Tag Archives: Playing History

A Few More Site Ideas For Playing History: This Time From Mega Man

One more round of site theme ideas. I think I might really like this round. Do folks like these more or less then the last batch? I did not fill in all the content for these, just a few boxes and headings to give a sense of the concept. Each of them would take a bit more work. These are generated out of cut up shots from mega man, so I would be mushing and chewing on those original images a bit, but I thought I would share these.



13 Free Online History Games

This is a quick smattering from the hundreds of different free online history games and interactives I have come across. This slice of the history games web underscores a few key points behind building the Playing History collaborative directory.

First, the list gives a quick sense of the different diversity of groups making history games. Each of these places have their own silos of content, making it nearly impossible for teachers to get a quick sense of what sorts of games are out there on a given topic.

If you get a chance to click through some of the links you will get a clear sense of the other need Playing History can address. The quality of these games and interactives varies widely. By allowing educators to rate and review these games in one central location Playing History can ensure educators can find both topical an high quality games.

If you get a chance to take a look at some of these post your reactions and thoughts about them in the comments.

From NOVA via WGBH Boston

Escape from Antarctica– Students relive Ernest Shackleton’s voyage from Antarctica’a Elephant Island to South Georgia island using a sextant and a chart.
Galileo’s Experiments– Students conduct virtual versions of Galileo’s thought experiments, including those using an inclined plane and a pendulum.
Map of the Maya World– Students explore 15 Mayan cities in an interactive map.

From the National Museum of American History

You Be the Historian– Students examine objects left behind by the Springer family, who lived in Delaware more than 200 years ago.

From Colonial Williamsburg

Williamsburg Coins: Students examine the diverse types of money jingling in the pockets and purses of colonial ancestors.

From the British Broadcasting Service

Viking Quest – Students explore Viking life by building a ship and looting monasteries.
Who Wants to Be a Cotton Millionaire? – Students run a cotton company in Victorian Brittan

From the Discovery Channel

Attack on Pearl Harbor– Students explore the virtual battleground through an interactive map
The Emperor’s Tomb– Students enter the mysterious tomb of the first emperor of China.

From the History Channel

Explore Shermans March– Students trace this historic civil war event

From the National Portrait Gallery

A Brush with History – Students explore famous portraits.

From the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Holocaust era in Croatia- Students explore daily life in holocaust era Croatia

From PBS Kids Go

Day in the life of a Native American Boy (ca.1855) -Students learn about daily life of Native American children in the mid 19th century.

Creating History In New Media

Word cloud for the Creating History With New Media course website

I am excited to taking Jeremy Boggs course “Creating History In New Media” to round out my MA in American History. The syllabus is pretty exciting, if a bit overwhelming, mix of tech skills (HTML, CSS and using WordPress and Omeka) with readings in project management and process for web design. If your into this sort of thing take a look at his syllabus.

Over the course of the semester each class member, ideally working in groups, will work a digital history site from bar napkin sketch to launch. I am lucky to have teamed up with Jim Safley, CHNM’s Web Programmer and Digital Archivist,  to work on putting together a smaller scope version of the Playing History project. (If you don’t feel like clicking the link Playing History will be a collaborative directory for educators to find, review, and post lesson plans relating to freely available history games they can use in their classrooms.) Jim and I will be using Omeka as our CMS.

Blogging is a big part of this course. Most of my classmates will be putting together class specific blogs that assume a considerable amount of shared classroom experience. That’s great.  I plan to take a slightly different tack.

While I will be participating in that community, I also want this blog to continue to serve a more general audience of folks interested in my particular take on digital history/humanities stuff. I have two primary reasons for doing this, the first of which is altruistic, and the second of which is a bit more self serving.

(1) I don’t think many history programs offer this kind of course. So if anyone wants to virtually audit it: grab a copy of the syllabus, and subscribe my RSS feed to follow along as we work through it together. I intend to post general class reactions to projects and readings alongside my own reactions, as well as, general information about how our class sessions worked. I think this, in conjunction with the course site, should also provide fruitful food for thought for educators interested in developing similar kinds of courses.

