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Twine, Inform, and Designing Interactive History Texts

December 20, 2016 1 comment

(Originally published on  10/3/16)
This is the first in a series of posts intended to get readers thinking more about interactive text as a tool for history and how students might be enabled to design their own researched text-based historical simulation games using the interactive fiction design tool, Twine.

Why Interactive History Texts and Why Twine?

Having students design historical simulation games has been an interest of mine as an educator for at least a decade, going back to the first elective history classes in designing pen and paper simulations games over a decade ago. As the tools to design digital games have steadily become more accessible to non-coders, I have paid attention, hoping to find software that would allow students to create digital historical simulations games. When I first encountered Inform 7, a powerful design tool that enables designers to create text-based games—often termed interactive fiction—it was clearly a legitimate solution to this problem of enabling history students to create digital historical simulation games. So, about eight years ago, after experimenting with students using Inform for design projects in my survey history classes for ninth and tenth graders, I wrote an essay advancing the use of Inform 7 for students to research and design their own text-based historical simulation games and developed some rough materials on Gaming the Past to aid in the creation of such games. Nor was I the only one who connected and the creation of interactive texts in general, to history and history education (See Shawn Graham’s Posts, Writing History with Interactive Fiction and Stranger in These Parts on PlaythePast for just a couple of examples). The essay still holds up, especially the assertion that having students research and design historical simulation games is an outstanding high order thinking assignment that exercises many critical skills of the historian, especially:
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ISACS Presentation 11/4/16

November 4, 2016 Leave a comment

Presented a workshop, Crafting Simulated Worlds of Interactive Text: The Basics of Twine for History, English, and Language Teachers, for the Annual Conference of the Independent School Association of the Central States today. Here’s the pdf of the presentation.  isacs-twine

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Finding Older Historical Games from

September 30, 2016 Leave a comment

originally posted on, April 2016

For a history educator, trying to find suitable simulation games to use in class can be a significant obstacle to using the medium. I have made some lists of potentially viable historical games in Gaming the Past (2011) and my website Hard as it is for me to believe, both are five years old now and new games continue to be available.

Often times, however, the newest games are not the best choices for an educator wishing to use historical games. The newest games need more powerful computers to run them and tend to be significantly more expensive than older games.
Read more…

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New article out

J.McCall (2016) “Teaching History With Digital Historical Games: An Introduction to the Field and Best Practices.” Simulation and Gaming (the abstract is at

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Teacher Design Notes: Using Civilization IV to Learn about Agrarian Societies

May 30, 2014 1 comment

(Originally posted on   5/21/14

Before I begin, a short preface. I have made it something of a personal mission, both as a researcher and writer on historical simulation games and as a classroom teacher, to crack the Civilization IV code. In other words, to find ways to make its educational value commensurate with the significant amount of time and effort it takes for my students to learn to play and become really familiar with the game. Over the years I have made progress here and there building on what I have learned in each implementation. This coming year, I plan to take a big step forward in using Civ in my 9th grade ancient world history class. In the hopes that my process of reasoning, planning, and implementing may prove useful, or at least interesting. I am going to “work out loud”, so to speak, posting blog entries of the work I’m doing reconceptualizing the use of Civ 4 in my classroom. It may well be that some readers will find me to be stating what is obvious to them or confirming ideas and practices they have already adopted in their own classes. I am hopeful, though, that enough readers will find something of interest. Don’t hesitate to let me know whether you find this useful or mundane.

For some time now I have been struck by the parallels between the world systems that Civilization IV presents and the world systems of agrarian civilizations presented by Big Historian David Christian in his excellent, Maps of Time. And it occurs to me that, so long as one believes comparative work and big-picture trends are important components of an ancient world history course, Civilization IV might well be an outstanding tool for examining those trends. So that’s what I’m going to do with Civilization IV in my next course in Ancient World History, use it explicitly to illustrate the core features of agrarian societies and the major trends in ancient world history. I have certainly done bits of this in the past, like using Civ to illustrate Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel hypothesis, but I have never systematically approached the year-long play and investigation of Civ in this way.
Read more…

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IPad and History Games

I’ve stayed pretty quiet about IPads. It’s clearly becoming increasingly important that people who are making a decision whether to go with an IPad or with a Windows/Mac option for games and learning in history or any field know this important detail. At this point, going with IPad effectively shuts one out of playing most (80-90% ?) of the commercial history games and all of the free Flash-based games (which are essentially 99% of web games)  (please correct me  if IPad now runs flash programs (not just the movies)).

I was doing a bit of foraging today for some friends on the IPad and came up with a few games that are excellent options for gaming in the history class and are all on IPad (they do require purchase). I wanted to share these for those who need IPad assistance. Please feel free to post more — there are thousands of apps to browse through, and a lot of dross around the gems.

One of the really promising areas is historical board games that have been ported to IPad.
Catan — I love board Catan with my kids and the computer version is not bad.
Agricola – 17th century peasant agriculture but fun, and applicable to any subsistence society. In some ways it is perfect for IPad: you don’t have to mess with all the fiddly bits of the board game, and there is a fair amount of management/upkeep that the Pad does for you.
Other games
Civilization Revolution – not nearly as good as Civ IV , much simpler model, but definitely workable
Sid Meier’s Pirates
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New article on Ed-Tech and Games by Mercedes Bell

Mercedes Bell, Reevaluating Ed-Tech Tools and Learning Games, at

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New articles on simulation games and history

Posted two recent articles of mine.

From November 2012 The History Teacher: Navigating the Problem Space: The Medium of Simulation Games in the Teaching of History

From spring 2012 Journal of Digital Humanities: Historical Simulations as Problem Spaces: Criticism and Classroom Use

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Navigating the Problem Space: The Medium of Simulation Games in the Teaching of History

February 9, 2013 Leave a comment

The History Teacher published my article in the November 2012 volume. It reflects my latest research and theory on simulation games as a medium, how they compare to more familiar narrative media, and what that means for the classroom. Give it a look and let me know what you think.
The History Teacher is available at most college libraries and through many online databases.

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Playful Learning Initiative on Edgamer

February 9, 2013 Leave a comment

Listen to Zack Gilbert, Gerry James, and I discuss the Playful Learning Initiative and find out how you can participate.
Edgamer 86 Jeremiah McCall and the Learning Games Network
Edgamer 80 Playful Learning Initiative with Jeremiah McCall
Both are also available on Itunes.

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