Exploring Historic Decisions Through Gaming

Hi, friends! Hope you’re all doing well. In this Practicum, we’ll take a little break from reality by exploring games that will take us to two distinct time periods where historical actors had to make quick-fire decisions that shaped the course of history.

First up: 1066. In this game, it’s the year 1066 (shocker) and we’re transported to the bloody battlefields of the Battle of Hastings, during the Norman conquest of England. The game, designed to “educate and engage teens in a historical gore-fest,” begins with some truly rousing battle music and gives users the choice to play as a single-player or multiplayer. It also gives you the chance to read up on the game rules, which I’ll go over a bit here.

You’ll play the game as the English, Viking, or Norman army. The goal of the game is to defeat your enemy army by killing and/or scaring off as many soldiers as possible. To do this, you need to learn about the different sections of your screen. The top portion is the Battle View. This shows the battle as it plays out, and you can use the arrows on your keyboard to shift your view at any point during the game.

Next up, in the middle section, is the Army Info and Mini-Games Panel. This small section contains a lot of information including: your army morale, the game timer, and your unit info. Each unit has an icon that corresponds to important measures like your attacking strength, defensive strength, and the number of troops you have left. You can also check out the number of troops your opponent has left by looking at the right side of the screen.

Finally, you have your Battle Map, which is where you plan your troops’ actions and issue commands for the battlefield. You’re also able to see your enemy’s actions and thus plan accordingly. The game is played in rounds, which are then divided into two phases. Each round begins with the Select Commands phase (which is when you issue orders to your troops), followed by the Executing Commands phase (which is when the orders are played out on the battlefield).

So, what are the commands? During the Select Commands phase, you can click on your units and choose to move, fire, taunt, fortify, or break. Each command affects both your army and your opponent, in terms of number of soldiers and morale.  Moving your troops directly next to enemy troops leads to hand-to-hand combat and (likely) the most deaths. The game is over once either army is killed or scared off.

So, let’s play (or…fight?)!

I first chose to play “Story Mode,” thus starting a new battle campaign and, because I’m a noob, I opted to play an Easy game. Before fighting, the game gave a little history lesson about the Battle of Hastings and its impact on early European politics and geography (though there’s the option to skip this).

I got assigned to play as the Vikings (dope!) and the game gave me a brief overview on their historical fighting techniques, plus the option to randomize the number of units I had. After that, it’s battle time!

Alright… unsurprisingly, I lost my battle and was awarded the battle rank of “Peasant.” Rough. However, the game was pretty fun to play, though there was a bit of a steep learning curve in mastering the commands. It was longer than I expected, lasting about 20 minutes, but moved really quickly. The Executing Commands round consisted of a bunch of “mini-games,” where you would have to perform actions (like typing in a phrase or hitting the correct keyboard arrows) to actually execute the command.

For example, you could change the angle and power of your arrow shots using your mouse. My arrows usually killed more of my own army than my opponent’s. Sorry, Vikings.

Overall, I wouldn’t say 1066 is very educational (maybe about battle techniques, but you don’t learn much at all about the Battle of Hastings unless you watch the intro), but it is a good way to spend some time, especially if you’re into war history.

Next up: Jamestown Adventure. We’ll jump about 600 years into the future to 1606 Jamestown, where we’re a captain setting up the colony. The introductory page gives a brief overview of the settling of Jamestown and its failed early years. Your job is “choose your own adventure” by making a number of key decisions to see if you can do better than the actual colonists. You’re able to consult the London Company’s Charter, or ask fellow colonists or Native Americans for advice. At the end, you’re scored on the food, health, wealth, and morale of your colony, which you can then compare to the historical Jamestown and “learn from the mistakes of history.”

Alright, let’s play!

This game is a lot less complicated than 1066 – I was done playing in about 3 minutes! It also seems like it’s geared toward a younger audience. The first question asks where you want to land to set up your colony. I chose to live on a protected bay island, since the colonist I asked said Spain might attack land directly on the coast.

Next, I was confronted by Native American chief, Lord Powhatan. Because I know my history, I offer to trade with him rather than attack. The Native American I consulted also counseled me to be a good neighbor, and this is just good advice for everyone.

Good question, Lord Powhatan.

Next, I’m asked what kind of structure I want to build. Once again, I listen to the natives and decide to build a town rather than a wood fort or a small castle.

Next, I choose to make everyone (including gentlemen!) work, doing hunting and fishing, and planting corn, wheat, and tobacco. Once again, I mostly consult the natives on these decisions since they’ve already lived there.

Then, it’s time for my results and…

My colony’s a success all around! I’m not sure if there’s a rating better than “Good,” but compared to the real Jamestown, I’d say I did alright.

