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Historical Twine Talk at VALUE Workshop

September 5, 2017 Leave a comment

On September 5th, I had the pleasure of talking about Twine and history with attendees of the VALUE projects’ “Interactive Pasts Workshop: Interactive (Hi-)storytelling,” following my video presentation,  Crafting Interactive Histories:
Twine and Choice-Based Interactive Historical Texts.

Link to the Video

Path of Honors Project

Writings

Chapman, A. (2016). Digital Games as History: How Videogames Represent the Past and Offer Access to Historical Practice. London: Routledge.

Dening, Greg, Performing cross-culturally,” Australasian Journal of American Studies, Vol. 25, No. 2 (December 2006), pp. 1-11

McCall, J. (2011). Gaming the Past: Using Video Games to Teach Secondary History. Routledge.

McCall, J. (2012). Navigating the Problem Space: The Medium of Simulation Games in the Teaching of HistoryThe History Teacher 45 , 9-28.

McCall, J. (2012). Historical simulations as problem spaces: Criticism and classroom use. Journal of Digital Humanities 1.

Short, Emily — To many great essays to link to at her blog, but here are a few.

 

Interactive Texts

Jeremiah McCall (me) – Path of Honors Project

Rachel Ponce – Surviving History: The Fever

Neville Morley – Might and Right, the Athenian Version

Max Kreminski – Epitaph

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History Respawned Podcast with Me on Twine

In early August 2017, I had the pleasure of joining Bob Whitaker and John Harney on History Respawned, a podcast and sometimes YouTube video on history and games. We discussed Twine as a tool for history and in history education, and a number of other topics involving games and learning in history.

 

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The Problem of Historical Choices in Twine Game Design – A Response to Neville Morley

Neville Morley (@NevilleMorley)and I (@gamingthpast)have been exploring the ramifications of Twine for developing interactive historical texts. My main ongoing experiment is the Path of Honors project, an interactive text about a fictional Roman aristocrat going through the very historical process of pursuing an aristocratic career. I call this sort of interactive text an “every person” approach in that it focuses on a historical situation but has a protagonist that did not exist, in an authentic set of circumstances. Neville is working on Might and Right, an investigation of the Athenian treatment of the polis of Melos in the Peloponnesian War. Neville’s text is what I would characterize as a “specific agent” approach, in that the player takes the role of Cleomedes, an Athenian general who was, in fact, in a command position at Melos in 416.  A very quick bit of historical setup, quoted from Neville’s Twine:

The small island of Melos in the Cyclades, halfway between Athens and Crete, was originally a Spartan colony, and so had refused to join the Athenian alliance. Officially the Melians remain neutral, but in recent years their leaders have sided openly with Sparta. Now the Athenians have sent an expedition of 38 ships and 2,000 troops to demand the island’s unconditional surrender.

Neville has finished a version where the Athenian player, as Cleomedes, determines the fate of the Melians.

In a recent tweet I made a light-hearted, yet serious, attempt to propose a rule about historical game development in choice-based work that I jokingly titled, McCall’s Rule of Good Choices in a Historical Game: “The Designer must provide situations where there is more than one viable choice, and the historical choice cannot always be the only viable choice.” 

Interested readers can read some of the thinking behind this in my post on Meaningful Choices in Historical Twines. Neville, who is working through the problem of the Melians in his interactive text tweeted back some great questions:

Does the existence of several viable choices imply existence of different outcomes, or only different routes to the same likely outcome? I’m continuing to think of the Melians, and whether there is any historically plausible way in which they might ‘win’… …beyond simply hoping that something, like a Spartan fleet, will turn up to save them. Do *they* have viable choices?)

So just to make sure everyone is with us: how does one design the Melian side of this interactive text, be historically authentic, yet actually provide viable choices for the Melians? Melos was small; Athens was huge. The Melians could not defeat the Athenians, nor could they last forever if the Athenians besieged the city. Assuming the Athenians chose to take the city, there was essentially nothing the Melians could do to prevent it. But Neville intended to craft a Twine that would allow the player to take both Athenian and Melian characters and see the conflict through different agents.

