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Playing Games with History

by Tobi Voigt on

I was checking out the Educators and Interpreters Committee page on AASLH’s swanky new website earlier today, and I clicked on the Resources link. Did you know they have posted audio files of some of the most popular sessions from last year’s AASLH Annual Meeting? And you can listen to them FOR FREE? It’s pretty cool.

It turns out one of those you can hear is a session I participated in last year called “Playing Games with History.” I thought I’d also post a blog about the concept, which decidedly does not involve pranking history.

David Schaller, principal at Eduweb, put the session together. He’s done a lot of research and wrote several articles on the science of gaming and how it can be used effectively to help people learn. Here’s a summary of what he has to say during out session:

What makes game so fun? They are situated experiences with problem solving tasks complicated enough to challenge a player, but not too challenging to dissuade them from playing.

What are the key elements to making a successful game?

  • Actions – Players have to DO something, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be a few simple things done over and over. Think rolling the dice and moving along the board in Monopoly, or flinging birds at pigs in Angry Birds.
  • Rules – Game rules create a relationship between actions and meaning. Board games come with a set of rules that players review and internalize before game play starts. Other games, particularly online games like Angry Birds, have rules embedded in the game. You learn how the rules work through trial and error, and game play is part of learning the rules.
  • Skills – This part of gameplay accounts for things players bring to the game. In Monopoly, there are logic skills. In Angry Birds, it may help to have a rudimentary understanding of physics.
  • Chance – As a counterbalance to skills, chance encourages players to take risk. It also makes the game different every time it’s played, adding a layer of uncertainty that alleviates tedium.
  • Feedback – This is a key component, in that it lets people know how they are doing, and allows them to make changes in their actions.

By using all of these elements, games will be fun and effective. They are even more important than the subject of the game!

You can read more of David Schaller’s research at the Eduweb website.

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