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A historian's take on gaming for education.

Gaming and education aren't too commonly connected, yet RPGs can be useful tools both in and outside the classroom. As a historian with a focus on ancient and medieval history, I had the opportunity to engage with a historical RPG system created with the intent of blending gaming and education called Reacting to The Past. The game system allows for campaigns to occur in a number of historical settings from the Council of Nicea to Japan 1941 and beyond, the campaign we played through involved the Fourth Crusade. The system works by assigning each player a particular historical character that can be a part of one of the various factions, or an “indeterminate” that can later choose a faction to join, character sheets are premade that include faction objectives, individual objectives, and a secret objective.

Art of a history classroom, bright colours with sun shining through the window
Image by upkylak on Freepik

Players then work together in the classroom to tackle a number of historical events based on the campaign they are playing, with the outcome capable of aligning with what really happened, or something entirely different. Inhabiting a character for a number of weeks allows for a different form of learning to take place compared to lectures, and students enjoyed the activity. To ensure that some form of learning that can be graded occurs, each character is required to give speeches to the class based on what is going on in the campaign. For example, in the Fourth Crusade campaign, a student playing the character of a crusader in favour of feudalism may give a speech during the March Pact discussions explaining their stance.

While not as play-heavy as other historical RPGs like Civilization, systems like Reacting to The Past have their merit as they allow for a deeper understanding of the real history through roleplaying and debriefing, and give students the ability to understand better the motivations, lives, and consequences of the historical figures they are playing as. Through hands-on learning, speech giving, and building research skills historical RPGs have a place in education as they are able to engage students' minds and provide skill-building activities for all learning styles. Younger students learn through play, and historical RPGs allow for that same idea in post-secondary education, where the importance of play is often forgotten.

Artwork of students in a library
Image by macrovector on Freepik

If you're planning on starting a new campaign soon, why not check out Misty Moon Illustrations guide to building great character backstories?


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