Playing History: A Good Addition

Pox and the City: Challenges in Writing a Digital History Games talks about the benefits of games.   The authors show that games are more interactive and students have to be more independent while exploring (an learning) through the game than a lecture or a book that does not talk back.   They make a good point that games are better at placing someone in a historic environment rather than trying to reenact a specific historical event.   Like previous weeks lessons this show how the design and form of the website effects the content of the material. 

Good Video Games and Good Learning by Gee shows how games can help the teaching and learning of history.  Things such as risk taking, agency, and well ordered problems that build off one another are all lessons games can have on learning history.  Like last week’s discussion, games get away from the textbook brand of history where everything is laid out for the students.  Even though games still have some direction it involves the player making decisions with consequences that are not always clear.

Mark Sample’s “The Crowd, History, and Video Games” led me to believe that games are a good addition too but not replacement of regular history textbooks.  Sample’s article talks about how videogames do not do a very good job of representing crowds.  They usually stick to an individual player dealing with levels with no other people or very few.   This shows that videogames may have a harder time expressing bigger theoretical concepts that history includes.  I think a video game would have a harder time explaining concepts such as migration, industrialization, and the changing nature of freedom compared to textbooks. 

Although after playing a game for myself I realized the benefit of games to teaching history.  I had a flashback to my elementary school days and played the Oregon Trail for the practicum for this week.  When going through the game I actually felt anxious every time there was low water, one of my riders got typhoid, or my wagon axel broke.  I could get a feeling of the anxiety that real people setting off on this journey must have felt.  After going through the game I  thought about what I actually learned from the game.  I got a general sense of the west with trading posts, forts, and Native American guides but, overall, I did not get too much in depth knowledge.  This is why I think games can be a good tool to engage students in material that they are already learning about in school but it cannot be the only tool.


In an effort to try to focus games on broader concepts I decided to create a game about the ambiguous freedom that African Americans held after slavery was ended by the 13th Amendment.  African Americans were no longer property but they still faced discrimination and had far less education and political power compared to whites at the time.    The player would be a recently freed slave.  There would be multiple objects of the game.  One could either try to establish your own farm or reconnect with family members that were sold away from you.  The player would have to go through challenges like finding housing and food while dealing with the racism, black laws, and intimidation of the time period. The score would be how fast one accomplishes their tasks.  There would be historical information embedded within the game such as real examples of how African Americans survived during this time.  The lessons in these vignettes would help the player accomplish the tasks in the game.  The game would also be a world within itself where multiple players could interact with each other inside the game like half-life.  Players could explore the environment without always having to get to the next level.  They could also interact and learn from other players in the game.  



Filed under US History

2 responses to “Playing History: A Good Addition

  1. I certainly agree that it cannot be the only tool. Games seem like a great for immersion, but like the articles mentioned it is expected that they will be full of historical inaccuracies.

  2. Your observation about feeling anxious when supplies ran low got me thinking about whether emotional involvement would help students remember information. There is a correlation between brain activity and novels (see the NY Times article here: ) showing that more of the brain is involved when we are reading descriptions. Perhaps games would help stimulate brain activity in students in a similar way because of the highly descriptive nature.

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