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Esther Wright

Current Research Focus:

Representations of American History in Rockstar Games (Red Dead Series; L.A. Noire; Grand Theft Auto); brand identity and promotional discourses of historical games; the intersections of historiography and film criticism, genre cinema and historical popular culture.

I am an Early Career Fellow at the University of Warwick's Institute of Advanced Study (IAS).

My PhD research, supervised by Professor J.E. Smyth, looked at the relationship between contemporary video games and other visual media (film/television), and how specific prominent film genres influence and inform the portrayal of American History through digital games. The focus is Rockstar Games – particularly Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire, and Grand Theft Auto – tracing how their narratives, gameplay elements, and marketing strategies try to foster and construct a sense of historicity and authenticity around their titles.

My research explores the way historical video games and their accompanying promotional discourses recreate and evoke specific conventions and memory images of the past already established in visual popular culture. I consider how these paratextual discourses interact with textual representations of the past, and are often used to support an exclusive image of American history. Ultimately, I argue that we should be considering promotional discourses, the brand identity of historical video games and developers, and other paratexts, as part of the representation of the past contained within historical video games themselves.

I blog about history, video games, film and TV here.


AM102 North America: Themes and Problems 2018/19 (seminar tutor, undergraduate).


"Marketing Authenticity: Rockstar Games and the Use of Cinema in Video Game Promotion", Kinephanos: Journal of Media Studies and Popular Culture, 7.1 (2017). Special issue: “It’s [not just] in the game”: the promotional context of video games.

"On the Promotional Context of Historical Video Games", Review Article, Rethinking History, 22.4 (2018), pp. 598-608.


Guest Editor, Press Start Journal Special Issue: On Walking Simulators (forthcoming, 2019).

Invited Speaker

‘Representing the Past and Selling Historical “Authenticity” in Rockstar Games’, Science Museum, London, 30 July 2019.

'Marketing “Authenticity”, and Rockstar Games as Historian', Games Cultures Seminar, Birmingham City University, 1 May 2018.

'American History and Rockstar Games', Play/Pause seminar series, 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
  • “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.
  • With Adam Chapman (University of Gothenburg), ‘Documenting’ History in Mafia III: Playing with America’s Difficult Pasts, EBAAS Conference 2018, King's College London, 4-7 April 2018.
  • 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 Genre and Gender: 'Historical' and 'Cinematic' Representations in Rockstar Games, British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies Annual Conference 2017, 20-21 April 2017.
  • Promoting 'Authenticity': Rockstar Games, American History, and American Cinema, British Association for American Studies Annual Conference 2017, 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.
  • Portraying British American History in Disney's Pocahontas, Pocahontas and After: Historical Culture and Transatlantic Encounters, 1617-2017, The Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library, 16-18 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, June 10, 2016.
  • “The first step in solving any problem is recognising there is one”: Reimagining the Past in the Present through Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom, Ethics of Storytelling: Historical Imagination in Contemporary Literature, Media and Visual Arts, University of Turku, June 5, 2015.
Conference Organisation

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). Co-organised with Hannah Graves (Warwick History)

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

Book reviews

The Journal of Popular Culture, New Media and Society, Rethinking History.

Forthcoming: Film Studies, The Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television..



esther dot wright at warwick dot ac dot uk

Public Engagement:

"Women Out of Date," by Esther Wright

Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire and Battlefield V: the real history behind 3 popular video games

Video games tell historical stories to millions of people around the world, and many have budgets on par with Hollywood movies. But what kind of histories are they telling? Here, Esther Wright examines the real history behind three popular video games: Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire and Battlefield V...

Red Dead Redemption 2 and the (Un)Dying Old West

Today, Rockstar released the third official trailer for the forthcoming sequel to 2010's Red Dead Redemption. In typical Rockstar fashion, it drip-feeds eager fans suggestions of what to expect, while still holding back enough information for them to run to the forums and tear the trailer apart, frame by frame, looking for clues.

Screenbrum - Video Games! (14/7/2017)

ScreenBrum has entered the game! We are joined this week by Esther Wright, who is studying for a PhD about American History in Computer Games. Esther talks about some of the key titles: Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire, Fallout 3 and many more, and we of course platy the very very best music.