Student Postmortem: Reliving the Revolution [08.31.06]
- Karen Schrier
How can we use emerging technologies to engage students in the learning of history? How can we show that there’s more than one side to every story and multiple ways to look at the past? These are a few questions I was beginning to consider during my second year as a masters student at MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program.
But would I create an interactive scavenger hunt? A guided historic tour? A simulation of a past moment? Or a role-playing game? And how would I do all of this for my graduate thesis—on my own and with no money?
Simultaneously, I began to learn about the potential of handheld technology to enable real world exploration. I started to consider how I could use it to create location-based experiences and learned about a few handheld “augmented reality (AR)” games being developed at MIT, including the MIT Teacher Education Program’s (TEP) Environmental Detectives and RiverCity AR. These were games that took place in the real world and enable participants to access virtual information that was pre-programmed to appear on their GPS-enabled handhelds when they stood at specific locations in the game area. Game players would work together to solve scientific problems happening on the actual MIT campus, by gathering virtual “fake” data and speaking to virtual “fake” people.
Reliving the Revolution
Why not design my own handheld AR game? I was able to use TEP’s new AR game editor toolkit, which enabled me to modify the RiverCity AR to create a game played using GPS-enabled PocketPCs. Prototyped and designed using a highly iterative process, the resulting game is called Reliving the Revolution (RtR). RtR simulates the Battle of Lexington, the famous battle that initiated the American Revolution. But what’s unique is that the game actually takes place in Lexington, Massachusetts and can only take place there.
To play the game, participants try to figure out who fired the first shot at the Battle of Lexington—a mystery that still remains today. To do this, participants explore the historic site of Lexington Common, which still features some of the same buildings and structures from 1775. They use the handheld computers to find and access hot spots of information in specific locations around Lexington. At these spots appear virtual items, like a musket, descriptions of buildings like Buckman Tavern or virtual historic figures, like Paul Revere. The historic figures provide testimonials about what they think happened, and they share evidence in the form of maps, documents, and images.
The catch is that the participants play the game in pairs as one of four different historic roles: an African American slave/Minuteman soldier; a free/white Minuteman soldier; a female loyalist; and a British/Regular soldier. Depending on the role, participants may receive very different evidence: a British soldier might give misinformation to a Minuteman soldier, or a slave might share more insights with a fellow slave. Although participants play the roles in pairs, they are allowed to collaborate with the other roles throughout the game. The game participants must collect and analyze all of the evidence, and then regroup with the other roles at the end to debate who they believe fired the first shot.