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August 13, 2020
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Rewiring History: Hacking the Past Through Games

by Sande Chen on 10/15/19 11:20:00 pm   Expert Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
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[This article originally appeared on Game Design Aspect under the topic of Game-Based Learning.]

I had recently started looking at the Gaming the Past website and so, I thought this panel called "Rewiring History: Hacking the Past Through Games" at New York Comic Con on October 8, 2019 might be insightful on the issue of counterfactual histories. The panel was targeted towards teachers who were thinking of using games to teach history in the classroom.

But on the whole, what was presented was more of a "You Were There" flavor rather than parallel universes.  For instance, students can witness the 1772 incident, Burning the Gaspee in VR or be immersed in the events leading up to the Boston Massacre in Mission US: For Crown of Colony? (I worked on that game, btw!)  It was great to see Leah Potter from Electric Funstuff put up a list of how students can demonstrate historical knowledge in Mission US games rather than answer essay questions. Violence was briefly discussed, as it might be unavoidable when studying wars, but it was deemed acceptable if appropriate and tastefully done.

The panelists repeatedly stressed the importance of primary sources visible in the game, something commercial developers might not have, and noted that older games might run better on school computers.  A game that had versions for tablets and computers was also preferable since sometimes, students are using whatever devices they can bring to school.

Raul Carvajal, Production Manager at Games For Change, recommended the game Papers, Please even though the game is set in a fictional country and not based on any historical event. The game has an Eastern European/Soviet feel, he said, and gives players an impression of what it would be like to live in that environment.

Other games discussed were 1979 Revolution: Black FridayValiant Hearts, and Assassin's Creed: Origins Discovery Tour.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 15 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

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