Storytelling in Games

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Questions for discussion:

1. In what ways large and small, as explained by Bryan Alexander, do games use stories?  Which of these methods might prove most useful to historians designing games?  How might the age of the player (K-6 students versus older players, for example) affect the game designer’s selection of storytelling methods?

2. How do players continue these stories, or expand the story-world of the games, outside of games?  How does such participation expand the learning opportunities for players interested in exploring an historical era?

3. Imagine that you have been asked to design a game about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire for classroom use by eighth through twelfth graders.  Students should emerge from the game with an understanding of what caused the quake and fire, what residents’ and officials’ initial reactions to were to the disaster, and how San Francisco and other large American cities changed their planning and development as a result of the catastrophe.

  • How would you meet these learning outcomes through a game?
  • How much of this information would you provide through exposition in the game, how much of this information would you have available in the game for students to “discover” through quests (or other gameplay), and how much of it would students have to use outside resources to solve?  (So, for example, in early versions of Where in the World in Carmen San Diego?, players had to look up information (outside of the game) on currency, flags, etc. to figure out where Carmen San Diego was hiding.  In some more current games, players can find gameplay “secrets” planted by the game developer on the internet.)
  • Which methods of ensuring players learn such content do you find most or least appealing, and why?
  • If you were to design a version of this game for adult gamers and you wanted to preserve the learning outcomes, how might you change the design of the game, and why?

4. Search the web for information about digital games (broadly defined) that draw significantly on historical events.  After doing a brief survey of games in this category, choose one game, and in the comments of this post, leave a link to information about the game, then answer these questions:

  • Who is the intended audience for this game?  How can you tell?
  • What storytelling devices do these games appear to use?
  • What role does history play in the game?
  • How much historical knowledge must players acquire to successfully complete the game?  Do they acquire that knowledge through playing the game, or does the game expect the players to develop some of that knowledge elsewhere?
  • Are players using social media or developing secondary resources to improve their gameplay?
  • Did your search turn up a lot of games in this category? If so, did you note any trends? If you didn’t find a lot of games, what do you think accounts for their relative lack of popularity?

Comments

  1. Drama in the Delta
    http://www.dramainthedelta.org

    “Drama in the Delta” is a 3-D role-playing game that explores the experiences of Japanese-American internees at two camps located in Arkansas – Rohwer and Jerome.

    The creators have stated that their target audience is K-12. Reviews of the game note that there are elements of boredom and the passage of time incorporated into the game that may make it difficult for younger players to engage. History is at the forefront of the game as the creators have included actual accounts, video clips and photographs from the camps in order to create the “missions.” The game integrates the learning into the actual gameplay so most players can come into the game without much prior knowledge of the period of Japanese-American internment. It seems unlikely, however, that someone would choose to play the game without some understanding the period. Interesting fact…the game has received two start-up grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities totaling almost $75,000.

    There were several historical games that came up in my search results. Most of them did not seem to be geared towards imparting any historical knowledge to game players, though. Many seemed to craft a game onto a historical landscape in an attempt to add some sort of “depth” to the story without any consideration given to the likelihood of the situation.