So, how does one follow McCall’s Rule of Good Choices in a Historical Game when the player-agent historically has no options?

Some possibilities for tackling this problem. Let’s assume we’re talking about Twine or other choice-based interactive histories–the discussion will be relevant for any historical game with narrative choices, and probably for most historical games, period. Let’s also assume that the point, as it is for Neville and me, to develop interactive history that authentically, in a counterfactual yet evidence supported manner, allows one to explore plausibly different choices in the past.

Here are the three answers that occur to me at the moment.

Approach #1: Don’t give the Melians their own Twine. Don’t try to give only unrealistic choices for an agent.

Though it may seem like a cop-out, this is an important option. Arguably, the Melians should not have a Twine, at least not one that focuses on the same period and types of decision-making as that of the Athenians. If the point is to make an authentic historical Twine, counterfactual but solidly based in the evidence of what was realistically possible, the options available to the representatives of Melo were practically non-existent in terms of diplomatic and military options. Designing a Twine that suggests otherwise is historically problematic. From a pedagogical perspective, the follow up intellectual exercise could be to discuss whether this view of Melian options is accurate. Does the evidence really suggest the Melians had no plausible diplomatic and military choices they could make (just a note: I agree that Melian options were slight at best; my point here is that the discussion is worth having with other students of history; the exercise itself can build historical reasoning skills)

Approach #2: Give them plausible choices in that they could have opted to do X but have the effects be historically/realistically non-productive.

Jillian Jevack led the way here with her MA Thesis at Ohio State in the form of an interactive scholarly text on purchasing a home in Chicago in 1960. The text is researched, footnoted, and high quality work. What is worth noting here is how the different protagonists fare. It’s been awhile since I’ve played it, but what I haven’t forgotton is how differently the white and black families fare in their aspiration to own a house in Chicago’s suburbs. If the player chooses the white family as their “character” they have all manner of options for purchasing houses in all manner of neighborhoods. Playing the black family results in a great deal of frustration. In this case, the player can attempt to buy homes in different places, but is blocked in their attempts every step of the way. This leads to a sense of frustration for the player, which I assume is one the main points of the thesis.

So, following this route, the Melian player is given military and diplomatic choices that Neville knows will assuredly fail. So, for example, the Melian player could have the choice of leading a phalanx out of the city to confront the Athenian force in pitched battle. The tiny Melian force would assuredly have been overwhelmed. But let’s assume the player does not know that. Having this as a choice allows the Melian player agency and a “viable” “plausible” choice, but has historical effects for that hypothetical choice: destruction. Surely the Melians could have opted to fight, to make a last stand, despite the odds?

This approach is a really important one and requires more discussion, no doubt, but I’ll leave it at this and hope there’s enough to spark more conversation.

 

Approach #3: Reconceptualize what kind of choices and agents are picked.

 This approach blurs with #2 and #3. Simply put, if the Melians polis as a collective had no choices of this kind at the point the Athenians arrived, could selecting different but related agents and decisions points for the Melian playthrough yield fruitful results? Perhaps one could be an individual Melian choosing whether to defect to Athens, to try to slip out of the city, etc.? That may be too counterfactually fuzzy, however, and not serve. Could the Melian game start back when they had the choice of whether or not to aid Sparta?
I’d love to hear comments on this from anyone interested.
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Student-designed historical Twines posted 5/10/17

At the end of the day on 5/10/17, I will post (on my Philome.la Twine site) a selection of Twine interactive history texts, designed by my ninth-graders at Cincinnati Country Day School during the third quarter of this 2016-17 year. The designers’ names have been replaced by their initials. I am very pleased and excited to post these as excellent examples of historical Twines and hope they will inspire similar projects at other schools and more discussion about Twine as a history pedagogy. For now, I want to include a few caveats that I think are important to appreciating the examples.

