Playing the Past: Practicum Overview

This week’s topic covers “Playing the Past: Videogames, Interactivity, and Action.” I will be showcasing four online games that reenact ideas and events from history. These games remain important for people to engage with the past in fun and interesting ways.

Argument Wars

The first game is “Argument Wars” in which the user attempts to argue real Supreme Court cases. The game is created by iCivics which is a non-partisan civics education company that hopes to motivate users towards life-long civics engagement. The company has a great number of other high quality and engaging civics-related games.

The game can be played in Spanish or in English. For educators, iCivics has extension packs that can help to cement important game concepts through additional activities and teaching tools. In Argument Wars, the user argues a historic Supreme Court case against another (computer) lawyer with the side using the strongest argument reigning victorious. Some examples of the court cases included in the game are Brown v. Board of Education, Miranda v. Arizona, and Bond v. United States.

Beginning the game, the user is asked to sign in or register for an account which allows them to save in-game progress, unlock achievements, and compete with friends through leaderboards. The game can be played without registering or logging into an account. The user gets to pick the difficulty of their opponent (normal or high), the appearance of their lawyer, and which case they would like to argue, and which side of the case they would like to be on.

The game helpfully provides information on the key details of the case before choosing as well as having a “case summary” button that can be selected while playing the game. Initially, the lawyers go back and forth with their opening arguments with the justices intervening to ask questions to them. The user then must select which amendment provides the constitutional basis for the case. A correct selection will give the user impact points. Next, the user must draw cards, either support cards which help your argument or action cards which give special abilities. The user then must select cards to use and build their arguments through options given. The user and opponent can lose points if they make a mistake in their argumentation. Multiple rounds of drawing cards and selecting cards to build one’s argument follows. Whoever has more impact points by the end of rounds wins the game with the justices ruling in favor of their argument. At the end of the game, the final opinion shows what really happened versus the game’s decision.

The game is an engaging way for students and the general public alike to learn about judicial cases as well as improving their persuasive abilities.

Jo Wilder and the Capitol Case

The second game discussed in this blog post is “Jo Wilder and the Capitol Case” which turns the user into a history detective. The game was made in partnership with PBS Wisconsin and the archivists at the Wisconsin Historical Society. This adventure game features Jo Wilder who uncovers historical stories from mysterious artifacts from movements in Wisconsin State History.

The game is aimed for grades 3-6. The learning goals of the game are threefold: to help students engage in critical thinking and historical inquiry; to identify and apply historical evidence from multiple sources; and to relate primary and secondary source material to build an argument and support a conclusion. The user employs many of the skills used by historians including investigation, identification, corroboration, and contextualization of evidence.

The game plays out over multiple chapters and the user must find evidence for the historical mysteries to complete each chapter. Jo Wilder, whose grandfather Leopold works in the library as a historian, travels throughout the game world which takes place in Wisconsin’s capital, Madison.

She looks for clues to uncover mysteries of the past. For example, in the early parts of the game, Jo investigates a women’s basketball jersey dating back to 1916. But, through evidence and inquiry, Jo finds out that it is actually not a basketball jersey and instead belonged to a women suffragist fighting for the right to vote.

The game continues with various historical investigations related to Wisconsin’s history. The engaging exploration of the game world and clues allows the user to improve their historical skills in a fun way. The user must look closely for clues to make progress, check their notebook to track their evidence, navigate the map to gather evidence from multiple sources, and finally to defend their case by using the correct evidence from their notebook.

Prisoner in my Homeland: Mission US

The third game to be discussed in this blog post is “Prisoner in My Homeland” which covers the experiences of 16-year-old Henry Tanaka whose family is forced to relocate to a prison camp in California during WWII.

The user faces choices and challenges that Japanese Americans coped with during their internment in the war. Mission US is a role-playing game (RPG). Although many of the characters in the game are fictional, they are based on the experiences of real people and the user does encounter actual historical figures and historical events in the game.

The stated goal of the game “is to understand history, not to win.” During the missions of the game, the user interacts with a variety of people exploring historical settings and witnessing important events. The user faces difficult decisions which represent real alternatives that people in the past may have had to face themselves. The user decides the fate of the character based on these choices made in the game. Some choices unlock different badges. These decisions also impact the outcome of the character’s story seen in the epilogue of the game. The game remains replayable as the user can choose other choices to see how the story plays out differently. The game can take 1.5-2 hours to play.

The user must create an account with Mission US before they can play. The story plays out through talking with people, making decisions, and exploring the game world. As previously mentioned, the game can play out in multiple different ways.

The game covers challenging and difficult aspects of U.S. history. These aspects include racism, injustice, and war. Mission US believes that “learning about such historical moments is essential for understanding both the past and present.”

Additionally, there are resources that support the learning goals that include comprehension questions, writing prompts, vocabulary activities, and primary source analysis. There are also helpful videos that explain the game and learning goals.

A Cheyenne Odyssey

The final game discussed in this blog post is “A Cheyenne Odyssey” where you experience events as Little Fox. The Northern Cheyenne boy faces difficult experiences including the encroachment of white settlers, railroads, and U.S. military expeditions. The user gets to experience Cheyenne’s persistence through national transformation and conflict.

The game is also created by Mission US so many of the things said about the previous game are also applicable to this game. It is an RPG game where the user steps into the shoes of a young person during a time in U.S. history. There are no right or wrong answers and no winning. The goal is to understand the history through interactions, exploration, and making decisions that people may have had to make in the past. The user decides the fate of the character in the game.

The game shows the difficulties of living in the west with an expanding society encroaching onto their lands. The experiences of Little Fox help the user understand this and other aspects of living as a Native American. The voice acting of Northern Cheyenne characters was done by the Northern Cheyenne themselves. There also are a variety of education resources including guides and videos.

One Reply to “Playing the Past: Practicum Overview”

  1. I really enjoyed playing specifically Argument Wars and Jo Wilder. I think they are effective tools for teaching historical learning. They require critical thinking and can demonstrate how history happens. I thought Argument Wars had an interesting way of explaining both actual supreme court cases as well as how to effectively make an historical argument. I could definitely imagine playing and enjoying these games as a middle/high schooler.

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