Game On!… Not Yet.

I personally found these weeks readings interesting. I would love to see the day when a high school history class involves playing a game for the entire class, that leaves me wanting to play more. I remember when I was in computer class in elementary school, practicing typing on the program All the Right Type. In the field of history however there are not many games as effective. Civilization is an example of one game that involves historical information, taking the users through the stone age to the space age building civilizations. The significance of this should not be understated, the progression of history to digitize has been a gradual process. Thus, Civilization as a use to teach history is a major movement towards more directed and dedicated historical games, such as HistoriCanada. But the question becomes, will games effectively teach history without becoming merely a distraction?

As Geoffrey Rockwell in The Leisure of Serious Games: A Dialogue puts it “…I don’t believe games can be serious.” His point draws on the definition of a game and how this applies to education. Rockwell quotes Caillois stating “a game which one would be forced to play, would at once cease being play.” This argument continues as Kevin Kee and Geoffrey Rockwell argue over the technicalities of how a game is defined. This definition is important, as it distinguishes the purpose of historical video games that could potentially become used in the classroom. However, this sort of use in a high school classroom would change its very definition, as students would be required to play the game, Rockwell’s argument would hold that it would no longer be a game. Rockwell’s doubts that youth will be able to effectively learn from a historical game from concerns of the ‘flow’ of information. Arguing that “because you can’t control the flow. You can’t script the flow of learning…” Kee argues back “…that is what game designers do.” It’s is Rockwell’s concern in the dialogue that such historical games will not teach the user appropriately, potentially misdirecting the user from the intention of the game, which is to teach history. Furthermore, Rockwell does not believe that simulations will be useful in the study of history, at least not as useful as flight simulators are in flight schools.

Geoffrey Rockwell’s arguments are valid, but counter to those arguments Chris Crawford quoted in Towards a Theory of Good History Through Gaming states “game-playing is a vital educational function for any creature capable of learning.” The basis behind this argument is natural selection, using the example of a mother lioness and her baby cub, the cub learns through the games and examples set by the mother, rather than lectures and books. Thus, Crawford deducts that it is possible and beneficial to use computer games as a learning tool. I personally agree with this statement, as I know many institutions that utilize the use of games; such as the flight schools, the military, and other organizations where simulations and games are appropriate practice due to the tasks of that organization.

So why not game on? Why after a couple of decades watching the digital world, especially the internet, explode, have we not seen more historical games? I would argue that historical games are suffering from the same fate that many businesses suffer from, when entering a market still expanding, those companies that produce World of Warcraft and Diablo have gained significant influence over the industry from their popularity alone. These games are based solely on the addiction of its user to the pleasure derived from playing the games. Thus, the late blooming of historical game creation is due more to the fact that the market has focused more on popular culture and popular history rather than an educational function. The questions that historians and game developers alike will struggle with is how to direct the attention of a user for a portion of their day from those aforementioned games to historically based games. History as a whole has been struggling to gain popularity, another question is, will historical games change the study of history for youths, making it more interesting? I certainly hope so and hopefully when that day comes, I can say game on!

Educational Games

I understand that using video games can be really helpful in understanding things in a historical context.  Although I haven’t played it, I heard besides the Assassin in Assassins Creed 3, everyone was there during the Civil War.

Video games would be a great medium for getting historical facts across to the gamers.  These games have become so incredibly efficient at delivering a sense of accomplishment that it would be simple to incorporate historical events and themes without changing what people love about their games.  The way everyone I know seems to play videogames we could end up with a generation of people who’s heads are filled with historical facts rather than being able to recite all the Pokemon.  They will learn history because by wasting their 20’s playing video games, and will escape their dissatisfaction (and learn more history) by playing more video games. Rinse, repeat.

The only thing I was concerned about when reading this is who would be in charge of content?  I used to play video games years ago and 80 percent of the games available were awful.   There was a subsection of awful so bad that it defied all logic.  The gaming industry licenses the rights to make games on their console.  In the perfect world this would be a good way to prevent developers who would misuse the medium.  However, when it comes to these developers, bad stuff accumulates with the good and the more successful they are the less anyone tries to stop it.  That’s because as long as money is coming in who cares?  The most successful console will attract diseased games and because it’s successful people won’t care.

In this sense it’s sort of like Wikipedia.  I can be a very useful tool in getting information across to people, but you need to be wary of where the information is coming from.