(2) I really think the Playing History project Jim and I are working on is a valuable endeavor and the more folks we can get to react to our planing documents (sitemaps, wireframes, photoshop mockups, HTML mockups, and final product) the more likely we will be able to launch a compelling first iteration of the Playing History idea.

Darwin Quest RPG: Making Historical RPGs for Almost Nothing

Last Friday I was excited to rediscover RPG Maker, a windows only, no-programing skills necessary, platform for building role playing games. The tool allows you to create games with the look and feel of mid-nineties Super Nintendo Games like Final Fantasy VI, Breath of Fire, or EarthBound. As an avid gamer and proto-historian I was excited to see if RPG Maker could be used to build historical RPGs, or, if not that, at least  playable proofs of concept. After a few hours of fun with the program I am happy to report that I think it can serve both these purposes.

Through the tools relatively simple interface you can very quickly create maps, characters and edit all the other RPG staples like character classes, skills, and items. I have always thought Darwin’s voyage to the Galapagos would make a neat RPG so I thought I would start by playing around with that. Below are some screenshots from my 2 hrs of work.

Darwin Quest Title Screen

Darwin Quest Title Screen

Charles is aparently a level one naturalist

Charles is apparently a level one naturalist

RPG maker comes pre-loaded with generic map tiles and each tile already comes with standard properties. For example you can’t walk on water tiles but your ship can sail on them. So with a few minutes of playing around with the tiles and a map of the Galapagos I had a functional recreation of the islands for my game. I also used a visual basic sprite generator one of the members of the RPG Maker community built to make a little Darwin character for the main map. You can see him, the map, and the HMS Beagle in the image below.

Darwin on the Map

Darwin on the Map

Here is where the interesting stuff starts. RPG Maker allows you to create events triggered through simple interaction, and then use those events flip global switches that can then impact any number of other interactions. So, in a simple example, a designer could require the player to observe 10 finches on the island to trigger a switch which would give the player an item called “Finch Observations”. Now, the player can use that item to say win an argument, or form a theory. What is exciting here is not my example, which is actually pretty weak, but the fact that this platform allows folks interested in these types of games to jump into development, with basically nothing more than the investment of their time, and get right to the heart of interesting game design questions. You can skip all the programing and start making a game today.

Darwin finds a finch

Darwin finds a finch (Ok, I know it looks like a chicken)

Now, the fact that RPG Maker requires basically no programing experience does mean that it imposes some strong limitations on the kinds of games and the kinds of game play you can develop. After a bit of head scratching I think I am getting close to some ideas for how to use the mechanics behind the RPG standard “kill some monsters-to get experience points-to level up-to kill some tougher monsters-repeat” model to build some very different kinds of player experiences.

I should mention that a lisence for RPG Maker costs 60 bucks, you can try the 30 day trial for free though. Beyond just using the platform, it looks like that fee allows you to make and distribute any game you develop in any way you chose.

Conversation Piece For THATCamp

This is just a quick post to get out a first pass at a rubric for assessing games for use in history classrooms for THATCamp. Click the image to see a bigger, more readable version.
History Games Rubric First Draft

Most approaches to evaluating games, or at least most of the approaches I have come across are not discipline specific, and I think that is a really bad thing. Even within the humanities each discipline has a distinct epistemology, distinct set of goals for teaching, and a distinct role to play in curricula.

The rubric is my attempt to bring together existing models of reviewing both games and historical works and adapting them to needs of a history classroom. Most videogame reviews are written for the consumer. They answer the question, should I buy this game? Historical book reviews serve a different propose. First, like the game reviews they tell the historian whether or not they need to buy the book. Beyond that the reviews are a forum for critiquing the work, often the original author will respond to the criticism. In the altruistic sense the reviews are a critical tool in refining our understanding of the past, helping define future paths for scholarship.

