What should a educational game about history seek to accomplish? The obvious answer is to be fun for its intended audience and teach them about history in an engaging way. 1066 makes a valiant effort in both areas, but falls short of being a success.
The first thing to do when playing 1066 is to look at the tutorial; this game is not exactly intuitive. After carefully reading through the instructions you still might find yourself a little lost, but its better then nothing. Since the game is so difficult and complicated, I suggest you select the easiest game difficulty. The game is divided into three separate battles, one as the Vikings, one as the English, and one as the Normans. In each battle you take the role of that factions leader: Harold II, William the Bastard, and Harald Hardrada. The battles start with historical context: what events led up the battle and who was involved. This information is brief, but it is both text and audio, making it easily digestible for the player. The voice of the narrator really helps to set the tone of the game. After the narration is over you can choose your army composition, but I have found that the composition they provide you seems to be the best (at least for a beginner like me!).The actual game play takes place in an interesting graphical format. At the bottom of the screen is a map representing the two armies, divided into units of several hundred men. The top of the screen is a side view of the battlefield, with your units represented by troops of soldiers. In battle you maneuver your soldiers around the battle field, engaging in enemies, taunting them, or firing arrows. Each of these actions starts a mini-game. Some of these mini-games can be amusing, such as typing out a specific insult as fast as you can like “Rump-fed Chicken!” Other mini-games can quickly become tedious, such as hitting arrow keys at specific times, or pressing the space bar repeatedly to power up a charge. Perhaps the most difficult, yet rewarding mini-game is trying to fire arrows. With little instruction on how to do this properly, it took me awhile to figure out how to accurately launch arrows, an essential part of the game. Luckily in the first two battles everything is rather simple, you lack cavalry (which is very situational), or many archers. The final battle has a complex army composition and interesting terrain features that change the flow of battle. As you play through the game you may find yourself questioning the accuracy of the game mechanics. I ended up shouting the enemy army into surrendering several times!
The intended audience for this games appears to be both students and interested members of the public. Since the game is hosted on the website of a “publicly-owned, commercially-funded public service broadcaster,” their interested viewers most likely make up many of the players of 1066. This game does some things very well to appeal to this audience: it has cool graphics, is not over involved with historical text, and does a good job at creating an interesting atmosphere. At the same time it has a number of weaknesses, such as complicated and frustrating game-play. Some of these issues are common problems for educational games, such as that to truly be engaging a game has to focus more on the game play and less on the history. With a game as time consuming as 1066, the ratio of history taught to time spent is skewed. In the end you learn relatively little about 1066, instead you mainly learn about military concepts for medieval battles. This reveals one of the larger issues with historical games. For a game to truly teach us about history it needs to follow a relatively linear format; the more choice a player is given, the less accurate the game is. A game without much choice is not very interesting. Many games try to make up for this by allowing choice telling you what really happened at the end, but this does not completely solve the problem. The gamer is no longer encouraged to innovate when their goal is to match a certain set of events. So instead I think that for a historical game to truly succeed it needs to focus on general concepts that fit the time period it is teaching about (in this case, military tactics of 1066), not actual events. Still though, this game is a step in the right direction to teach interested people about history. It is surprisingly fun for a flash game, and while it may teach little about history, many students would be playing video games without history instead, so it is better then nothing.
3 Replies to “1066 Game: A Less Then Perfect Mixture of Fun and History”
I think you pull out a really good point in this blog post: that player choice and historical accuracy are often at odds with each other. The frequency with which historical games sometimes reward the player for making the historically-accurate choice instead of what might now appear to be the logical or morally correct choice is sometimes concerning.
“This American Life” sometimes runs a segment about a classroom visit to the Ronald Reagan Presidential library in which children are guided to divide into journalists and the President and his cabinet, and then reenact the decision to invade Grenada. The children are given choices, but when the kid “President” doesn’t make the same choices Reagan made (like to not invade Grenada) a loud “wrong” buzzer sounds. Do games that encourage historically accurate decisions instead of personally justifiable decisions teach the wrong lesson?
Do historical games that fall into this trap encourage people to imitate history instead of learn from it? Is this an inherent flaw with historical gaming?
I think something key here is to define what a historical game is. Obviously the games we have discussed this week fit as historical games, but does Oregon trail? Their is a game I once played called “Balance of Power” in which you take the role of the Soviet Union or the United States during the Cold War. Your goal is to gain points by bringing more countries into your sphere of influence. Every country in the world is mapped out with economic and political details. It is turn based, so each turn you decide what do to with your budget, do you send troops to another country or money. Is the money for economy or weapons? Do you support insurgents to try to flip the country, or the government to tie it to you? The other super power challenges your decisions and you can go to nuclear war over these decisions. The countries you are investing in also involve themselves in this game (Iraq and Iran are always supporting the insurgency in the other one, and China lumbers about Asia.) This game is incredibly complex and you learn about the goals of the cold war and some of the concepts and mindsets used, while at the same time being encouraged to find interesting solutions to achieve victory. At the same time you don’t learn real historical events, instead you may learn that the Contras are the rebels you can support in one country. This game is not alone in this style, Civilization is another open ended game that teaches you something about the flow of history, but not about events. Are these games truly “history” games? I would argue that they could be called “history” games, but that they will never find their way into a history classroom because they do not teach the events that are the goal of a history curriculum.
If you have several hours of free time and are looking for something interesting and involved to do, you can find a copy of Balance of Power on the abandonia website: http://www.abandonia.com/en/games/24370/Balance+of+Power+1990.html )
Nathan and Caitlin–you both make excellent points about players’ choice. I too have been grappeling with the dillema of what really qualifies as a history game; as well as, how realistic and similar to history a game should be.
In response to Caitlin’s question about whether or not games often fall into the trap of encouraging people to follow history rather than learn from it, I tend to feel that most games have a hard time avoiding the trap. It is very diffcult to move past “teaching history” and towards “learning history.” Many games that set you on an historical path and do not allow you to deviate will generally be fairly good at teaching you about the past and the ways events played out. However, I would argue that what history games should strive for is to allow individuals to loosely follow the path of history, make their own choices, discover where their path might have taken them, and see how their choices differed from what actually happened–in other words, learn history through their own trials and errors.