  2. The game that I have selected is Call of Duty: Black Ops 1 & 2.
    1) The audience that the game is intended for are adults. There is blood, graphic scenes of dead people, and curse words all throughout the story-line and the additional Zombie and Multi-player features. The game is content is rated M for Mature Audience.
    2) The storytelling that is used in this game is broad. There are real time events and structures that you are sent too and move through. The actors in the game may have made up names and so are the enemies, but historical figures always seem to be mentioned as well as the plans or missions that real CIA and Navy Seal officers operated in. The story isn’t necessarily the mission or fighting, but it is the area, time frame, and structures that have and/or still do exist.
    3) You meet historical figures. You see historical structures. The game itself has tactics used in the game has actual tactics from real Navy Seal officers first hand! The original Black Ops used key historical figures and took place in the 1950s and 1960s. President Kennedy and Fidel Castro were mentioned frequently and there are missions where you are sent to real and historically accurate locations. Black Ops 2 mimics this feature taking you to historical structures with pin-point accuracy on the structure themselves. Black Ops 2 has flashbacks to real events in the Middle East in the 1980s by an ex-Navy Seal and continues its story to 2025 to a hypothetical future. Some interesting features are mentioned in this as well. Example, you have a mission where you take a terrorist to the battleship as a prisoner for interrogation named the USS Barack Obama (it sinks).
    4) There is no necessity to gain knowledge outside the game to complete it. However, there is a greater understanding of what the characters or events that are happening around you if knowledge of the situation are already known. My friend Luke beat the game two hours before I did. He’s fast and really good at the shooter. When he asks why I am so slow, I answer that I am captured by the cut scenes. I examine the layout of my surroundings. If I know where I am and see something that history has taught me before, odds are that I will know what will happen next. One day we will have a game where our character is asked if we will be a ground troop in Hiroshima 1945. I will pass but he, being the warmonger that he is, will rush right into it.
    5) Black Ops players do use a multitude of media to help better their gaming. Before the game was released, there were demos to download part of a mission to see how the weapons work and what the layout is like. There are conventions that thousands will attend and take notes on what strategies to use when it comes out months later. Youtube is huge in the gaming world. Gamers learn new releases, gaming content, weapon upgrades or downgrades, and even camouflage for their soldier or weapon of choice. There are even apps available to keep tabs on your performance and performances of others around the world. There is no limit to the assistance that players get from outside sources.
    6) I ran a search and only found a few. Most games nowadays have some non-fiction detail to it here and there but nothing of any worth. I found less than five games on PlayStation 3 that have real events in them or have some educational emphasis and even those games, such as Black Ops, still have a great deal of fiction. I think what lacks the popularity is the education itself. People generally buy games to get away from reality and take a break from their everyday life. People yern for fantasy, excitement, and thrills. Not too many thrills come from working in a civilian cubicle paper-pushing all day. When your eight hours are up, you can enjoy an interactive world with a hint of truth to it. Everyone knows about Russia. I cannot wait to finish my work and log onto my console to visit it…50 years from now with flying metal dragons that I slay with a light saber. You are familiar with Russia…that’s all you need it would seem in today’s world.

  3. Eric Schooley says:

    Eric Schooley
    http://playinghistory.org/items/show/524
    I found a cute little game called “The Colonial Gardener” by The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation on an aggregate for just historical games: playing history.com. I chose this game because it is one of the simpler ones I hadn’t seen before. The intended audience for this game is school children from grades 6 to 12, I can tell because it said so right there on the game’s homepage! The story-telling done is this game is some of the simplest you’re likely to find, on the same level as Angry Birds and shy of Plants vs. Zombies. Basically, you have a garden with two types of plants: flowers and weeds. Water the flowers and dig up the weeds with a hoe. Other than an increasing difficulty, the only story elements I found were: hate the weeds!; love the flowers; and some pretty fun music and sound effects to draw a player into the game. I’m not sure history has much of a role to play in this game, they tell you it’s in Williamsburg ca. 1700, but it could happen in modern suburbia or a space-station garden pod just as easily.
    As a tool for education, this game comes up lacking. There is no historical context or information presented. The gardener IS black, but he’s dressed far too nicely for a field hand. The backgrounds do include structures like wooden cabins and uncut forests, but they are so “cartoonish” that I hardly think they count. It also involves NO study of history, in or out of the game. Which begs the question: how does the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation get away with calling this “educational?” Even the gardening is unrealistic (I’ve never had a flower cry from lack of watering or a weed get surly and actually start roughing up other plants).
    The simple fact that an aggregate of these games even exists is a testament to their popularity, I even saw the Apple 2 version of Oregon Trail, and it seems most of the games designed for kids in these age groups are very simple, with only one or two plot devices (if any). I think this is because most of them are designed to be accessed only occasionally, in a classroom, for a specific purpose. Some of these games are very useful and educational, but I picked one based on flash and that’s all I got: all flash, no substance.

