“Like Hearing From Them in the Past”: The Cognitive-Affective Model of Historical Empathy in Videogame Play

“Like Hearing From Them in the Past”: The Cognitive-Affective Model of Historical Empathy in Videogame Play

Liz Owens Boltz (Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/IJGCMS.2017100101


Historical empathy is a multidimensional construct that involves both the cognitive recognition of the perspectives of others as well as affective engagement with the lived experiences of people in the past. Actively engaging learners with diverse historical perspectives in activities like debate, writing, and role play has been shown to be more effective than traditional instruction in the promotion of historical empathy, but less is known about the effectiveness of videogames in this regard. This case study article examines how historical empathy manifested during play of the videogame Valiant Hearts. The results indicate that certain types of game play may promote particular dimensions of historical empathy better than others, and that some dimensions tend to arise spontaneously while others require (or even resist) prompting.
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Literature Review

Students are left out of the interpretive process when history is put forward as a metanarrative to be learned (Levstik & Barton, 2011). As education has shifted from didactic to more constructivist approaches, educators have recognized problems with presenting history as a factual, objectively true narrative. History, many argue, is not an inert chronicle of events but rather more like what documentary filmmaker Ken Burns has described as a dynamic chorus of voices (Ward & Burns, 1994). History education, therefore, should be an active and interpretive learning experience. Further, the skills homed in the active process of “doing history” have genuine relevance in democratic education, as they are crucial to the development of critical consciousness necessary for enlightened political engagement. Contemporary trends in history and social studies education urge educators to avoid universal, unchallenged metanarratives, instead promoting dialogue that engages with diverse viewpoints and encourages historical thinking (Russell, 2011).

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