Hell everyone I hope you are all staying safe and healthy. I am here to talk about one this week’s readings, the grant for Missions US Online Games About American History and the NEH Digital Programs. Confession: I was not able to use the link in the syllabus to access the document but through Google and the NEH website I was able to find the document for if not the same grant proposal, then likely a follow-up proposal. The document I was able to find is linked below.
First some background on Mission US. Mission US is a project developed through a partnership between WNET, the American Social History Project, Electric Funstuff, and Education Development Center. The goal of the project is to create various interactive games, or Missions as they call them, set in different periods of American history, allowing a user to learn about a topic in an immersive setting. When developing this project, WNET intended for this project to be usable both at home, and in the classroom to assist teachers. Based on the grant, it seems these games have made their way into many classrooms across the country.
Mission US currently has five fully developed educational games free to play on their website, as well as a timed trivia game available on the Apple App store. The five main series games cover topics of slavery, the trail of tears, the American Revolution, the Dust Bowl, and immigration in the early 20th century. All of these games are playable on their website mission-us.org with their first game, the one about the revolution, called For Crown or Colony recently getting some graphics and content updates
While the mission of the project is simple enough, the grant provides some insight into the struggles that they face to keep the project operating. The first challenge is in keeping the game up to date. WNET constantly monitors works by historians on these subjects to make sure that their games are still relevant to the current historical discussions. They also found that many of the students who would be playing these games, usually middle school or high school aged, did not have a full grasp on the historical context for the games. So they are trying to expand the content in these games to further explain the historical context and the importance of different choices a player may make, for example why drinking tea with a loyalist in Boston would upset the main character’s patriot leaning boss. WNET is also implementing systems into the games to make them more accessible to people with disabilities. They are also trying to convert the games to be playable on mobile devices instead of just computers.
Perhaps the biggest challenge that WNET has faced is in updating their outdated technology. The games were originally built with Flash but with support for that ending this year, they have had to rebuild their games with a new framework. They settled on Unity for this, though the process of converting their games seems to be ongoing. This part of the grant stuck out to me the most as this project that has existed in classrooms for years could have come to an end because support for Flash was ending. It begs the question of how creators of digital content are expected to continue supporting their projects if the frameworks they use lose support and they lack either the knowledge or funding to convert the projects and keep them alive.
I found this project and their grant proposal for the games’ upkeep to be very interesting. It’s clear that WNET intends to keep these games up to date and sustainable, ensuring that they can be used for the forseeable future. The game’s themselves certainly sound interesting and immersive education is an interesting concept for teaching subjects, though I do have some questions about how they depict the content of these topics in an immersive way, as some of the topics would have very graphic content and the games are intended for kids. I’d be very interested to see how they continue to expand and update these games.