For Learning or Fun?

As part of our Revolutionary War unit in the 8th grade, students have a choice of different projects to give them the opportunity to explore aspects of the war we don’t cover in class. This year I added an option that asked students to play the game For Crown or Colony? and write a review of the game. I’m fairly certain that the germ of this idea came from Chad Sansing, who does amazing things with his students and gaming.

I gave students the following questions, not as a template, but to give them a sense of the kinds of things they might address:

  • What works well about the game? (consider plot/story line, characters, activities, graphics)
  • What needs to be improved?
  • How well do you feel the game teaches the history of the American Revolution?
  • How would you change and expand the game?
  • Do you think games are an effective way to teach history?

It was a very popular option and the reviews were thoughtful, both with respect to game design and value in teaching history. One student wrote:

I did realize, upon replaying part of the game, that the view of the Boston Massacre actually changes every time you play. I think that this is a clever idea, as it gives each player different perspectives to build off of when trying to determine who to side with later in the game. The game also did an excellent job of teaching vocabulary and using it in dialog, which can help clarify the meaning of some difficult words. The extras were not incentives for me, but I like the idea of having them, as it may serve as motivation for uneager learners. The graphics were decent, but they did not contribute much to the game.

While this game is one of the better educational games I’ve played, it definitely has room for improvement. I think that the storyline is realistic, presents engaging conflicts, and suffices very well in all areas. I think that the characters are all unique, let the player learn about the Revolution, and are pretty much good to stay. However, the #1 thing that irked me about this game are not the decisions themselves, but how they impact the game. I felt that at some points, the game was “fishing” for me. By “fishing”, I mean that it let me think that a decision I made would impact the game, but then inevitably would amount to the same outcome. To test this, I did a little experiment. The first time I played the game through, I did as I was told, told only the truth, and arrived at a certain outcome. The next time, however, I decided to be a total jerk. Whenever possible, I picked the rudest remark, haphazardly finished tasks, did not respect the British, and saw if something else would happen. But alas, I arrived with the same ending options. Whenever I was rude, the person would just scold me, demand respect, and then continue saying what they said in the first ending, basically defeating the purpose of having choices of what to say in the first place. I was hoping that if I, for example, was rude to a customs official, then I would face punishment and would be help captive by the British. But when I was rude to him, he just scolded me, told me why I should respect him, and walked on. No deviation. Another time, I was rude to the Edes’s whenever I had a choice, thinking that if I was, I would be kicked out and would have to choose another apprenticeship, or perhaps go home and beg my parents to let me stay. But did it give me that choice? Nope. A final example is during the testimony, I totally lied, thinking that if I did, then I would be caught lying, and something bad would happen. But, they merely accepted my contradictory answers with no complaint, and the story went on with absolutely no deviation from the plot the first time I played. The point I’m trying to make here is that if the developers made the choices have much more impact, then the game would be much more interesting. While it does give you said choices at the end, I would much prefer for that to be cut out, and instead have the fate of the protagonist be determined by the player’s actions.

(You can also open a copy of the full review in Word. I’m sharing it with the student’s permission.)

Last year, I just mentioned the game to students and gave then 10 or 15 minutes to play it in class. This year, giving students the opinion of engaging with the game to the point that they could write a serious review of it was useful for capturing the imagination of students who weren’t excited by traditional project options (create a scrapbook, write the scene of a play, write a series of journal entries, etc.).

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