The Ideal History/Gaming Syllabus, or, What did I get myself into

Mar 29, 12 The Ideal History/Gaming Syllabus, or, What did I get myself into

In the Fall term this year, I will be teaching a course on games and simulation for history (Hey Carleton students! Sign up for HIST3812 now!). What with all the chaos of a term coming to an end, I haven’t begun to think about what such a syllabus might look like. This post, I suppose, is a first stab. (I do this in the interests of acknowledging all those whose own courses are going to influence mine, the sort of thing we should all be doing, as Katherine Harris suggests).

Now, there’s lots of material here on Play the Past that I’ll be mining for readings. I’ve even tried out some playful suggestions from here in some of my other classes (report here). Jeremey Antley provides a very thoughtful piece on syllabus design here. Drawing on Mark Sample and Chad Black, Jeremey takes us through a piece of backwards design for his ideal course on ‘History through Gaming’.

I want students to be able to critically evaluate a board game, or any game derivative, looking at not only its outward theme and graphics/material pieces but also the mechanics and designer motivations/inspirations that went into the overall play-mechanic design

So what do I want my students to learn as a result of having been through my class on games and simulations for history? I want students to move beyond the outward theme and graphics/materiality. I want my students to be able to critically evaluate the mechanics of any class of game (video, board, interactive fiction, etc) in terms of its historiographic content. I want the students, by the end of the course, to be able to express an argument about history through the mechanics of a game or a simulation.

That will be quite a task, I think, to achieve in 12 sessions. I’m going to build the assessment exercises around Netlogo and Civilization IV (why IV and not V? IV is available much cheaper in local Walmart discount bins. And there’s less of that annoying Steam integration and skinning between the player and the xml and python underneath. That’s another thing: we’ll need to work through some of the Programming Historian in order to get students used to the idea of a coding environment and what Python is all about).

We’ll also be looking at Inform7 as a simulation environment. Since there is a strong conservatism amongst history students (I have found) that privileges textual solitary work, my cunning plan is to at first use Inform7 as a way of ‘reanimating’ the voices found in those archival texts my students so love.  Then we’ll move to Netlogo (see my earlier Practical Necromancy posts), culminating in exploring the way history is written into the fabric of the American Revolution mod that comes bundled with Civ IV as we try to build into it the British North America experience. (I certainly don’t want to replay what happened here, the last time I tried anything along these lines…)

….that’s the plan. I’d also really like to connect with any other classes happening this fall that hit similar themes. Maybe, we could have an inter-campus games-for-history competition.

Thoughts, suggestions, warnings, encouragement?

(image from, the ‘Content Free Encyclopedia’)



  1. Feel free to use the handout I created for a workshop on historical scenarios in Civ IV. Emphasis is mostly on the XML files.

    • Shawn /

      Hi Todd,

      That is fantastic! Thank you.


      • Good, I hope you find it useful. I’m enjoying the blog and using you as cred for getting faculty to use games.

        Good luck,

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