“Where In Time is Carmen Sandiego?” And Historical Memory

I did not play many video games growing up, save for when my brother let me join in some Mario Kart or Goldeneye. And though we have not gotten to the point in the semester where video games are on the agenda, just the concept of video games as part of digital history struck me a few weeks ago. So in brainstorming and trying to find a print project that would not only reflect our lessons in Digital History but would also relate to me on a personal level, suddenly Carmen Sandiego popped into my head. Now I’m sure others have seen the television show, but what I would propose for my print project is doing an historical analysis of the computer game “Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?” Later in the semester, several historical internet games will be demonstrated. This Carmen Sandiego game, which I did play as a child, falls into a similar category as “The Jamestown Experiment” or “Cotton Millionaire”, especially as it has a direct correlation with history.

 

“Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?” has various chronological levels (“missions”), marking specific periods in world history. The game provides guides such as “Anne Tiquity” to help the player search for clues, talk to other characters, and interact with the level to find where Carmen’s henchmen are hiding. While this game undoubtedly influenced my interest in history and bolstered my knowledge of random and at times useless facts, what appeals to me in this print project is analyzing how exactly the game is organized and constructed.

 

Specifically, this Carmen Sandiego game interacts with historiography and memory in fundamental ways. On a superficial level, I would analyze what historical moments and peoples were chosen to represent specific eras in the past. For instance, the player jumps from Mali in 1324 as Mansa Musa is preparing for Hajj to 1454 with the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press. In each level, the various “tasks” a player must accomplish (such as matching corresponding kimono colors to the seasons in Japan, circa 1015) hold specific historical meaning for what was deemed representative of that particular society.

 

On a deeper historical level, I would also like to analyze the application of race, gender, and stereotypes in the characterizations of the people and descriptions of the environment in the missions. The missions take the player to the United States, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Though one could claim the game to be representative, other elements in the layers of the game may reveal a Western bias, racist stereotypes, or an imbalance of gender ratios. Who are the female historical characters being depicted? Who are the “non-white” males? How do their characters speak and how is the tone of their voice? The wording of their answers? Despite the fact “Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego” gives the appearance of being unbiased, a closer analysis of the game may reveal much different results.

 

Furthermore, I would seek to answer questions relating to topics we have discussed in class, such as accessibility and the democratization of history online (or in game form). What children are playing this game? What repercussions might it have on their historical worldview? What are the pros and cons of the existence of such a game? What is valued as “history” in this game, and do children notice that and accept it? In addition to my love for this game as a child, I believe this sort of analysis in a print project could yield an important understanding of the way historical memory is transferred between generations. Children learn American and world history in their schools, yet supplemental materials such as this game have a drastic impact on their concept of history as well.

Possible Project – Turkal

For my project, I would like to explore the meanings inscribed within Crysis 2 as related to Orientalism. To accomplish this, I will ruminate on the text of the game and pen a narrative explication of what I discover.

Scholars have considered gaming to be irrelevant for far too long. Crysis 2 demonstrates that videogames can make a contribution to the scholarly project in a unique and valuable way, which can no longer be ignored. Hopefully my paper can help by exposing what scholars are missing out on.

Playing with Justice: Argument Wars

Here’s the issue.  You’re trying to get students to understand the Supreme Court.  Not just that it’s an organization that consists of nine justices and that it interprets the law, but how it actually goes about doing so.  How does the court hear and structure arguments?  How is it that over the decades, the Court can by interpreting the same document, reach so many different conclusions?

Enter Argument Wars, a game designed to simulate arguing cases before the SCOTUS.  You begin by choosing a lawyer, and then choosing a case.  Your choices range from classic cases such as Brown v. Board of Education to more hot button issues such as Snyder v. Phelps, and you can argue for either side successfully.  This is one of the more interesting hidden messages of Argument Wars.  It’s not about perceived who has the moral high ground, but who can structure the better Constitutional argument.  It’s actually more fun to play the side that historically lost to see how workable their argument was.

The game does a great job of summing up both sides of the case in one sentence and then sets you to work.  You start by selecting one of

to make your case.  On the one hand, the cards are structured into real categories of argument, on the other, some of them are ludicrously easy.  Your opponent can then object to your argument if its silly.  If no one objects you then move onto the next portion.  At this stage you select which Constitutional amendment or clause justifies your argument.  The final part is perhaps the most challenging, though more so for being arbitrary than for being actually difficult.  You are required to string together a fill in the blank sentence which sums up the argument, picking from three sets of fragments.

Based on all of this, the judge awards you points, and the side with the most points wins.  At this point, you’re informed how the case actually turned out, and are given the option to “certify your victory” printing out a certificate that can be turned in to a teacher.  It’s easy to see how this game could easily be applied to a history, or street law class.  While it is built for middle school students, it’s actually worthwhile at any level.

This game deserves kudos for a lot of reasons.  It allows students to see how the Constitution is actually applied to law, and how to make a legal argument based upon it.  It simplifies complex legal arguments without unduly sacrificing their meaning, and it’s actually quite fun.  I especially got a kick out of the look of disappointment on my opponent’s avatar when he lost his case.  “Yeah take that Brown,” I found myself saying, “No desegregation for you!”  But then, I tend to get a bit competitive.

Of course, by reducing these cases merely to their Constitutional arguments, and divorcing them of their cultural context, students can loose some important perspective on the social role in Supreme Court cases, and the singular impartial Judge is certainly not at all typical of the Court.  This game, however, is about the meat and bones, not deep analysis.