Learning Foreign Space: Teaching World History through Video Games

Sunday, January 6, 2019: 10:00 AM
Williford A (Hilton Chicago)
Brittany Lehman, College of Charleston
Boot up, log in, and walk through Cairo in 49 BCE, just as the Roman Republic begins its last gasps. Look at brightly painted buildings surrounded by painstakingly rendered flora and fauna, not the faded remnants left behind today. Watch as sand kicks up around the player’s feet when they head off to see the Great Sphinx, complete with its nose. In the last ten years, players have had access to ever greater array of historically-themed games. Not only can players visit Cairo in Assassin's Creed Origins (Ubisoft, 2017), but they can also travel to pre-colonial Cameroon in Aurion (Kiro’o Games, 2016), or explore the Northwestern Frontier during the War of 1812 in Over the Hills and Far Away (WarGirl Games, 2015). In each of these games (and many more), players engage with their surroundings directly by both interacting with their environment and making choices. That two-fold engagement is what makes video games so valuable in the World History classroom. This paper discusses some of the uses and methods for--as well as problems with--bringing video games into the classroom. First, I show how how games can impart a sense of space, offering students new global perspectives. The paper then turns the use of games to teach choice as an action, encouraging the students to understand the humanity of historical actors and further examine consequence. I conclude by demonstrating how students written work improves over the course of the semester, as they become more comfortable thinking historically.
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