Knowing History vs. Thinking Historically

Like many others, I want to note that these week’s readings offered a really fun set of ideas. I’m really glad this class exists..

With that said, I’m encouraged by the pedagogical potential of video games, and the ways that they can stimulate interest by making history more interactive. It’s also true that video games have an undeniable reach; Students of all backgrounds and learning styles can be brought to the table by the always appealing prospect of FUN!

If I can add another con to Sarah’s great list, though, I’d suggest that video games are geared toward helping students get to know history, as opposed to helping students think historically. The distinction is an important one, I believe. Knowing history means expanding your understanding of particular events or historical occurrences (recall Tony’s interest in the Celts from Squire and Barab’s study). Thinking historically, however, means employing your critical faculties to make connections between  phenomena, all while paying attention cause, effect and narrative. There’s more to it, of course, but these are some of the basic sets of skills one would need to have to think historically. Can video games help develop your capacity for interpretation?

I try to partially resolve this question by thinking about the spatial dimension of history that video games expose students to. Think about the landscape in a game like Civilization III — students get to consider things like distance, time and geography, in a way they perhaps wouldn’t while reading text. Does anyone have any other ideas?

Even with this minor criticism,  I recognize that video games can be another valuable tool in the educator’s kit.

Blog #10: That Which We Call a Game by Any Other Name

…could still be considered a useful educational tool? (Grammatically incorrect, I know, but I was going for something poetic. Original credit goes to Shakespeare, of course)

One thing that was made blatantly clear to me in this week’s readings lay in the perception of the word ‘game.’ It seems that ‘game’ has a sort of negative quality ascribed to it, as far as academia is concerned. Games are meant for children, are almost insulting to the intelligence of adults. Games are fun, maybe too much fun, and thus cannot possibly be used outside the realm of ‘kid and play.’

But why is it the case that the two worlds seemingly can’t come together?

Maybe one of the problems lies in the fact that, in the case of computer games (which will be my point of reference), there is a limited number of algorithms that lead to a limited number of possibilities. Sure, even in the case of Kee’s ‘post-modern, paidial’ game situation (433), there’s a greater element of autonomy in being able to ‘choose your own adventure,’ but even this is finite – a developer would have to take all possible known outcomes into consideration, but who’s to say whether there are omissions, intentional or not?

Another point to think about is whether a game’s intended educational purpose needs to be stated, or put into a specific learning context, in order to really enhance one’s understanding of a historical topic. Rockwell and Lee argue, ‘If properly designed players will form conclusions about the system of the world – the constraints, the values, and the interactive possibilities (‘Simulation and Imitation’).’ However, in using the September 12 game example, it seems that in certain cases, one has to be debriefed to really gain any meaningful perspective. Reading the description of the game horrified me personally, and had I not known what the developer’s intention was, I would’ve been outraged.

But one of the most glaring points, and really a theme I found throughout this semester, is that of the area of expertise, and the sort of ‘prestige’ we ascribe to those who are leaders in their particular fields. Perhaps one of the reasons why the use of games as a tool hasn’t caught on has to do with a lack of consultation on the part of the developer, as well as the lack of technological know-how on the part of the historian. However, it’s also clear that the new generation of historians are willing to, or at the very least are open to the possibility of learning how to integrate such different tools of learning into the practice. As Niall Ferguson suggests, ‘Gaming history…[is] an attempt to revitalize history with the kind of technology that kids have pioneered (quoted in Kee et al., 304).’ While I don’t believe games themselves will ever displace the professor/teacher/professional historian, their uses shouldn’t be counted out so quickly.

Website Review: Uses of Oral History

For my review, I came across the website entitled Telling Their Stories: Oral History Archives Project ( The website contains interviews performed by students at the Urban School of San Francisco with elders who witnessed key events during the 20th century. The topics covered are various and include the stories of Holocaust survivors, concentration camp liberators/ witnesses, Japanese American camp internees, etc.

Looking at the various interviews, the website is designed for users to “read, watch, and listen” each first hand account, thus improving the accessibility and impact of each story. As each interview is available in full text and audio/visual, the user can alternate how they approach each subject through these various features. One can either read and/or hear each account, as text for each interview is linked to an associated recording. This acts as quite a nifty feature for cross-referencing or actually hearing the first hand account and the possible emotions attached to it, in a sense adding a more human element for the user approaching these interviews.