  • These were selected from among the best projects. Best does not mean 100% historically accurate (whatever that means anyway) or always grammatically correct/stylisyically elegant. Please remember: these are 14 and 15 year olds
  • They were the product of a quarter-long research and design project (see the specs and rubric I used) that began with a short research essay on their historical figure and scenario
  • They were revised after an initial grading for a revision grade
  • I asked the students to do one more proofread before posting

Let me know if you have questions or comments, particularly if you’d like to try something like this in your own classes!

The List of 2017 Interactive Histories

Hatshepsut’s Rule

The Assassination of Caesar

Mary, Bloody Mary

The Siege of Paris, 845

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Meaningful Choices in Twine, History & Counterfactual History (PoH Notes, Part 2)

Path of Honors (here at my Twine site on philome.la) is an experimental interactive history that I am designing in bits and pieces. The plan is to model an aristocratic Roman as he played the game of politics and sought to win election to offices and gain prestige and dignity for himself and his family. PoH  is skeletal right now and will likely take years to finish. In the meantime I hope it will provoke conversation and suggest what historians could do with the interactive medium of choice-based texts. Lucas Coyne, a doctoral student in U.S. History at Loyola University in Chicago, sent me a list of terrific questions about Path of Honors (play here). Their depth and breadth encouraged me to write and post the answers as pieces on PlaythePast. For questions 1-3, see this essay. Here is question #4: I’ll answer more soon.

 

4) Lucas: In one article on [Path of Honors], you wrote: “The designer must provide situations where there is more than one viable choice and the historical choice cannot always be the only viable choice.” Then, how do you deal with entirely ahistorical outcomes? Should those be primarily avoided, or should there be some acceptance of counterfactuals based on our understanding of the underlying things going on? (I realize the structure of PoH limits this, but I’m interested in the general sense)

I‘ve spent a lot of time thinking about your question and coming up with different responses and false starts because asking what choices were available to a historical agent is at the heart of counterfactual history and the very issue of agency/free will in humans (the latter I have been teaching in a philosophy elective this season, which makes me less certain than normal about such things). Some other time, hopefully we can explore those issues. In the meantime, I’ll  focus on PoH and choice in PoH, since that’s what inspired my comment.

Read more…

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Path of Honors — Thoughts behind the design of an interactive history

February 27, 2017 3 comments

Path of Honors (here at my Twine site on philome.la) is an experimental interactive history that I am designing in bits and pieces. The plan is to model an aristocratic Roman as he played the game of politics and sought to win election to offices and gain prestige and dignity for himself and his family. PoH  is skeletal right now and will likely take years to finish. In the meantime I hope it will provoke conversation and suggest what historians could do with the interactive medium of choice-based texts.

Lucas Coyne, a doctoral student in U.S. History at Loyola University in Chicago, sent me a list of terrific questions tabout Path of Honors (play here). Their depth and breadth encouraged me to write and post the answers as pieces on PlaythePast. These are the first three: I’ll answer more in upcoming weeks.

1. Ideally, what is the audience for this project, particularly in its completed state?
Path of Honors is an attempt to do several things in the realm of developing an interactive historical text using Twine. The first was simply to get myself more acquainted with the specifics of the tool so that I could better Read more…

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Meaningful Choices(Twine Developer Diary)

February 12, 2017 Leave a comment

(this essay was originally published 10/18/16 on Playthepast.org)

This is the third in a series of posts intended to get readers thinking more about interactive text as a tool for history education and how students might be enabled to design their own researched, text-based historical simulation games using the interactive fiction design tool, Twine. The first post discussed the differences between Twine and Inform. Last week’s post was a Teacher’s Diary, recounting the set up of the Twine project in a high school senior history elective.

A little something different with this week’s post. I have placed the current, very incomplete and very rough start to Path of Honors, the Twine interactive history I am developing as my students create their own interactive histories for our Roman Republic Class. http://www.philome.la/gamingthepast/path-of-honors-experimental. If you do have a chance to try it and want to comment, go ahead and comment on this post
Read more…

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