Rhetorical Replay and the Challenge of Gamic History: Silencing the Siren Song of Digital Simulation

Rhetorical Replay and the Challenge of Gamic History: Silencing the Siren Song of Digital Simulation

Jerremie V. Clyde (University of Calgary, Canada) and Glenn R. Wilkinson (University of Calgary, Canada)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7987-8.ch009

Abstract

This chapter explores the limits of simulations for university-level historical education. The authors develop an alternative gamic mode more fit for purpose by focusing on epistemology and procedural rhetoric. This chapter will start by examining how history functions as a form of disciplinary knowledge and how this disciplinary way of knowing things is taught at the post-secondary level. The manner in which history is taught will be contrasted with its evaluation in order to better define what students are actually expected to learn. The simulation will be then examined in the light of learning goals and evaluation. This will demonstrate that simulations are in fact a poor fit for most post-secondary history courses. The more appropriate and effective choice is to construct the past via procedural rhetoric, using games that mirror the structure of the historical argument.
Chapter Preview
Top

Introduction

This chapter seeks to do two things. It outlines some of the limitations and responds to the use of digital simulations, such as Sid Meir’s Civilization, in historical instruction. The simulations that will discussed here are computer video games, either commercial or designed expressly for teaching, that attempt to recreate the past by being as factually accurate as possible. They then let the player engage with that reconstructed past. In general, they do not actually construct the past as history in the same way that a history textbook, academic article, or lecture do. Secondly, his chapter puts forward an alternate gamic approach to historical instruction, one that utilizes Ian Bogost’s ideas of procedural rhetoric; the unique way in which games create reasonably justified truths. The authors look at how history is taught, and more importantly evaluated, to determine the actual goals of historical instruction. They then explore what a game needs to do in order to better match those goals. The main focus is on university and college level historical education, although the general idea of matching game play to learning objective could be applied in any field for any learner. The authors suggest a different approach to game-based learning for history and challenge the more common and popular use of digital simulations. The chapter builds upon the authors’ previous work on a digital mode of history, where a case was made for history being non-mode or media specific, demonstrated by the use of a game-based procedural rhetoric to author scholarly history in a gamic form.

This chapter examines how that gamic form can be applied directly to historical education and student learning. Due to the authors’ reliance on Bogost’s conclusions regarding how games engage the player to make arguments and construct truths, this chapter is based largely, although not exclusively, on the North American work addressing game-based learning over the past few decades. It will start by examining how history functions as a form of disciplinary knowledge and how this disciplinary way of knowing things is taught in post-secondary history courses. The manner in which history is taught will be contrasted with how student learning is evaluated to better define what students are actually expected to learn. The simulation, a very popular tool for digital game-based attempts to teach history, will then be examined in the light of those learning goals. This will demonstrate that simulations are in fact a poor fit for most post-secondary history courses. The authors assume that the intent or goal of most history instruction, teaching how one constructs the past as history, is a worthwhile goal. In consideration of that particular goal the more appropriate and effective choice is to construct the historical arguments themselves as game, as opposed to trying to recreate a factually accurate past in a simulation. Historical instruction acts as a case study that can be applied to any discipline. This chapter is primarily focused on how a game is more suitable than a simulation for historical instruction, it does not necessarily argue that a game is always the best choice for historical instruction, just that it is a better choice than a simulation.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Explanatory Narrative: This is the mechanism used by historical studies to create reasonably justified truths about the past. It describes the idea that a narrative has an inherent ability to carry an explanation of why things happened or why historical agents acted in a particular way. The explanatory narrative relies upon empathetic reenactment to create meaning.

Digital Simulation: These are computer-based attempts to recreate the past. They may be produced for entertainment or education and generally tie their claims of validity and value to their factual accuracy. They allow the player to explore their argument through infinite what-if scenarios.

Game-Based Learning (GBL): The field of game based learning is broad and it can describe a wide range of learning objectives, learning environments, and teaching techniques. Essential to game-based learning is the idea that the learning takes place within a game where learners have the opportunity to make meaningful choices and have some self-determination of valorized outcomes.

Epistemology: The theory or study of how we form reasonably justified truths about our world. It explores the limits of knowledge and how we transform facts into evidence and how evidence and interpretation are used to come to conclusions.

Empathetic Reenactment: An essential tool in historical understanding. It is how one makes judgements about the motivations of historical agents (whether individual or corporate). It is the ability to imagine and empathize with a historical actor’s situation and then make rational judgements about why he or she took particular actions.

Procedural Rhetoric: This is a theory put forward by Ian Bogost who argues that computer games create arguments in a way that is unique from other forms of rhetoric. It is the persuasive nature of procedural, designed, interactions that one finds in digital games. The players meaningful interaction with the game, the games narrative, and its rules are the substance of the argument.

Gamic Mode of History: This is the translation of historical arguments into procedural rhetoric while maintaining its original epistemologies. The rules of evidence and interpretation, explanatory narrative, and empathetic reenactment are translated in to game rules for a particular historical argument. The reader then becomes a player who explores those relationships and the reasonably justified truths they create (or fail to create) through meaningful choice within the context of a game.

Epistemic Awareness: This describes an individual’s ability to understand how reasonably justified truth claims are being made by themselves and others. It is their awareness of the choices they make about what counts as facts, reasonable interpretation, and how they choose to construct truth. This could apply to how they know the world about them, or more narrowly to how a particular argument, regardless of media format, is constructing truths.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book:
Reset