I just read this account of an English teachers experience participating in a conference session using Reacting to the Past. Reacting to the Past is an approach to teaching history and critical thinking skills using historical roleplays.
From their pedagogical introduction:
Reacting games last from four to fourteen class sessions, although most games are in the eight-to twelve-class range.
A Reacting game consists of four components:
a) a student game book (published by Longman/Pearson);
b) one or more central philosophical or historical texts (available at the bookstore or library);
c) a role description, which will be provided to the student by the instructor;
d) an instructor’s manual, which supplies the Gamemaster with guidance in setting up and running the game.
The first two components (a and b) are available to everyone. The role description is secret: students should not show it to anyone. The instructor’s manual, which is not available to students, provides a menu of elements that instructors select in setting up a game.
There aren’t a ton of published games, but there are more on the way (some of which are available for download). While the focus on the games is historical, it seems like they would be a great way to engage students with a variety of global issues. Among the published games, there are topics like colonialism, poverty and wealth, and the freedom of ideas. In the developing games, there are even more issues, such as civil rights, slavery, workers’ rights and even environmental issues (like acid rain).
I’ve had an opportunity to look at the game book for both the Charles Darwin and Galileo games. Both are quite advanced, but I think they would work well as the basis for a high-level elective course in an academic setting. Both of these games include significant rhetoric / argument analysis, which can be useful in teaching academic writing. They also include numerous excerpts from important primary historical texts. In addition, the nature of the games require a debate, giving students opportunities to practice structuring an argument and expressing their opinion.
One thing that is done well in both of these games is the nuance of different positions. The authors do a good job of staying away from a simplistic “good vs. evil” model (for example, with Galileo vs. the Church) and instead make everyone’s position defensible and understandable.
Since these games are so substantial, I feel like they’d work best as the core of an entire course. If anyone has any experience using them, please post in the comments!