I found this game when I was looking on the Smithsonian’s website for an activity for my students to do the week of Thanksgiving. The Plimouth Patuxet Museums, a Smithsonian affiliate, have offered this game on their website since 2002, but according to their website, they recently “reimagined and redesigned” the game with the help of FableVision Studios and an Indigenous Advisory Committee. Using oral histories, artifacts from the museum, and primary source documents, players can investigate the events leading up to the “First Thanksgiving” in 1621 from an Indigenous and Colonial perspective.
The game uses pictures, music, soundscapes, and storytelling to immerse the player in the story of Alex, a student investigative reporter. It begins by laying out three major questions– the who, what and why of the First Thanksgiving. Once inside the game, there are four puzzles to complete before players can unlock the final level.
In the first level, players sort artifacts into these five time periods. Clicking on the magnifying glass can tell players more great information about each of these time periods. After players select the right time period, the game gives players more information about the artifact they just sorted. If players answer wrong, the game also gives them more information as a hint. What is notable here is that the time periods go all the way back to 12,000 years ago, which establishes that the Wampanoag people lived in this area for a long time before first contact.
A common focus throughout every level and the conversations between Alex and their teacher is examining primary sources to gain information. Here players read a primary source and try to translate it into more familiar English. The game translates most of the words. They only ask players to translate some of the words, and they are given a word bank to help them. The highlighted portions are what players are supposed to focus on because those are the words that will disappear in the first translation. Just like the previous game, if a player gets a wrong answer, the game will give them a hint to help them.
Level three is pretty similar to level one, but instead of time periods players sort artifacts into categories of who used that particular artifact. This level is teaching players that there was a lot of interaction and cultural trade between Indigenous and Pilgrim people.
This level is similar to level four in that players look at another primary source document to understand the past. This letter tells players about what actually happened at the First Thanksgiving.
Alex talks to their teacher after each level to prompt players to think about they learned, make comparisons, and draw conclusions
At the end of each letter the game prompts players to write down the password they got from completing the letter. It’s good that they tell them this because the game does not store the passwords in an accessible location. If a player forgets, they will have to repeat the level to learn the password again.
The first part of level five recaps what players learned in levels 1-4. Alex and their teacher also discuss what they learned and how history is more complicated than tradition narratives. The “tipster” who began the journey is revealed to be two Junior Educators at the museum. The end has a printable completion certificate.
The National Museum of American History’s website advertises that the game is good for students in grades two through six which may sound like a stretch because the abilities of a sixth grader far exceed that of a second grader. However, this game is very inclusive and learning disability-friendly. Text is large and easy to read. All text, except for the recap in level five, is read aloud by a narrator and a glossary defines all difficult words, so second graders who are working on their reading skills can still participate. Each level also has an option to “Ask and Expert” to help players who might be struggling. Another detail I noticed was that Alex was never given a gender. Additionally, Alex is a very androgynous name, so players could interpret their gender as whatever they want. This makes the game more inclusive.
The game takes about 45 minutes to an hour to complete, and is actually really educational. I learned things I did not know before. It doesn’t talk about the dark history of what happened after the First Thanksgiving, but it does give really age-appropriate information about what happened before. I ended up assigning this game to my students, and another teacher I worked with assigned it to all of her classes, first through fifth grade. As an educator, I think the only downside to this game to this game is that besides the certificate, it doesn’t give educators a way to ensure students actively participated in the game. As a public historian, however, I think that this game tells students a lot about how historians research the past and can get them interested in learning more about the work historians do. I recommend you play it if you have the chance.