Sunday, 16 November 2014

The Hope of History Gaming

In a very recent post, I was critical of "Computerized History Games: Narrative Options" by Kevin Kee. I found his take on the history video game to be too academic. But there is still hope for history gaming! One big problem that historians often see when looking at a historical game, book, or movie, is the plethora of historical inaccuracies. This is a fact of life. It is, in fact, impossible to create an accurate representation of the past because history itself is an interpretation of biased sources years after the fact by biased historians, and leads to much controversy and debate.

Nevertheless, it is through these media that many of us first fall in love with history. (Let us know how you came to love history! Take the survey on the right!) Furthermore as Nicolas Trépanier points out in his article "The Assassin’s Perspective: Teaching History with Video Games" (Perspectives on history, 2014) these inaccuracies can be harnessed to teach historical method by using the video games and their inaccuracies as a starting point for discussion on sources and historiography. This is exactly what Trépanier does in his seminar on video games at the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College at the ­University of Mississippi. He enumerates a number of benefits that result from this kind of teaching including student motivation and engagement with the subject matter, as well as the development of critical thinking abilities. Trépanier's approach is quite beneficial to the study of history and more should be done regarding integrating video games and history in this way.

However, the course described by Trépanier is a university level seminar. Can we integrate video games into history teaching in the lower levels of education? I believe so, but I do not believe that they should have a central place in the classroom. In primary and secondary school, students are often learning the established historical narratives from books, projects and teachers. This is when students get a grasp on what happened in the past and contextualize it with what is happening today. Unfortunately, this kind of teaching can be dull. Incorporating a video game such as CivCity: Rome, Sid Meier's Civilization V, or any other age-appropriate history video game into free time at school, or as a reward, could help positively prime kids for later history learning.

In this scenario, it would not matter that the game was riddled with inaccuracies because the purpose would be to get kids familiar with the concept of history and to instill in them a love of history. Later on, as they are formally learning history in the classroom, they will be able to relate it back to their in-game experiences and learn to recognize the inaccuracies for themselves.  After all, where would we be without these historical inaccuracies? What would historians talk about in their spare time?

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