Games as Tools for Historical Awareness

History education is having a moment in the spotlight. Universities across Europe and North America are redirecting funding from history departments towards STEM programs they say will boost enrolment and lead to lucrative job opportunities for graduates, an argument which frames the study of history as dated and obsolete.

But research shows that studying history has benefits stretching far beyond a knowledge of the past. Experts argue that history education should move away from the memorisation of facts and figures and focus on cultivating historical awareness (Aisiah, Suhartono, & Sumarno, 2016), defined as “a level of appreciation of the meaning and essence of history as a guide to facing the present and the future” (Meihan 2021). This definition emphasises the utility of history education as a means through which students can learn lessons from the past and apply them to their understanding of the present. This can facilitate a more critical understanding of ongoing social issues; for example, a student well-versed in a state’s history of racist policies may see marginalised groups as victims of legal and socioeconomic discrimination, rather than as inherently different ‘others’ that deserve to be excluded. Such an understanding can strengthen the social fabric at a time when it is threatened by misinformation and exclusionary politics.

With so much at stake, it is important that teachers carefully plan their lessons and integrate activities that generate greater involvement in history. In particular, educators should facilitate active learning, which will boost students’ engagement with and understanding of the material they are taught (Silfa, 2021). To this end, video games can play a role: as interactive, immersive, entertaining tools, they can engage students in learning about a subject which is often perceived as challenging and dry (Sauve, Renaud & Kaufman, 2010).

Although popular history-themed commercial video games exist, such as Valiant Hearts (Ubisoft, 2014) and the Assassin’s Creed series (Ubisoft, 2007), they are rarely used in formal education, largely due to concerns about their historical accuracy (see Fisher, 2011). Nevertheless, history-themed video games can act as an informal way to learn about the past, sparking players’ interest and motivating them to independently search for additional information and verify the accuracy of the games’ portrayal of history. Thus, by referring to external resources, players engaged in historical video games unconsciously take on the role of historians (Fisher 2011).

The MEMENTOES project builds on the potential of video games as a tool to achieve historical awareness. MEMENTOES develops three video games focusing on significant historical events, which are created in close collaboration with three museums to ensure historical accuracy. The project aims to evaluate the games in user studies which assess several factors, including their potential to shape historical awareness and encourage empathy for different groups. The evidence provided by the studies will lead to the creation of a list of quality criteria and the development of a framework that can be used by developers of similar video games to ensure that historical awareness, among other things, can be achieved.

Written by ICS-FORTH.

References

  • Aisiah, A., Suhartono, S., & Sumarno, S. (2016). The measurement model of historical awareness. REID (Research and Evaluation in Education), 2(2), 108-121.
  • Meihan, Andre & Sariyatun, & Ardianto, Deny. (2021). ANALYSIS OF STUDENT’S HISTORICAL AWARENESS LEVEL AS THE BASIS OF DEVELOPING HISTORICAL LEARNING MEDIA BASED ON MOBILE LEARNING. International Journal of Education and Social Science Research, 04, 36-45. 10.37500/IJESSR.2021.4106.
  • Silfa, W. (2021, September). Historical Awareness Through the Use of the WhatsApp Group Application as a Distance Learning Media. In 6th International Conference on Education & Social Sciences (ICESS 2021)(pp. 370-375). Atlantis Press.
  • Fisher, S. (2011). Playing with World War II: A small-scale study of learning in video games. ..5(8).
  • Sauvé, L., Renaud, L., & Kaufman, D. (2010). The efficacy of games and simulations for learning. In Educational gameplay and simulation environments: Case studies and lessons learned(pp. 252-270). IGI Global.

 

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