In reviewing games as educational tools we are fundamentally asking a different set of questions. For the purpose of Playing history the most direct audience is teachers and the question the review should answer is should I use this in my classroom, and if so in what capacity and how should it be integrated.

Many of the issues in games reviews come into play in a sideways sort of way. One of the biggest values of games is in the literature is the notion that they are engaging, a rich way to get kids involved in learning. I think much of that richness comes from the very features that make a game commercially viable. The story line, the graphics, difficulty, soundtrack etc. are all relevant to the value of the game.

Similarly the historical book review offers some good functions. The viewpoint of the work, its historicity. Beyond a resource for teachers, one of the ultimate goals of Playing History is to build a network that can offer substantive feedback for developers. In this capacity it would be ideal for these reviews to comment on what the game does in relation to other games and where it takes the field.

Why we need to Play History

In the last few years there has been a wealth of interest in games for learning. A growing body of research on the educational value of games underlines the ways the can engage students like no previous media. There are now conferences and journals dedicated to games and learning, the MacArthur foundation last year granted 50 million dollars to different groups to build educational games, articles in Nature and Science have explored the potential for games to simulated health emergencies and elicit scientific thinking. In short there is a lot of interest and excitement about the potential for games, many of these games are under-construction and many are ready for students and teachers to start playing.With all the interest and infrastructure that has been invested in games for learning there is no comprehensive spot for connecting teachers with the resources which have now cost foundations and universities hundreds of millions of dollars. Many of these games are rapidly built, tested, and promptly shelved, often never having been played by more than a handful of students. It is clear that there is a need to connect these games with teachers. Bringing this bleeding edge technology and learning theory to the finger tips of teachers around the world through a web community.

Aggregating these games is simply not enough. Teachers are overworked, underpaid and often stretched to the limit. This project’s success is contingent on making it as easy as possible for teachers to find high quality content related to their immediate needs in only a matter of minuets. By enabling teachers to search for games by time periods, historical keywords, educational standards and associated lesson ideas the tool would be built to make it as easy as possible for teachers to integrate high quality games and simulations into their daily plans.

As more teachers begin to use the tool it will have the potential to engage other audiences. Several communities have emerged in the last few years as places for independent game developers to share their games with the public. Once Playing History reaches a critical mass of teachers and potential classrooms to play these games it can become a spot for developers to try building games for the classroom with easy distribution across the world. This has the potential for building a community where these developers respond directly to the needs of practicing teachers improving the quality and quantity of games available for theses purposes.

Once this relationship is cemented it will become a rich resource for educational researchers. Through a separate interface researchers will be able to track which games are successful at what times in what parts of the world giving them further information to inform game design.

There is something tragic in the fact that so much money is being spent to develop so many amazing games and simulations, but those resources are often lost and kept out of the hands of the teachers who could put them directly into use. With a small investment in Playing History we can connect the research and development community with the teaching community and in so doing tremendously benefit both groups.

If They Use It, They Will Fund: Life Cycle for Expert Search Portals

There is no way around it, it will take substantial effort to keep Playing History viable for the future. This is a common feature for expert search style tools. The good news is that all sorts of groups already do it, including CHNM‘s History Matters. There are substantial costs, while there are strategies for off setting those costs the bottom line is that if it is useful and used it will become something worth funding and maintaining for the future.

Cost: Links break: In the ideal situation this site links to some 3000-5000 games, these links will need to be checked and updated over the entire life of the project. There are of course some tools for automatically checking them, but often sites will also change their content, requiring at least someone to check the links on an annual or bi-annual basis.

Mitigating that Cost: It might be possible to connect with a publisher to publish editions of a dead tree version, one might be able to roll the limited money related to the books into biannual refresh of the project.

Another option: As the site becomes more of a community it will be possible to involve power users from that community to contribute content. On the most basic level, giving users the ability to flag broken links would reduce the need for checking them, beyond that power users could recommend and review games they have found and used.