Clicking on any of the main topic links, viewers find themselves with various links of those interviewed and grouped by similar subject matters. A short bio is presented under each individual, and choosing one by clicking on their associated link leads to their “read, watch and listen” page, where each one of their stories unfolds into further information. For the more active accounts, chapters are provided and navigable to particular points of an interviewee’s story, allowing the user to jump to certain information they deem relevant or not and increasing the websites overall accessibility.

In order to try and quicken any research or time with the material, a “quick navigation” tab is provided in the lower right hand corner for each account  in order to easily surf between topics and interviews. This feature is helpful because after clicking on some of the texts links and/ or watching the associated videos, going back to previous pages and/or original menus increases in time as each is reloaded in process and there is no real menu bar or something to bypass this all. Working on these links to the main menu and other subjects/ interviews so as to be in more plain in sight can make this website stronger.

As a final note about the design, the attempted “glossary items” tab is an interesting addition that can have useful applications once fully developed. This features is intended to provide short definitions of key historical and geographic terms by moving one’s cursor over an underlined word, but is still in its developing stages and needs more work; once complete though, it appears as though it’ll heighten the users experience by clarifying any terms or points mentioned in the interview.

Overall though, the approach taken through this website is innovative for its effective use of oral history, documenting the personal stories of eyewitnesses and then making these interviews available online for anyone’s use interested in this information. These accounts can contribute to the understanding of a particular subject within a given context and substantiate certain arguments if need be. As a whole, this website contributes to the understanding of how oral accounts can increase historical meaning and understanding of a certain subject by providing first hand accounts that move past certain biased narratives in history and better show the impact of discrimination by those who actually lived it. The opportunities to extend this research into other significant topics in history with further interviews is there and hopefully will continue to expand in the future. At present it appears that students are continuing to work on this project and learning a combination of skills involving historical research, listening, and interviewing as well as digital camera, editing and web-page publishing techniques, which others can learn too if more schools became open to this way of learning and project type.







Blog X: Playing with the Past

First off, I just want to say, how fun is it to read about contemporary research, considered ‘ground-breaking’ for a particular field, going on in Canada? So fun, right?

Okay, now that’s off my chest, I can delve into my actual topical thoughts about “Towards a Theory of Good History Through Gaming.” As with many of the other readings we have done for this course, this week deals, yet again, with this notion of bridging the gap between good academic history practiced by professional historians and the rest of the world who may want, or be required in the case of students, to engage with historical material (forget computers, secretly, this is the real theme of this course). This brings us back to our million dollar question: how can we make use of interest-building strategies without compromising the integrity of our historical content or method? Gaming, in that sense, is no different from open source history, public history, GIS, or oral history – it’s merely another avenue to engagement.

What comes up over and over again, is “historians’ obsession with text;” this idea that, for whatever reason, be it habit, fear of compromising of rigour, or simply historical precedent, historians are reluctant to relinquish academic texts as their primary mode of disseminating information. Furthermore, as with public and open source history, in order to successfully marry gaming and historical study, professional historians have to renounce some of their control over the final product, which, as we have seen in other cases, historians are often not wont to do.

In my opinion, the usefulness of games in teaching history, though not to be ignored, depends on the desired outcome. There is no denying that games and play are fundamental to the way people learn, starting at the earliest of ages; however, what can be learned depends on the nature of the game. In terms of the role playing type games discussed in “Towards a Theory of Good History Through Gaming,” I have a hard time wrapping my head around how students can learn specific historical content, such as the actual chronology and specifics of how historical events unfolded. I do not think it is possible to accurately map real historical events into a game where the chronology or flow of narrative is not fixed but rather shaped by the player’s actions because I do not think it is possible to isolate an event from its particular cause and effect. That said, what students can learn from such games is a larger understanding of the historical landscape, including social, technological, and geographic historical contexts and how cause and effect interacted within this context, more generally. Furthermore, it can help them develop their ability to formulate and consider historical questions. These skills, I would argue, are just as valuable to the history student as precise, factual content.

