Argument
  • HS1702: Exploring Historical Debate


  • HST081: Sources and Evidence: Advanced Historical Research Skills
  • HST082: Space, Place and Historical Research: From Micro-Histories to the Global Turn
  • HST083: Theories, Methods and Practices of History
  • HST007: Gender, Power and Culture

Research Interests: 

  • Digital Historical Games
  • Rockstar Games
  • Digital game promotion & branding
  • Digital sources & preservation
  • U.S. History in popular media
  • Gender History

Public Engagement: