Elizabethan Occultist and Astrologer, Simon Forman, Inspires Hit Storytelling Game

Astrologaster is a comical and participatory story-telling game set in Elizabethan London, inspired by the casebooks of the Elizabethan occultist and ‘agent of the devil,’ Simon Forman.

Astrologaster, an interactive comedy game developed by Nyamyam, independent games developer, with Cambridge University was seeded at a Wellcome Trust games workshop and is now part of a British Library Exhibition titled Digital Storytelling...

Astrologaster is a comedy game set in Shakespeare’s London. Gamers play as ‘Doctor’ Simon Forman and treat his patients using astrology.

The idea originated after Jennifer Schneidereit from Nyamyam met Lauren Kassell, Director of the University of Camrbidges’ Casebooks Project.

Cambridge University’s Casebooks had been digitising the meticulous and ridiculous records of Dr Simon Forman, an infamous astrologer of early 17th century England, who claimed to cure people by consulting the planets and stars. It is one of history’s largest surviving sets of medical records. 

“Jennifer visited the Casebooks Project and had a long conversation about Forman, his manuscripts, his patients, and the histories of astrology and medicine. As the game developed, Casebooks provided selections of material from Forman’s records and information about his methods and suggested further readings.

We read drafts of the character summaries and storylines and provided feedback about their historical accuracy, focusing especially on the social dynamics of early modern medical practice, the politics of the early modern medical marketplace, and how patients and practitioner understood health and disease. We encouraged the uses of humour and deliberate anachronism, rather than romanticised nostalgia, to challenge players to think about meanings of health and illness.

 From the perspective of Casebooks, working on Astrologaster contributed to our thinking about the performative nature of the casebooks; about how to (re)present the casebooks in our search interface; and about innovative ways to communicate the history of medicine to both academic and non-academic audiences,” Lauren Kassell said. 

“It’s a lively and surprising comedy that portrays a weird slice of Shakespeare’s London with modern wit.”

Review of Astrologaster, Kezia McDonald, The Guardian

The British Library exhibition 'Digital Storytelling' is open to the public from the 2nd June 2023 to the 15th of October 2023. It explores the wide range of creative and innovative possibilities of digital storytelling.