Blog # 9 Taking Video Games Seriously

In their 2009 dialogue, Dr. Geoffrey Rockwell and Dr. Kevin Kee confront the issue of “serious games”, or more directly, the extent to which video games can be considered effective learning tools.[1] In the interest of hearing both sides of the argument, consider the following additional advantages and disadvantages that videogames bring to the table as an educational medium:


  • The appeal and consumption of videogames transcends many demographic boundaries (age, gender, ethnicity, educational status.) Educational video games therefore attract a wide range of students.
  • Videogames can be useful because they allow the researchers in the field of education to measure students’ performance on a variety of tasks, and can be changed, standardized and understood with ease.
  • Videogames are stimulating for participants. As a result, they can captivate and maintain a student’s undivided attention for long periods of time.
  • Videogames are highly interactive and that may enable tactile learners to retain concepts and experiences more easily than alternative learning methods aimed at visual or auditory learners.
  • Videogames teach eye-hand coordination and visual spatial ability.
  • Videogames familiarize children at an early age with innovative technology. There are several long term benefits of raising tech savvy students. For one, it may help eliminate gender imbalances in IT.


  • Videogame technology is rapidly changing. Therefore, constant upgrading makes the task of evaluating educational value across studies more difficult.
  • If the game is too structurally complex (i.e. involves role-playing or includes objectives, rules and conventions which are supplementary to the educational content) students may become too distracted by the mechanisms to focus on the actual content. This may decrease the amount of information they retain.

There are clear advantages and disadvantages to the use of videogames as learning tools. While videogames cannot be made a cornerstone of curriculum at any level, they cannot be completely dismissed either. Instead, the value of using educational games should be determined on a case by case basis considering the learning style of the student (visual, auditory, tactile) and the nature of the given task or assignment. It’s all a matter of discretion and resourcefulness.


Geoffrey M., Rockwell, and Kee Kevin. Game Studies, “The Leisure of Serious Games: A Dialogue.” Last modified 2011. Accessed November 21, 2012.


Civilization III and HistoriCanada Patch Download Tutorial

Hello History Hackers!

This is a quick (hopefully not overly vague) method of downloading the video game Civilization III and the HistoriCanada patch, which allows players to replicate events surrounding Canada’s History based on the Civilization III game platform.

Enjoy everyone, Good luck :)


Step #1:
Head over to the Steam Online Store. The specific link for the Civilization game is here . Feel free to explore the site, you’ll find a bunch of amazing games at (usually discounted) prices.

Step #2:
Clink the link that reads “Add to Cart”, and proceed to further click the link that reads “Purchase for myself”

Step #3:
You will then be prompted to create a Steam account and download the Steam client. You will have to pay $2.49 for this game. Rest assured, with my word as a recreational gamer (and as other more intense gamers will undoubtedly testify similarly), Steam is a trustworthy company that will keep your credit card information safe and secure. The purpose of the Steam client is to engage the gamer in a program that has its vast catalogue of games carried by the Steam Company available online, to both download on the spot or play and download at a later date. Furthermore, the Steam client ensures that all the games that you’ve downloaded over time will be saved to your now-online Steam account, allowing you to play the games that you desire on a computer that isn’t the specific one that you downloaded the game upon.  It’s extremely interesting to note how that works; how technology and the internet have made the concept of the video-game CD obsolete.

Step #4:
Make your way to a new website; this one being the site for The History Game Canada, more specifically known as HistoriCanada. The exact link for the download page is here. Taking some time to scroll through the remainder of the pages would prove extremely beneficial as to how to game works. It mentions on the site itself that the game was merely meant to be the “What if…?” regarding Canadian History, whilst the site’s intention was to be one that answered the questions surrounding “What was…?”. The site itself displays an external search link for Canadian Encyclopaedias, and also boasts a Forum. Unfortunately, clicking upon the forum link revealed itself to be dead, displaying the evident age, and (lack of) recent relevancy of the game.

Step #5:
The instructions on how to manipulate the HistoriCanada patch on Civilization III is available on the HistoriCanada website, which reads:
1)Download the History Game Canada installer using the link to the left
2) Run the installer
3) Wait for the installer files to extract, this may take several minutes
4) Follow the on-screen instructions
5)Launch the game using the Desktop shortcut or start menu installer.
6) The game works in most situations running Windows Vista and 7, but testing is not complete.

Step #6:
Have some fun with the game! The extremely popular RTS (Real Time Strategy) game genre is one that puts the power of moving and controlling vast amounts of troops in war-themed specific events, at the hands of the game player. Manipulation of the general landscape through mass expansion, coupled with the diversity of troops available to be controlled should provide an enjoyable gaming experience  Furthermore, the HistoriCanada patch allows players to further specify their gaming experience, to isolate the overarching theme of the game between the years 1525 to 1763 in Canada.

Hope this helps!