Unlike an archival, or web article style project. These types of projects are often concerned with preserving their projects for the ages. At least for the time being, I am not. At least initially there really wont be that much of value to save. The site will function more as a web portal, and the content is really at the end of the link after your search on someone else’s server.

With a bit of TLC it would be very reasonable to keep such a site operational for 7 years, at which point if it was successful, lets say tens or hundreds of thousands of users, it would warrant further investment to migrate to PHP 15 or whatever were up to then. If it is not successful I am sure someone will have built a better mouse trap and the world will continue to turn.

Playing History For An Audiance

So far I am calling my video games resource for teachers “Playing History.” As I am imagining the resource there are four potential audiences, and each of the audiences would enter the picture at different stages, and each would have unique needs.

K-12 History Teachers
The primary audience is Teachers. As outlined in my use case the primary goal of the resource is to make it as easy as possible for teachers to find game content and associated lesson plans to use in their classrooms. The initial stages in building the tool will all focus on building a useful tool for teachers. It will be necessary to gather together and review a large amount of games to build up enough content to make it worthwhile to visit, aggregating games that crisscross the history curriculum. The site’s content and development would at this stage mirror History Matters. Once the site has enough content to get off the ground the project would start to target the early adopters, teachers in ning groups like next gen teachers groups on yahoo teachers, and Google certified teachers. Those interested would be able to join the project in a collaborative fashion, adding to the content by reviewing games. With the early adopter teachers on board the next target would be district Academic Coaches/Curiculm coordinators.

Academic Coaches/ Curriculum Coordinators
Curriculum Coordinators work with teachers to develop their districts curriculum, in larger districts there is a director for each content area and in smaller ones a single director manages content of all the disciplines, in either way their job description sets them up as a way to connect teachers with resources and develop the classroom. In the second stage of development Playing History would target Curriculum Coordinators through conferences (like ASCD), and professional development events. This phase would also role out a separate interface for coordinators, one that allows them to send resources to the teachers they support both within the site’s canvas and also through existing communication networks like email. As the site grows and gains attention and users it will become a useful place for the third audience Developers.

Educational Game Developers
There is a growing community of educational games developers, but sadly there is no easy portal for those developers to get their games to teachers. Once Playing History has acquired an audience for teachers it can function as a portal for developers to expose their games to a wide audience of educators interested in games.

Educational Researchers
Finally the resource could eventually become a interesting nexus for educational researchers to further plan and develop new projects. By providing a common ground for developers and teachers to connect and discuss each others work the site would be full of interesting information for projects. In the fourth stage of development Playing History would offer a portal for researchers to track the success of different approaches to educational games and better survey the needs of classroom teachers.

A Use Case for Playing History: Games for the Classroom

Kevin Ryan a 9th grade world history in Fairfax Virginia is planing out a unit on Vikings. Looking over his lectures and activities he realizes it would be great to have his students spend half a lesson using a game or interactive to introduce the subject . Kevin logs on to playing history and searches for Vikings, specifying that his students have 30 minuets for the game or simulation. Because he already has an account with Playing History the results are tailored for him, only returning games relevant to a 9th grade audience. The search returns several resources, each listing weather they have attached lesson plans or links to lesson plans in sites like Yahoo Teachers or Teach Ade. Because the searches privilege freely available web games and games with positive reviews from other teachers the BBC’s Game Viking Quest is one of the first search results. When the Kevin clicks on Viking quest he can see reviews from other teachers, the beginning of lesson plans from sites like Yahoo Teachers and Teach Ade, related content from Teacher Tube and the filtered by his ip address the Virginia State Standards and National Standards that the game engages with. The most salient feature of this page however is a screenshot of the game linking directly to the game, which Kevin can now preview. If he decides the game is useful he can email the games information to his class, save it to his calendar, or add it to his website or account with a variety of other teacher web services, all with just the clicks.

Time from Kevin starting his search for the resource to finding a game or simulation which fits his specific needs: Two Minuets.