Serious games are opening up new ways for students to explore history.
Ball State University, a 2012 ESA Foundation grant recipient, recently developed a strategy game called The Underground Railroad in the Ohio River Valley, which guides players through the treacherous experience men and women faced as they escaped slavery in the United States. Players take on the role of escaped slaves and travel across Indiana and other Midwestern states on their way to Canada. Along the way, players must decide which route is best and where they can stop to rest without being detected or recaptured.
"Even though the Underground Railroad has been well studied, there are a lot of myths and legends connected to the era," said Ron Morris, Ball State University history professor. "We hope to enrich the curriculum and instructional practices of teachers and students by creating a way they can experience some of the decisions while trying to get to the safety of the north."
Similarly, multimedia project Mission U.S., with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Humanities, developed Flight to Freedom to immerse students in the politically-charged pre-Civil War era. Gamers play as Lucy King, a fictional 14-year-old slave living in Kentucky in 1848. As they make their way to northern Ohio, students learn about how slave owners, abolitionists, and political events, such as the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, impacted U.S. history. Mission U.S. also offers teachers a variety of supporting materials to augment the game's educational value, including writing prompts, vocabulary guides, historical review questions, and additional classroom activities.
As students and educators embrace digital entertainment as a learning tool, interactive entertainment software provides an engaging medium to understand and appreciate the significant challenges and accomplishments that shape American history.