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!

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