Strange Sickness: Play With The Plague in Medieval Aberdeen

Strange Sickness is not just another videogame project. It is a game that asks questions about history, and hopes to help researchers find new ways to communicate about the past – and you can help bring it to life.

The game is based upon more than eight years of research into an incredibly unlikely source – Aberdeen’s medieval council registers.

Strange Sickness. Aberdeen Council Records.

Council… Records…!?

While this may not sound like the starting point for a videogame, the registers are in fact the earliest and most complete body of surviving records for any Scottish town. There is a nearly continuous run of council registers from 1398 to the present day. The value and significance of these records is such that in July 2013 the eight volumes covering the period 1398 to 1511 were recognised by UNESCO as being of outstanding historical importance to the UK.

Strange Sickness draws on this large and unique reservoir of historical resources, to ensure it is based on rigorous historical research. It will be a narrative game, exploring issues around fear, disease, and community. The player will take on the role of a member of Aberdeen’s city council in 1498 as a plague epidemic is taking hold in Scotland.

Bring Out Your Dead

Players must decide how to protect the city against the arrival of the disease by land or sea. What consequences will your decision and your actions have on the city – and your own reputation?

The player navigates the game through hyperlinks, leading to different parts of the branching narrative. They decide when to seek further information and how to deal with the threat of plague. The narrative plays out in different ways, with different endings, based on their decisions.

The relationship of game content to the historical sources will be highlighted by a simple referencing system, allowing users to distinguish easily between content that is directly based on historical sources and content that is necessarily more imaginative to fit within the game structure and narrative. The game will also be supplemented with historical background information through which users can follow links to the original sources and learn more.

Strange Sickness. The Game

Meet The Team

Strange Sickness is a creative collaboration between Dr William Hepburn (historian and creative lead), game developer Dr Katharine Neil (Astrologaster, Over the Alps) and artist Alana Bell (Gray’s School of  Art graduate 2020).

The game is co-produced by Dr William Hepburn and Dr Jackson Armstrong, founders of Common Profyt Games Ltd.

William and Jackson bring expertise as professional historians who have worked closely with Aberdeen’s historic archives. They have years of experience in historical research and in the Aberdeen Burgh Records Project, which is a collaboration between the University of Aberdeen and the Aberdeen City Archives that has been leading investigation into Aberdeen’s historic council registers since 2012.

Dr Hepburn says understanding the fear our predecessors must have felt is one of the key aspects of the project:

Video games are an amazing tool to help people imagine the past, and even become historians themselves by using original records,.

Even in times when there were not outbreaks of the plague in the town, fears about the disease arriving from elsewhere are clear to see in the many steps Aberdeen took to prevent infection

It’s a parallel that we can all understand more readily in today’s climate.

The game allows players to immerse themselves in Aberdeen’s history, interact with characters from medieval society and make decisions which will shape their own story.

Kickstarter Campaign

The team has now launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the development of the game – and to provide direct aid to Aberdonians who have been impacted by our own current plague – COVID-19.

Strange Sickness is a non-profit project. William and Jackson are giving their time for free. The funds raised in this campaign will recover the costs of creating the game, delivering the rewards, and ensuring Katharine and Alana’s time is funded.

All profits from sales of the game after the Kickstarter campaign will support the Lord Provost’s Charitable Trust, which is raising much-needed funds for Aberdeen-based registered charities to help individuals, families and communities across the city experiencing severe financial hardship as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Michael Boniface, the head of ONE Codebase, and games industry veteran (Realtime Worlds, Skymoons Edinburgh and Reloaded Games), told the Scottish Games Network:

There are a lot of powerful ways to use the medium of games but I am especially excited to see Strange Sickness bring our past to life through powerful story telling combined with historic archives. This should not only make for a compelling and engaging experience but will give us greater understanding of how challenges from our past were addressed.

Councillor Barney Crockett, the Lord Provost of Aberdeen, told us:

This is a very exciting way to bring Aberdeen’s past to life, and to help build a way to raise support for an important cause.

Get Involved

You can find out more about the Aberdeen Burgh Records Project here.

You can find out more about the project – and give it your backing – on the Strange Sickness Kickstarter page.

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