• Playful Historical Thinking

    Hello, THATCampers! My name is Rob MacDougall. I’m an assistant professor of history at the University of Western Ontario; I’m also a longtime gamer and sometime game designer, and I’m hoping to talk at THATCamp about the intersection of games, gaming, and historical thinking.

    Here’s what I said in my THATCamp application, more or less:

    I’d like to talk about games (digital and otherwise), play, and history–how games, toys, and digital play might be used to teach history and encourage playful historical thinking. (My thoughts run towards historical thinking but the conversation can surely include other humanities disciplines too.) Using games to teach in the history and humanities is hardly a new idea, but I must confess that many efforts in this area have not  been too impressive in my eyes. I wonder if we can connect the latest research about historical thinking (Sam Wineburg, Peter Seixas, et al) with developments in gaming and other playful uses of technology (I’m thinking of simulation games & models, but also “pervasive” games/ARGs, history toys/appliances (a la Bill Turkel), and the “procedural rhetoric” of “persuasive games” (Ian Bogost)). I think we ought to work backwards from the kinds of humanistic thinking we would like to inculcate rather than simply shoehorning educational content into existing games.

    (Here’s a longer post on my personal blog, “Old is the New New,” about playful historical thinking. I hope to elaborate further as THATCamp approaches.)

    There must be other THATCampers interested in digital games and play; should we organize a session? Or a game?

8 Comments


  1. chaojaim says:

    I’d be down for a session or a game (or both?) that mixes up games and history. I have a longtime infatuation with simulation-games, and my friend Johnathan Beals (who I’m volunteering here) is building a historical simulation right now!

  2. greenshade says:

    I think our session ideas also naturally go together. 🙂 In my survey of K-12 teachers, I asked what kinds of resources they used to reach their educational goals (teaching historical thinking and habits of mind ranked highly among those goals) but games did not rank highly as resources despite the best intentions of many game developers. I’m interested in how we can close that gap– and how game producers can create resources that will be useful to and sought after by educators.

    Here is a link to my session post as a reminder: http://www.2010.greatlakesthatcamp.org/2010/02/reaching-common-educational-goals-are-public-history-and-digital-humanities-entities-providing-the-resources-educators-want/

  3. this definitely dovetails with my work on serious games for cultural heritage education, outreach, and engagement. I’m currently working on an NEH funded project called “Red Land/Black Land: Teaching Ancient Egyptian History Through Game Based Learning.” The goal of the project is to develop a CIV IV mod that is designed to explore ancient Egyptian history – from the predynastic to the late period. But honestly, the game really isn’t about exploring ancient Egyptian history – its about exploring the construction of historical knowledge…not so much what we know, but how we know it…and how that knowledge has evolved.

    I’m also down with exploring ARGs – I actually taught a class in ARG design a couple of years back.

    I’ve also got a very strong interest in non-digital games (board games, tabletop games, collectible mini and card games, etc.) for cultural heritage learning.

  4. Maybe we should spend the entire session playing boardgames…my office is filled with ’em, and I can bring any number of entertaining games.

  5. Mita says:

    +1 for a game session or a game. You know, I’ve never played a game of werewolf and that’s one game I’d love to try to play.

    My mind is very much in gamespace at the moment as I am currently one of the game runners for Urgent Evoke. . So count me in for discussions on ARGs and serious games!

  6. robotnik says:

    Thanks for the comments, all! Glad to hear there is interest in discussing games and play.

  7. I definitely think an “uber session” on games & play is in order – perhaps a lightly guided rountable-ish discussion? Might be good for everyone interested to come up with 1 issue/topic they are interested in? Or, do we want one overall goal – one overall question that we can all discuss/address?

  8. sikarskie says:

    Love the idea of an uber session on games. I’m looking for all the ideas I can get on using games (digital and/or board games) to teach textile history.

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