Learning and Fun: A History Nerd’s Perspective

I love History. SO. MUCH. In second grade, my elementary school had “career day” where we dressed up like what job we wanted to have when we grew up. I wore a vintage outfit and cape in order to be a “docent seamstress.” In my free time, I would devour books about life in historical time periods. Between history camps, American Girl dolls, cross-stitch samplers, and a history bowl; I learned all kinds of interesting things. I understand that many people aren’t big fans of history. It can seem boring or irrelevant; I get that. I’ve seen lots of boring documentaries in school and I’ve read some history books that make me question, “why am I learning this again?” But learning stuff like this doesn’t have to be dry.
I originally chose to take this course because I am interested in how video games use narrative and stories to educate players. I am very interested in developing educational materials, and I though this class would provide an excellent opportunity to learn some of the skills associated with informal education. Thus, I was excited to select an educational “video game” to research for my class presentation. I had heard about educational games that focused on the Revolutionary War from various educational websites. The Revolutionary War is one of my favorite periods to study (I got star-struck at Colonial Williamsburg). When I found Mission US and its Revolutionary War game, I knew I had found something to satisfy my inner history nerd. Over the weekend, I played through Mission 1, which deals with the occupation of Boston right around the time of the Boston massacre. I also looked at Mission 2, which discusses slavery.
I won’t go into too much detail here about the game, but I have to say that this game is better than some other educational games I have looked at. I like the interactive nature of it. It kind of reminds me of the Oregon Trail (especially Mission 2, which incorporates a lot of travel). Basically, the main character narrates some elements from his or her life, and then the player must fulfill certain “tasks” that the character must complete. You have a little bit of control over what your character says, which is fun because you can make their responses polite, sassy, or neutral. While the animation is a little cheesy, the art and drawings are very high-quality. I’ve definitely had history presented to me in more interesting ways before, but this game isn’t too bad. I wish there were more opportunities to actually engage in the actions your character performs, like operating the printing press. This game reminds me of American Girl online games I used to play when I was younger. They seem to have very similar premises to Mission US, with varying degrees of interactivity. One game follows Kaya, a Native American, through a journey, with some interactive mini-activities along the way, including fishing and building a fire. I think if Mission US incorporated some of these models, the game could be much more exciting. It will be interesting to analyze the educational effectiveness of the game and understand it in the context of other games, educational and recreational.

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