Musings on Digital History

Digital Storytelling and Games

Note to self: Jayme, remember that in your Digital History class in your first year of your PhD, your assignment was to play Oregon Trail. Also, remember, you didn’t buy enough food at the beginning of the journey and as a result, you are directly responsible for the deaths of your husband and cousin. You were better at this when you were in elementary school, Kurland.

Growing up, my sister and I were not allowed to play video games, aside from “Typing Tutor” or educational games at school like “Oregon Trail.” Once in a blue moon, we would get to play Super Mario Bros at our babysitter’s house, but we didn’t own any gaming systems. Since then, I have never really had much interest in gaming. When I have tried games like Mario Kart as an adult, I fail miserably and end up running into walls, all while getting kind of dizzy watching the simulated game realm.

I found the article “Using Video Games as a Platform to Teach about the Past” really thought provoking.

Krijn H.J. Boom et al write that

In contrast to factual learning, video games allow players to experience the past by interacting with it as they go, deepening their understanding through reflection and experimentation…Video games inherently allow players access to all these abilities and act, as it were, as a learning conduit.

Krijn H.J. Boom et al, “Using Video Games as a Platform to Teach about the Past,” in Communicating the Past in the Digital Age edited by Sebastian Hageneur (Ubiquity Press, 2020), 31

It seems like the authors are almost encouraging public historians to engage with the public through the use of games, yet, they also warn about the downsides therein. I had never considered the power of video games which portray the historical past, like Call of Duty, could potentially make the player think they understand WWII given the game’s premise. After sharing key case studies, the authors sum up that:

“In order to make more use of video games as an educational platform, both in formal and informal settings, it is important to better understand the educational impact video games have on players, and to find opportunities in which interaction between the players and the past can be discussed or mediated in order for the latter to be more critically assessed.”

Krijn H.J. Boom et al, “Using Video Games as a Platform to Teach about the Past,” in Communicating the Past in the Digital Age edited by Sebastian Hageneur (Ubiquity Press, 2020), 41.

I love the idea of using a technology which is already widely in use and enjoyed, like video games, for teaching history. Why shouldn’t we connect with people on their terms using their preferred methods, instead of expecting them to come to us? But beyond games related to war and warfare, how can other historical events or time periods be adapted to the game format? I also loved learning about RoMeincraft, since I have watched my nieces play Minecraft for years, but had never stopped to think about the historical potential beyond the user’s ability to build worlds.

This week, we learned how to use the app “Twine,” an open-sourced tool for interactive, non-linear storytelling—think chose your own adventure…kind of. Authors Krijn H.J. Boom et al weigh in on Twine’s platform:

“Opposed to traditional linear scholarly writing, Twine can be valuable for interpreting fragments of the past to recreate or envision diverse possible scenarios.”

Krijn H.J. Boom et al, “Using Video Games as a Platform to Teach about the Past,” in Communicating the Past in the Digital Age edited by Sebastian Hageneur (Ubiquity Press, 2020), 36.

I found Twine to be a rather easy platform to learn. Our group (Janet, Caroline, and I) were initially daunted by the task of creating such a project. The research areas we have worked on didn’t seem like appropriate projects to turn into a “choose your own adventure” experience. But once we got to brainstorming, we decided to present a “Culinary Tour of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair” because many household staples in the present were introduced at this event. I think the only thing missing was the ability to actually EAT the food we introduce. So without much further ado, please enjoy playing our game.

7 replies on “Digital Storytelling and Games”

I really enjoyed your blog and your Twine project. It’s really cool to use it as a strategy, choose your own adventure type of platform. My group ended up using it to tell a story, or “how to bust a book,” but I see that Twine has several different possibilities to creating a story. I really enjoyed that yours was a game! Good job and can’t wait to see how your project evolves.

I was blown away by RoMinecraft too, it never ceases to amaze me the things that people have accomplished in Minecraft (such as the library that bypasses censorship that I posted). Truly the limit of video games, especially such open sandbox games like Minecraft, is in the hands of the creator. Our class alone has come up with a dozen of ways to utilize Twine. And the beauty of things like Twine is that they can appeal to even those who have not played video games. Like you mention that normal games can be confusing, watching a virtual reality (my mom gets vertigo watching up play first person games), but something like Twine is extremely accessible in terms of video game savviness. Such a simple platform, made as complicated as the author decides, is a great way to create content for quick consumption by the public in a public history setting.

Hi Jayme.

I am enjoying the enthusiasm you have expressed for this course. I don’t know what you will be doing with your Ph.d, but if you end up teaching, I want to be in your class! The Twine site you created with your friends was so interesting. I suggest you contact Hollywood and offer to film commercials. And I liked the fact that you tied in the slavery background with the character of Aunt Jemima and brought the issue up to date with the current removing of Aunt Jemima from the advertising all together. Who would have guessed that pancakes could be so politically incorrect.

Well done on your group’s Twine story! It’s so great to see the many different avenues and foods to explore. The exhibit is pretty well-realized and contains a lot of fascinating information about some things that we just absolutely take for granted today. And “Rastus!” I never even knew that such a term existed before.

Your food tour of the 1893 World’s Fair is really, really good. I would like to know how you uploaded the images instead of just linking them to their home page. Twine provides museums, libraries, archives, schools with a number of possibilities to tell a story. I’m really impressed with it.

As I mentioned in our conversation, I think just watching video game stories can make for great entertainment, especially for someone who is not great at playing them (me). I wonder if museums could amplify the spectacle portion of video games to allow visitors to participate in and observe the storytelling feature. In Boom’s, et. al. article, the authors mention how families split along generational lines as to how they assisted with Minecraft. There is something to this instance where visitors enjoy sharing in the video game experience without having a controller in their hand. (I realize a controller might be outdated now. I know VR is popular.)

I love your group’s Twine story! That was such a cool idea! You all did a great job putting that together. I love looking at World Fair exhibitions

I had never played Oregon Trail before this past week. I had heard about it from friends, but never played it. I was a lot of fun, but like you, my first time I didn’t get enough food and didn’t hunt enough to help my group survive. I grew up play very few video games (i.e. with the controller) but play many computer, desktop games that were mystery puzzle storylines that followed along with this week’s theme of “choose your adventure” storytelling. Thinking back now, these game were helpful educational tools in learning problem solving and memorization. I think video games can be a very useful educational tool for teaching history. The interactive aspect that video games require and utilize, I believe they can be very helpful in getting students to engage in history.

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