History games were on the agenda at the American Historical Association conference in January. Led by CHNM’s Director of Educational Projects Kelly Schrum, the session, entitled “Playing the Past: Learning Through Digital History Games” was another step in the increased presence of digital history at this year’s conference.
The session featured a knowledgeable panel that included Dan Norton, founding partner and Creative Director of Filament Games (a Madison, WI, company that designs learning-based games); Jeremiah McCall, a high school history teacher at Cincinnati Country Day School and author of the book Gaming the Past: Using Video Games to Teach Secondary History and blog by the same name; and Leah Potter, Media Producer at the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning at CUNY.
The panel explored the use of games to teach and learn history, discussing how games can teach subject matter as well as critical thinking and analysis. The panelists talked about the ways in which games could be valuable tools for engaging students through simulated time travel and role playing, presenting historical concepts and scenarios, and showing the varied outcomes that historical events can have.
Games also have limitations and in addition to playing games, students and teachers can and should analyze them when used in the classroom. Panelists made the point that games may not be the best platform for showing the breath of history, for example, or for teaching about specific events.
To illustrate their point, the panel looked at several games, including Mission US, a web-based game that features free, interactive adventures set in different eras of U.S. History. The group explored Flight to Freedom that simulates the experience of a runaway slave with decisions and consequences for each action. Other games discussed included Do I Have A Right? and several simulation games.
The panel provided new information about the use of games in the teaching of history, as well as a hands-on exploration of several games. Participants actively engaged in the conversation about the usefulness and limitations of games in the classroom and beyond.