Let’s pretend for a second we’re all back in elementary or middle school, and your history/social studies teacher just told you it’s your class’s day to visit the computer lab. Besides the fact that you know you’ll have access to the internet during the school day, you likely have the opportunity to play video games instead of doing actual work in class. Does life get any better than this?
What many children who have been and continue to be in this scenario don’t understand is that these video games are teaching them relevant material, and it’s possible that they’re learning more than they would be in the classroom environment since they’re actually having fun and not even thinking about the educational aspect. The two games analyzed in this practicum, Cotton Millionaire and Jamestown Adventure, fall into this mold, and while it’s less likely that you’ve heard of these than some of the more popular history video games on the market, their value is undeniable.
In Cotton Millionaire, a game presented by BBC, you assume the role of a Victorian Era British businessman at the outset of industrialization. Your goal is to maintain your money stacks and prove that you could succeed as an entrepreneur while avoiding debtor’s prison.
Success in the game is marked by a collection of coin stacks that surround your businessman’s icon, and depending on your decisions throughout the game you either lose money or gain it (it is much more likely that you will lose your money).
Once you begin, you are presented with a number of multiple choice questions about the cotton business you are beginning. Among the questions asked are where to locate your business, whom to employ (women and children or men), what type of power to use (water, steam, or homeworking), and future investments to make (better machinery or improved work conditions).
Sometimes, as is true in business in any time and place, not exclusively Victorian England, even when you make the better choice among your options, it still ends up costing money, as can be seen below in “only” losing one money stack.
If you don’t optimize your business, you are presented with an option to return to the beginning of the game and play again to avoid sending your businessman to jail. Once you finally reach a goal where you have success in the industry, you reach the screen that follows below, which makes a wise decision to lead you to a game that ties into the next period of history- industrialization. In that way, BBC has created a system in which the player can continue to learn about history simply by clicking on the next game in the series.
Our next game is very similar to Cotton Millionaire, but this one takes things a step further as far as historical research and presentation. In The Jamestown Online Adventure, you assume the role of Captain of the Jamestown Colony during their initial journey to the New World in the early 1600s.
Like Cotton Millionaire, Jamestown Adventure relies on a multiple choice question approach to move the game forward. Among the areas that you must address as leader of this quest are where to land and establish your colony, how to interact with the Native Americans, what kind of structures to build, which colonists will work to build them, what to search for in the surrounding area (hunting, fishing, gold), and what crops to grow/how much of each crop to grow. However, in addressing these questions, you receive a little assistance from other parties.
The first person you can consult with is a colonist, who speaks from the role of an upper-class Englishman who has come to the New World to expand his fortune. (I found it’s almost always best to ignore him.)
The next person to be consulted is a member from a local Native American tribe, who often will provide useful information on what the terrain and environment is like in the surrounding area.
Finally, and what may be the most brilliant inclusion in this game, you can consult the charter. However, this is not any old charter. The game developers made the wonderful decision to include the actual Instructions for the Virginia Colony, written in 1606 for the Virginia Company’s voyage to the New World. Certain sections are highlighted for the player to consider when making their decision what the traditional role of the British would have been not only in the game, but in real life.
Once you have successfully answered your questions and established your colony, you are presented with a report card of sorts, telling you how effective your decisions would have been in the early seventeenth century. If you’re lucky, you may even be promoted to Governor of Virginia!
After reading through your report, you have the opportunity to see how your decisions match up with the decisions made by the Jamestown colonists themselves in a “Now We Know…” section. This provides very useful information to the player and provides an insight into the minds of these colonists.
Personally, I feel that both of these games are successful for what they are: games intended to be used in a learning environment to supplement a lesson plan made for young students. That being said, of the two I did prefer the Jamestown Adventure game for its use of actual documents and more detailed presentation/comparison of results at the end of the game. What do you think about these games? What is their value, and is this value greater or less than mainstream video games that dabble in history instead of these which are rooted in it? Let me know what you think!
3 Replies to “Practicum: Jamestown Adventure and Cotton Millionaire”
I think it’s interesting that, at least from your description, these games are very rooted in making logical or “correct” decisions to lead to the best possible outcome. In contrast, the “Mission: America” proposal that we read really talked about engaging kids with the emotional and ethical aspects of historical decision-making, and how we shouldn’t shy away from that.
On the Cotton Millionaire game, one of the screenshots that you included talks about how it was perfectly acceptable to employ women and children, and there were tradeoffs and benefits, but it doesn’t seem to allow for the player to consider the ethical implications of child labor. Should it?
I mentioned this in another comment for this week but I feel the need to re-emphasize as it seems to be pretty universally neglected here. Games need to be fun. Neither of these really were to me, nor do I feel that I took much away from them. Contrary to Argument Wars which was covered in Josh’s post for this week, these games felt like an excuse to copy and taste textbook passages onto a screen full of color. These games also fail to force the player to consider broader ethical implications. Ultimately, I would argue neither of these games are more valuable than even mainstream games which dabble in history simply because these games are boring and forgettable.
I think these games appropriately represent their intended use: to be learning supplements for younger students. For students of history at a graduate level, playing them doesn’t exactly do anything intellectually stimulating, but it does help us reminisce about those “computer lab” days you had mentioned. To address your question on their value, I think one must look at games such as these compared to mainstream video games for what they are. I would argue that these examples are educational tools that can also serve an entertaining function, while video games with a historical component are generally designed to be entertaining, with an added educational function (not as the goal, but as a supplement to the game experience itself). Regardless, like I mentioned previously, games such as Jamestown Adventure and Cotton Millionaire served their function for grade-school children, and are a fun, nostalgic reminder for those of us now in graduate school.