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Simulation 'Games'

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Anyone who knows me will have heard me argue that the next phase of the ICT-History revolution will involve the adaption of the sophisticated gaming techiques of software like Sim City (which we use in Geography) to simulations in history. This software from a US company called Muzzy Lane claims to do just that. I have been in email contact with producers Nick deKanter and Dan Roy and they tell me that they will be unable to make the software available in Europe: 'Due to a middleware licensing agreement, we are currently limited to distribution only in the United States; however, that can change. If I get an estimate of international sales which justifies the investment in a worldwide license, we would certainly do so.' How can we help them justify the investment?

For more information about the product see this article from the NY Times

Making History is a multiplayer simulation that puts players in control of European governments before, during and after World War II. With a price tag somewhere between $25 and $40, the game is expected to be available in the fall from www .muzzylane.com.

Computer games have been used in education for years, especially at the elementary level, where there are thousands of software titles. At the high school and college level, though, strategy games are generally limited to stock market and election simulations, experts and teachers say. Muzzy Lane aims to change that.

The challenge is to "integrate the learning without preaching to the player," said Dave McCool, the president of Muzzy Lane. "You want to create an environment where they're learning."

The game's designers took elements of entertainment simulations - the graphics, the realistic cause-and-effect, the variety of challenges - and adapted them for classroom use by making the game customizable for different learning levels, breaking it into timed sessions and adding a variety of supporting material for instructors.

Making History starts in the 1930's. Students take on the roles of various European leaders, making decisions on taxes and spending, trade policy, international treaties and military action. The simulation engine calculates the effects of each player's actions and moves the game forward, sometimes with results that differ strikingly from actual events.

Muzzy Lane's designers expect players to rely on their knowledge of history; the game is meant to help them add to it by delving deeper into their history textbooks or Web sites to improve their performance.

Making History is also intended to encourage problem-solving and the understanding of cause and effect. Such skills "are difficult to teach in a textbook-and-lecture format," said Nick deKanter, vice president of Muzzy Lane. He said that a 2002 study from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars found that video game playing "builds on basic instincts for competition, interaction and imagination that are instinctive in so many people." The study recommended "combining these elements with instructive materials, or wrapping important content in a gaming package."

Some teachers have used popular games like SimCity and Civilization in classes, but education specialists say that such programs, while useful, ultimately fall short. "They're good games, but they're inherently weak on education," said Eric Klopfer, an assistant professor of science, education and educational technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "They can be harnessed for education, but they weren't designed from the ground up for education."

One of the biggest drawbacks is the games' lack of support materials to back up the content of the games. Making History will include comparisons to actual events, contextual commentaries and links to other history sources. The educational value of the game action increases when there is time to review and discuss what took place, Mr. McCool said. "We strongly believe that simulations require a good debriefing period."

Making History is broken into sessions that last 45 to 90 minutes; turns can be played in class or assigned as homework. The game can be customized, with the instructor matching the difficulty level to the skills of the class.

"I'm not familiar with anything else on the market that is as comprehensive" as Making History, said Michael Berson, an associate professor of social science education at the University of South Florida.

Muzzy Lane may be breaking new commercial ground, but academia is also working - with some assistance from commercial software developers - to adapt video games for the classroom. This month researchers and some software designers gathered at a two-day conference in Los Angeles to discuss the many issues and challenges that educational video games face. The conference, held in conjunction with the annual Electronic Entertainment Exposition, drew an audience of about 350.

It was organized by the Education Arcade, a consortium of researchers, professors and software designers who have worked since 2002 to find ways to expand the use of video games in education. Based at M.I.T., the Education Arcade has developed a handful of games, including a multiplayer role-playing game set in 1770's Virginia. That game, Revolution, aims to teach about day-to-day life in 18th-century America and the events that led to the American Revolution. The group hopes to make Revolution available to schools later this year.

If Making History and other education titles are to succeed in the classroom, they will have to overcome hurdles like schools' limited budgets and a perception that video games and learning are mutually exclusive. Nonetheless, Mr. McCool said he hoped that teachers and parents who examine Making History would recognize its potential.

Candace Jackson Gray, who teaches history at John F. Kennedy Memorial High School in Mound Bayou, Miss., was introduced to Making History at a trade show and said she planned to use it in her classes in the fall. "I think Muzzy Lane is in the forefront," Ms. Gray said. "I think you'll see a lot of people copy what they're doing."

But while the big entertainment publishers may watch to see how Muzzy Lane does with the new game, they are unlikely to race to develop games expressly for education.

"I would stop well short of calling it a trend," said Doug Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association, a video game industry trade group.

That might change, Mr. Lowenstein said. "The game industry is very conscious about the inevitable broadening of games in our culture, and the broadening of our market," he said. "Everyone recognizes that games are more than entertainment."

No one argues that video games will or should become dominant in the classroom. "Our view isn't that you take the right video game, stick it in a classroom and everything gets better," Mr. McCool said. "But with the right tools, this can significantly enhance learning."


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Anyone who knows me will have heard me argue that the next phase of the ICT-History revolution will involve the adaption of the sophisticated gaming techiques of software like Sim City (which we use in Geography) to simulations in history.

I agree. Twenty years ago I was involved in designing history simulations for the classroom. The main problem was that we had so little computer memory to work with (32k/64k).

That is no longer a problem and it should be possible to produce some spectacular history simulations. However, creating these simulations raises several important questions. For example, it soon became clear that students trusted the feedback that the computer gave more than they would other sources of information. Students tended to see it as a magic box that could not be wrong.

Therefore we had to take great care over arranging the judgements that the program made. This did not stop us being criticised for teaching poor history. For example, our program Attack on the Somme was criticised for giving the impression that the tactics used on the Western Front in the summer of 1916 were bound to fail. That was indeed our view but of course some military historians disagreed on this issue.

It seems to me that this simulation will cause similar problems. I think there is an argument that it is difficult to create a truly accurate simulation based on recent events. For example, a simulation based on the Cold War is fraught with difficulty. As I have pointed out on another thread, as new documents are being released, we are constantly being forced to reassess the past.


It would seem that John F. Kennedy would himself have had trouble designing an accurate Cold War historical simulation between 1960 and 1963. Even he was unaware how far the CIA was pursuing its own foreign policy during this period. Harry Truman made a similar comment about the CIA after he left power. This was also the basis of Dwight Eisenhower’s ‘Military Industrial Complex’ speech in 1961.

What I am saying is that any simulation based on modern events is going to be largely an interpretation of the past that will be shaped by the political perceptions of the designer. That is not of course an argument that they should be produced. However, it is important that the designers (and users) of this programs, are aware of this problem.

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