Home > Practical advice, Teacher examples > Interactive History Class 2019 – Teacher’s Log #3 (Week of 10/21)

Interactive History Class 2019 – Teacher’s Log #3 (Week of 10/21)

Disclaimer: often shockingly little/ sometimes no proofreading; just trying to get the ideas out fast and frequently for those interested

In the second teacher’s log, I wrapped with a historical problem space diagram for “Courtisans [sic] of Versailles.” I received solid analytical papers from the class; we talked about them, then moved on to the meat of the French Revolution itself and playing Polyslash’s We. The Revolution (Steam   &    Good Old Games.)

And then, we got bogged down. Partly because it was my first time teaching this permutation of Interactive History and the first time I had taught the Revolution in years. Partly because of the complicated beast that is, We. The Revolution. I’ve learned some lessons in the process that hopefully will be helpful.

First, the parts where I’d like to improve. If we study games about the French Revolution again next year, I need to cut the lengthy classes on the early years of the Revolution (1789 – 1791) and focus on the years 1792 – 1794 where the events of the games are

placed. I spent too much time on precursors to the Revolution and on the years 1789 – 1791, with the Storming of the Bastille, Abolition of Feudalism and Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen, and the Women’s March on Versailles / October Journee’s. It took a over a week for these lessons. That was somewhat problematic because the events of We. The Revolution and the boardgame, Liberte, (which I opted not to use this first run) are far more focused on the 1792-1794 and Terror. Since this is an interactive history class and the historical study is supposed to support the play and historical analysis of games, this makes good sense.

Still, frankly, I have to seriously consider if I’ll use We. The Revolution again with my seniors. I want to unpack that, because I think what Polyslash has done with this game is so impressive, but from a historical perspective, problematic. So while I think it’s a fascinating and original game with a terrific art style, tone, and topic, it’s a bit difficult to use in class for a few reasons.

Note: I still fundamentally believe in the principle that analyzing and discussing pretty much any historical game can be a valuable educational exercise because the learning takes place as students use evidence to support elements of the game and to challenge other elements (see: “The Unexamined Game Is Not Worth Playing?”  — has it really been 9 years?). There are just some hurdles we faced this first time out that need to be mentioned.

I wrote something of a preliminary historical review of this a few months ago. Preliminary not only because the game is quite long (I would hazard a guess that it takes about 20 hours to play through), but because new game mechanics get introduced well into the game — the strategic competition to win over the Parisian sections, a military game, and these on top of the courtroom and intrigue dynamics that are the core of the game. I limited my review to  the First Act (three acts, each with a number of days, most days spent judging a trial in front of the Revolutionary Tribunal).

Here’s what I found. For survey-course-level learning of the French Revolution, the game poses two significant–not necessarily decisive, but significant–challenges. First it assumes a considerable amount of knowledge of the Revolution or, rather, players familiar with the Revolution will likely enjoy its references more. Second, it truly mangles the historical chronology of the Revolution. This really isn’t a value judgment so much as an observation. (It’s worth noting that different choices will produce different events, but the game presented the following sequence for all of my students.)

Just for example the game presents the following sequence of events The first clear historical event referred to is the assassination of the Mayor Jacques Simoneau, which occurred early in 1792, and is referred to in the past tense in the game. Then WtR jumps to the royal family’s escape and capture at Varennes as an event that happens in game ( June 1791 historically). Then Antoine Quentin de Fouquier-Tinville is appointed as the prosecutor for the Revolutionary Tribunal that the layer presides over as judge — but this happened in March 1793 historically and AQ de F-T is appointed prosecutor at the same time the tribunal is created, historically. Then Louis XVI is tried and executed in game, when historically he was tried and executed in Dec. 1792 – Jan 1793, before the Revolutionary Tribunal was established. These are not minor deviations within the chronology, but a substantial alternate history that often bears little resemblance to the chronology of a developing Revolution, and is not a particularly compelling counterfactual version.

I have some thoughts on this design choice–especially the choice to essentially have multiple historical problem spaces and multiple roles assigned to the player-agent–but here it’s important to note that students will have a tough time understanding the artificial chronology when they are just learning for themselves the historical order of events. Of course, results will vary

If I do use WtR again, I will:

  • focus lessons more exclusively on the period from the Flight to Varennes to the End of the Terror.
  • do some interactive timeline activities with cards for students, but focus mostly on events brought up in WtR. So the Bastille and October journees and DRM and all in a single introductory class, and more depth and on the rise and implementation of Terror. I did a little work with printed chronology cards, but the focus was on events that were too early.
  • Limit, somewhat, learning about main historical figures to those brought up in the game. The good news is that the game hits many of the historical players already part of the game.

Students wrote a formal analysis of Act I of We. The Revolution, and we wrapped up our study with a gentle victory lap playing Philip du Barry’s Revolution a fun revolution-flavored game that does not have a great deal to do with revolutionary mechanics.

This week we start Colonialism and Imperialism and the games Settlers of Catan, Puerto Rico and Heart of Africa.

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  1. October 27, 2019 at 10:27 pm

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