  4. I chose Age of Mythology, an old PC game I played. The game is rated T, so the target audience is anyone over the age of 13. It is a battle/war game so the audience should prefer playing a strategy game with slight violence. Other than the age restriction, I would say the game appeals to any age. There’s the strategy of building a city, creating mythical creatures, and surviving attacks from opposing armies. It very much resembles Age of Empire – and is in fact a spin off from that original series – but includes more of a historical aspect with the mythological theme. History, or at least mythology, plays an instrumental part in the plot. Going through the different eras you as the act out different mythological stories. For example, in one section the goal is to collect all the separated body parts of Osiris and place them back together. You can use the goddess Isis as a character under your control and she brings with her certain powers and abilities. Each era or civilization has different gods and heroes with their own perks.
    There is no historical background necessary to play the game. The game narrates your different goals and gives you superficial knowledge of the different ‘heroes’ and creatures you earn. If so inclined, like I was even as a teenager, you can click on the creature or hero and read descriptions of their true mythological background. All historical knowledge necessary is contained within the game. The player does not have to search Achilles and his backstory in order to use him to defeat the Norse city on the screen.
    This game, unfortunately, seems to have fallen out of fashion. Even the original website has broken links and looks about a decade old (certainly makes me feel my age). It, like Age of Empires, was extremely popular in its day and still seems to be a favorite among those who originally played. Any discussion about the game is outdated and there was only ever one expansion pack to the original. I feel that strategy games have fallen into a less popular trend behind the first-person shooters available. It’s a pity, really, since this game was informative as well as entertaining in my youth. Despite its age and apparent fall out of memory, I still find myself wondering if they ever made a version i could play on my Mac…. hmmm…

    I’m including the Wikipedia link as well as the original. The original website, as I said above, has broken links. If anyone is interested, the Wikipedia link will describe it much better.

    http://www.microsoft.com/games/ageofmythology/norse_home.aspx
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_Mythology

  5. Aaron Elfering says:

    Who is the intended audience for this game? How can you tell?
    What storytelling devices do these games appear to use?
    What role does history play in the game?
    How much historical knowledge must players acquire to successfully complete the game? Do they acquire that knowledge through playing the game, or does the game expect the players to develop some of that knowledge elsewhere?
    Are players using social media or developing secondary resources to improve their gameplay?
    Did your search turn up a lot of games in this category? If so, did you note any trends? If you didn’t find a lot of games, what do you think accounts for their relative lack of popularity?

    Age of Empires is a now long running series with noteworthy amounts of historical content. The target audience is fairly broad as most of these games can be setup for relative ease of play but the real time strategy playstyle allows for the games to be extremely challenging when desired. The fact that the user can often sit down for a quick 20 minute skirmish and then go about their day makes these games more appealing to adult crowds as well.

    This series often uses a series of missions and cutscenes to paint pictures of ancient civilizations and recreate important historical battles using influential characters. Although no historical knowledge is needed to play the game successfully, I personally believe that a fair understanding of general Western Civ. history amplifies the users experience significantly. Its safe to say that a fair amount of relatively accurate historical knowledge can be gained just from playing through the main campaign of one of these great games. Although I’m not sure this exact series utilizes social media at this point, many spinoff games have taken root from the Age of Empires series and exist solely on a social media platform.

  6. lucasasprouse says:

    FLIGHT TO FREEDOM: http://www.mission-us.org/pages/landing-mission-2

    This is a role-playing game intended for late elementary and middle school children, apparent from the clean graphics, low quality diction, small amount of text, and easy to follow flow of the game. Students become 14 year old Lucy King, an enslaved at a plantation in Kentucky in 1848. The students are faced with life decisions which allow them to experience, first hand, southern plantation life, slave conditions, the ethics of being a runaway slave, the Underground Railroad, abolitionists… Narrative texts, maps, and videos (social media of varying sorts) explain historically important events, ideas, and people to the students as they traverse through the game. Students are encouraged to click on key concepts and historical terms highlighted in yellow to learn more (under the guise of Lucy gaining literacy skills to help her escape slavery). This information is all internal and allows learning to coincide without having to search elsewhere on the internet or in a secondary source. Trial and error also teach students about the harsh realities that existed in these times. For example, Lucy might get caught before reaching freedom in Ohio and be returned to her master where she is brutally beaten. Obviously, a wrong decision was made and the student is forced to rethink their decisions. This looks like a great game.

