I found myself transported back in time with Mission US: Crown or Colony? (http://www.mission-us.org) Learning really can be fun, and I found myself grinning foolishly as I played the part of Nathanial Wheeler – 14 year old printer apprentice in Boston, 1770. Nathanial or “Nat” faces all the typical challenges of a late eighteenth century youth – who is his “master” in his apprenticeship? What tasks must he complete? Will he be successful and will he earn a living as a “master printer”?
The game masterfully covers daily life, from buying tea and sugar, to how sons inherit property and what sons who do NOT inherit property must do to earn a living. The game also interweaves key issues of the Revolution – such as buying tea – into the story. Nat must buy tea only from “Patriot” sellers, and must be careful not to buy from those loyal to the Crown.
I learned about pennywhistles and jackknives, the Townsend Acts, and smuggled indigo along my way to Revolution. I also faced (as young Nat) the choice – would I support the Crown, or would I join the colonies’ struggle for independence? What were the implications of each choice, and how would I handle them?
The game was lively and interactive. Players interacted with individuals in a question and answer format, so players could tailor the game to their specifications. This created the much sought after “production” and “agency” noted in Gee’s article. Players were also free to wander about Boston, searching for items on her list.
Players needed to collect key terms and key items. These items often highlighted key themes of the Revolution. For example, Nat had to buy tea, cloth and indigo for his master’s wife, Mrs. Edes. He must only buy from Patriots. As he went, he encountered some challenges along the way, the shooting of a Patriot by a British soldier. He must decide what to do, with whom he would side, and how he navigated Boston in that dangerous time before the Revolution.
Collecting terms and items did not seem to have a purpose beyond knowledge. Admittedly, I did not play the game all the way until the end. I worked my way through two chapters, so was hoping to see some benefit or reward to collecting. What is the incentive for the player, other than to get to the next aspect of the game? Great things about the game – I learned as I went, and the game ensured that you got the knowledge they wanted you to get, regardless of the answers to the questions.
Drawbacks – If you failed to pick up a necessary item, there was no clear way to go back and get it. That meant that you could not move on to the next part of the game. For example, Nat was tasked to buy tea, cloth and indigo for Mrs. Edes. I opted not to buy from the questionable gentleman at the port, who indicated that the indigo had been smuggled into Boston. I assumed that the game would have a moral slant to it, so that would be a bad choice. However, I soon discovered that the port was the ONLY place to get the indigo. Too bad that every time I tried to go back, I could not re-engage the questionable gentlemen to get the indigo. Hence, I could not proceed to the next part of the game without going back to a previously saved version and playing that part over. It would have seemed simple to me to have a question set up, saying “What, so you have decided to come back to buy the indigo now, have you?” so that a player could “learn” and correct her mistakes.
This history game has only two modules, one on the Revolutionary War and one on the Civil War. Both use personal experiences to take the player through a simulated scenario and have the player engage with the material, have her make decisions and see the consequences of her actions. I loved the game, and would just like to see a few things improved.