Overall, Jamestown Adventure (while not as fun to play) is definitely more educational than 1066. I imagine it would be a good, interactive way for elementary/middle schoolers to learn about the failure of the Jamestown colony, and also makes for a good springboard into topics such as Native American history and the detrimental effects of colonialism.  What’s interesting about both games, though, is that you actually can lose both of them – and are expected to learn from your failure. This is something that I appreciate about both games and (regardless of the amount of educational historical content) seems like an important lesson to learn young.

What did y’all think of these games?

Playing Games and Winning Arguments

Hi friends, I hope you are all staying safe and well and taking this opportunity to really check in on yourselves and what you need during this time. If you are finding that you are needing the opportunity to air frustration, live out your father’s dreams for you, or pontificate about important matters in the comfort of your own home, might I suggest the Argument Wars game on iCivics.org?

Someday we can unpack the title to this game because that seems LOADED.

On the site, the game is described as the following:

Ever tried to win a disagreement? In Argument Wars, test your persuasive abilities by arguing a real Supreme Court case. The other lawyer plays your competition. Whoever uses the strongest arguments wins!
(***worth noting that I had to open this game in Safari, as it wouldn’t open in other browsers. Similarly, I had to give Flash Player permission to play.***)

The goal of the game is to expose players (I’m assuming middle-school age?) to nine significant U.S. Court Cases like Bond v. United States and Brown v. Board of  Education. The first few minutes are spent clicking through opening arguments by either side before being prompted to answer which constitutional issue is at stake. You start getting points at this stage for every correct answer or well-supported argument. You lose points for poorly-supported arguments and objections to well-supported arguments by the opponent. A tutorial walks you different steps of the game: drawing “cards” or, the supporting supreme court case/evidence supporting your case;  the pitch deck where you drag and drop cards to build your argument, connecting your support to your argument, Once the judge has distributed his “ruling points,” whichever side has received more “wins.” I did try to throw the game/match/case once just to see if the game would allow for “ahistorical” outcomes, but it took about 10x longer, the computer (via judge/opponent) seemed to self-correct, and it eventually froze on me soooo while I can make an educated guess (and certainly hope) that this game would go on as long as it takes for “Brown” to win in Brown v. Board, I couldn’t say for certain.

I will walk through the game as I play it so you can get a sense of how it works before going and spending hours (or 0-15 minutes as the website suggests) trying it out for yourself!

First step: choose a character.

This part felt a little like the Game of Life of CDROM (iykyk). The only customizable option here is the name, so I went with the GOAT.

You then decide which side of the case you wish to argue:

Following the opening arguments, the interactivity begins. You draw cards and then decide which best support your case. Each card opens up to a dialogue box with more information of the given evidence/court case to help the player choose which best supports the argument:

If the judge likes or approves of your argument, he might request you argue your point further. You then have to arrange a statement that connects the support to the argument (note that options are LIMITED):

The opponent then has the opportunity to support their argument in the same fashion and the player can choose whether to object or pass. The judge then determines whether the supporting evidence and/or objection are legitimate:

Things can get ugly…

And so on and so forth until all of the judge’s ruling points are distributed, at which point he makes a ruling (note the SMUG look on RBG’s face at crushing her downtrodden opponent):

And that’s the game! The player can then restart and play through different court cases.

So what is the utility of this game and how it operates? “Argument Wars” definitely falls into what Brian Sutton-Smith refers to (via Flanagan) as, “a Western notion of progress where play, especially children’s play, is justified as educational and moral, helping to build intelligence and good behavior, and preparing children to take part as good citizens of the adult world. (Flanagan, 25)” The game is essentially a “choose your own adventure” that you *likely* cannot lose. It prompts the player to build a logical and well-founded argument—super useful for the future lawyers/scholars/scientists/activists/kids arguing with their parents/citizens—and distributes a substantial amount of what might be considered “civic information” throughout. The limited number of possible outcomes somewhat limits the creative and interpretive possibilities on the part of the player, but the intention of this game is to convey a very specific set of historical data, and thus probably is not very interested in interpretive possibilities (which is as much a critique of the ways in which nationalism is indoctrinated through art and culture as of this game, specifically). The website/game developers get a “win” in disseminating the core curriculum in manner that is more engaging than a PowerPoint, and the player not only gets the ego boost of winning, but hopefully pick up a lot of information about various significant court cases that have shaped the course of United States history.

iCivics has a large number of other games that would be worth checking out as well—many deal with the evergreen political topics such as immigration, fake news, and campaign building. I would definitely be interested in seeing if there are other games (on iCivics.org or otherwise) that allow more space for interpretation and feedback from their audiences. I perceive (or, at least hope) that the current generation of middle-schoolers are encouraged to pursue more independent critical thinking in relation to U.S. history than my generation was, and I would like to see how game developers are responding to that shift.

Now back to arguing with characters on Netflix — stay safe!