    As for searching for digital history games, I found very few that were promising. The vast majority that showed up in my search engine were digital games that also had the word “history” somewhere on the same webpage… Historically minded digital games are simply not the most popular thing in today’s world.

  7. Ellie Couchum says:

    Ellie Couchum

    Search the web for information about digital games (broadly defined) that draw significantly on historical events. After doing a brief survey of games in this category, choose one game, and in the comments of this post, leave a link to information about the game, then answer these questions: http://www.historyglobe.com/jamestown/
    Who is the intended audience for this game? How can you tell? The game is This game is “created by History Globe as a learning activity for elementary and middle school history/social studies students.” This statement is found on the main page.
    What storytelling devices do these games appear to use? There is an explanation device as well as the character device.
    What role does history play in the game? Early 1600s when settlers came from England to settled in the new world. This is the setting and time of the game.
    How much historical knowledge must players acquire to successfully complete the game? It doesn’t seem like you need to know any of the history. It looks as though if all you have to do is continue to follow the instructions that will be given to you and you are allowed to ask questions and get help from the characters in the game.
    Do they acquire that knowledge through playing the game, or does the game expect the players to develop some of that knowledge elsewhere? It looks as if you, the player, acquire knowledge throughout the game.
    Are players using social media or developing secondary resources to improve their gameplay? Unable to tell at this point.
    Did your search turn up a lot of games in this category? If so, did you note any trends?
    If you didn’t find a lot of games, what do you think accounts for their relative lack of popularity? I found quite a few games. I didn’t notice any real trends but there were quite a few quizzes to test what you already know about history.
    I didn’t get into the game, however, it looked very appealing and by the looks of the setup of the explanation, the game would be appealing to elementary or jr. high students.

  8. coreyclyne says:

    Hell’s Highway by UBISOft is an addition to Brothers in arms series that places the player in WWII”s Operation Market Garden. Market Garden was the largest airborne drop in history. The player is a member of the 101st airborne division charged with keeping the road open for British 30 corps to advance to the famous “bridge too far” at Arnhem.
    1. The game is rated M for mature, 17 year olds and up, due to its violence as a shooter game. The level of violence is an indicator for the rating and the use of four letter words. This type of game is aimed for male but I know several females who have played it as well and enjoyed it.
    2. Story devices include video feeds of historical events during the operation; historical clothing and equipment on the characters and historical setting are all employed as story devices.
    3. History is present throughout the game and the player can command his squad of men in a close representation of WWII squad tactics.
    4. The play will benefit from knowledge of WWII weapons and infantry tactics but it is not required. The player can’t help but be inspired to investigate Operation Market Garden and airborne operations in WWII.
    5. There is an option for multi -player action. Players can also discuss the game and history of the games chat forum.
    6. This is a very popular game in a series of first person shooter types. It is first in the series to have multi- player and multi character commands in the action. There is a trend for better accuracy in the settings and authenticity of the uniforms and equipment.

  9. Caitlin shannahan says:

    http://www.totalwar.com/en_us/

    The game I have researched for historical use is called “Total War.” It is a time, setting, tactical based battle game. The game is a series of era’s including Medieval, Shogun, Rome, Empire, Napoleon, and sequels to each era. Each game is separate. Total War’s focus is creating a historically accurate environment for players in battle. This game is intended for a more mature audience due to graphics, and the rating is not appropriate for children. This game is intended for those that do not have background in historical knowledge, but will acquire it while they play the game. The main focus of this game is historical knowledge during battles. Outside resources are not required for this game to achieve success.
    During my research for games, I found two extremes. Games were historically focused based off of previous knowledge, or historical setting games where knowledge was not required. I am curios to see if other students found game that were a mixture between the two extremes. The pattern of historically based movies was apparent, that pattern was battles. There were many more battle strategical based games. I would imagine this is for entertainment and audience.

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