Because Slavery Should Not Be Edtech Gamified #slavesimulation

my great grandfather, a product of slavery

my great grandfather, a product of slavery

It’s been four days now of complete and total commitment to bringing forth awareness about PBS affiliate, ThirteenNY‘s “game” on slaves escaping to freedom in which badges are awarded for risks along the way. This “game”, which received exceptional reviews AND AWARDS from teachers and media affiliates from all over the country, has been used in classrooms since at least 2012.

Reviews like… (as posted to their website and linked)

KOTAKU – They Made a Video Game About Slavery, And It’s Actually Good
“It’s not only an engaging video game, it’s a harrowing, illuminating look at the realities of life as an American slave…
I was struck by how effectively the game placed me in the shoes of an American slave. The precarious nature of my existence was readily apparent… 

USA TODAY – 4 out of 4 stars – Kids relive history with free role-playing game
“realistic” “brilliant” “ingenious” “fascinating” “a powerful game that all kids should experience”
The branching storylines, each tied to your possible decisions, are brilliant in their diversity and ingenious in how they weave together to create the fascinating story path of this game.

School Library Journal – “Media Mix: ‘Flight to Freedom’ for Black History Month”
The game is educational, fun, and will definitely hold the attention of students in grades 5 to 8.

Ground Control Parenting – “Mission U.S.: Helping Middle Schoolers Enjoy Learning American History”
A game to teach middle schoolers about slavery? Could be cringe-worthy; I had to try it. I enlisted my 7th grade son to play it with me, and off we went into the world of Lucy the slave. Two minutes in, we were hooked.

As an educator, parent and aunt of a student in this age range, I am disheartened that the consensus on learning for students in this age range is that it needs to be “gamified” and fun” to be interesting.

Engaging? Yes

Interesting? Yes

Fun? Not if “fun” means simulation and badging built on the premise of a horrific event such as slavery

How/Why Does This Happen?

The development of a series of games starts with hefty planning. The idea of learning history in an interactive format is a great one. It is. However, when choosing which acts of history to play, consideration should have been given as to which moments were appropriate and how to do them justice.

The slave mission was built on the idea that users could  “understand what a real slave felt” while walking around in Lucy’s shoes. Unfortunately this is also where the game failed because one cannot simulate the emotional scars of slavery. Read more about “why simulation should not be used” from the Anti-Defamation League in reference to the Holocaust.

No matter how “uncomfortable” one is while playing a game, it’s still absent of the worry of physical abuse, rape, mutilation or death. It’s still not the emotional scars of being “nothing” in the eyes of the people whose lifestyle you are in fact enabling.

So again…how does this happen? There’s research on the part of those with the idea, planning, more research and meetings with potential funding groups. Those funding groups typically make awareness known about what types of projects they are funding which often results in projects created to meet the needs of the money being issued. This game was groundbreaking in that no one else has successfully done it. Wait…it WAS done and did in fact result in a lawsuit being filed by parents in 1995.

At any rate, many people said “yes” to this game and not one thought that it was inappropriate including a group of historians who not only supported it but advised along the way…which begs the question…

While we know that our stories and narratives are absent from schools, was this the way to do it?

While I cannot and will not speak for the entire black community. As a teacher, technology specialist, daughter, mother and aunt…I say…NO

Fast forward to the launch of the game itself. Press releases are sent out. Contacts are made with potential high volume reviewers. Sometimes those reviews are pre-written and sometimes a person is asked to review. (I’ve been approached for many different apps to review and have declined)

Too many people should have and could have stopped this insanity and no one did. For that, I am still annoyed with the greater Edtech Community about.

Studying Slavery

I want my kids to examine primary documents, research, interview real people, watch revelations captured via film, discuss and maybe even do some writing to reflect and think. I want them to look at the wholistic aspect of slavery and not just on the part of slaves but on the slave owners too.

I also want them to examine their own history and the role that their family played. There are rich lessons that can be had if we stop assuming that all lessons need the glitz and glamour of animation, interactivity through technology and badging.

While I do believe in using games for learning, I do not believe that slavery is an appropriate place for it.

It’s too important of a topic to be minimized by “fun”.

Comments 3

  1. Rafranz,

    Have you seen WNET’s answer to our objections? It’s at https://www.edsurge.com/n/2015-02-18-in-support-of-flight-to-freedom-one-of-many-ways-to-teach-history

    Would they have a simulation where the player is in the shoes of a slave owner? As s/he goes about his day ordering his slaves around, punishing them, raping them or perhaps selling their children?

    WNET and the scholars that is quotes as supporting its game of slavery simulation would benefit from studying Peggy McIntosh’s Stages of Multicultural Curricular Transformation (see http://www.edchange.org/multicultural/curriculum/steps.html). Their game is stage 3 at best. They need to understand that just b/c they’re courageously willing to look at slavery rather than look away, they may not be at the highest level of curricular development. At Stage 5, you find embedded partnering with students and the voices of non-dominant groups in the culture as opposed to the white male Euro-centric viewpoint only.

    As a teacher and an ally for change, it was really hard to read WNET’s defense of their offensive game.

    ~Namita Tolia

  2. Pingback: Black Star Journal

  3. Pingback: Digital-Simulation Game on U.S. Slave Experience Sparks Debate | Bill Howe on Multicultural Education

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