My Print Proposal = Reviewing Ripped Apart: A Civil War Mystery

My print project proposal involves reviewing the new game Ripped Apart: A Civil War Mystery, in order to assess learning goals and outcomes by mainly using the rubric of learning principles as enumerated by James Paul Gee. Though Gee has thirty-six principles of learning that he applies to video games, I propose to use approximately a dozen in order to evaluate how a deeper and more engaged understanding of American history can be learned through the aforementioned game.RippedApartRippedApart


Ripped Apart is an Ipad app created by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and produced with a grant from the Verizon foundation. It was released February 18, 2015 to the public, and so other reviews could be scant and participation could be hard to track. Though I am proposing to review the game in terms of learning goals, further considerations could include marketing, development, and usage statistics.

James Paul Gee lays out thirty-six learning principles in his 2007 book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Gee stresses that literacy should encompass how to read not only text, but also images, symbols, graphs, diagrams, artifacts, and other visual symbols (17). Multi-modal texts (texts that mix words and images) that can be found in video games, Gee argues, can increase literacy creatively and pragmatically.

The link between playing video games and learning a broader application of literacy can be applied productively to assess Ripped Apart. In his book, Gee states and elaborates on learning principles “equally relevant to learning in video games and learning in content areas in classrooms” (41). So, how does this museum video game app address some of those learning principles?


Ripped Apart asks the player to become an intern at the museum to help a curator complete some very important research on American History. By matching carte de visits with historical documents the player can then identify the owner of certain photo albums and let those owners’ spirits rest. There is an element of other worldliness to the game in two senses: you learn about a different time period through historical documents and the spirits of some of these historical people are lingering down in the office / storage space where the player’s work desk is located. The spirits guide the player and so does the curator that the player is working for.

Because the player is working with different types of historical documents and artifacts (photographs, illustrations, letters, newspaper clippings, maps, clothing, and more), the most salient learning principle that can be applied would be the multimodal principle. This principle states that “meaning and knowledge are built up through various modalities (images, texts, symbols, interactions, abstract design, sound, etc.), not just words” (224). The game supplies players with a reference index where they can learn more about the documents and artifact they find at their desk that they takes notes about, and then connect to a selection of portraits to help determine the owner of an album. The diverse portraits include famous people of the period as well unknown people of the time. Political, economic, and geographic clues are also included in the artifact box.

Ron Morris also writes about how video games about American history, specifically the Civil War, can aid classroom curriculum by extending learning into a place where the student can engage with history and make decisions.

The extension of learning is an important and complex aspect that would be elaborated on in terms of assessing how the museum, the historians, and the teachers present and debrief video game experiences.

2 Replies to “My Print Proposal = Reviewing Ripped Apart: A Civil War Mystery”

  1. I think this is a very interesting project and fruitful idea. A particularly fascinating part of this game is how the creators have imbued the artifacts and documents with a connection to a spirit. This implies that this material is more than ephemeral and essentially have their own “life force” beyond the life of the creator or subject. It would be interesting to see how the game affected the user’s perception of historical materials and their treatment by cultural institutions. If we were to destroy one of these artifacts, would we be condemning their spirit to perpetually haunt the earth? Is the cataloging and subsequent spiritual deliverance akin to a religious act? I am taking these game outcomes to their logical extremes, but it is clear that the makers of this game are defining records and artifacts in ways to give the public the idea that these things are important. Perhaps this was one their learning goals or desired outcomes? Or maybe it is just an unintended consequence.

  2. This is off to a great start. The fact that the game is so new is itself an exciting prospect. As you note, there isn’t much out there about it. Along with that, Gee’s book is a useful context to explore the game from. The intention is to make a learning game and this provides a great framework for thinking about and exploring learning in a game.

    If you were to take this project forward, it would be good to consider a few of the following points. Ideally a review would come with a critical edge to it too. So, you point out some aspects of the game that are working well, but it would also be good to hear more about what parts aren’t working as well. Academic book reviews tend to follow the formula of “here is what it is, here is something good, now here are some limitations” so you could go that route.

    Beyond that, it would be great to extrapolate some of the broader issues and trade offs that come with particular design decisions in this kind of game. That is, the game puts you in the role of the curator where it could well have put you in the shoes of historical actors who used the items in the collections. That is a design choice that comes with implications that you could explore and think through what the decision affords the designers. Similarly, the decision to have the spirits from the past in the game is a design decision that I could imagine many being somewhat uncomfortable with; it’s a bit playful and whimsical. Which opens up a set of questions about how the game does and doesn’t succeed at using that technique.

    To recap, you’ve got a timely subject and you’ve identified a fruitful framework for approaching it. If you went for ward with this I would suggest thinking through how to use the game to surface bigger issues in the representation and communication of history and the past.

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