Gaming the Past – Syllabus

Professor John Patrick Riley
Spring 2022

Course Description

This course will explore several arenas of global interaction and conflict through different history-based games and will examine issues of representation, public memory, and the pedagogical value of interactive play. Each immersive game will be paired with readings from scholars of history, education, and memory to provoke class-wide discussions, the identification with a range of global historical actors, and reflections on the ways games present, and sometimes misrepresent, the past. No prerequisites.


All course readings will be made available either as hyperlinks in the syllabus or via Brightspace. There is no course text required, however there are several games that students will need access to throughout the course of the semester. Some of these are available via digital distribution platforms such as GOG or Steam, others can be obtained for free. It is the student’s responsibility to locate playable versions of these games for the purposes of this course.

Imperialism II ($6 on GOG)

Twilight Struggle ($7 on Google Play store, $10 on Steam)

Reacting to the Past Europe on the Brink, 1914: The July Crisis ($20 e-book, $30 paperback)


Response Papers – 30%
Class Participation – 20%
Game Lesson Plan – 5%
Final Project Prospectus – 5%
Demo of Final Project – 10%
Final Project Peer Review – 5%
Final Project – 25%

Response Papers:

Students will write 2-page response papers that reviews each of the games we play in this class. Students will be evaluated based on the quality of the paper, its organization, use of language, demonstration of game engagement, as well as their responses to the following prompts: How and why does this game use history? How does this game impact historical knowledge (through gameplay mechanics, flavor text, or something else)? Does this game have utility in the classroom? How would you use it?


Class participation is vital to the success of this course. There are many ways to demonstrate your enthusiasm and hard work. Active participation, including asking questions, coming to class prepared, and being able to answer questions posed by me, will count greatly towards your participation grade. In a course about interactive learning and historical gaming, there are a myriad of ways to join in. In short, I expect you to not only participate but to contribute. 

Lesson Plan:

Using samples provided by the instructor, students will develop a lesson plan for a gaming lesson using some kind of video, board, or roleplaying game such as Reacting to the Past. The lesson plan will be evaluated based upon student’s use of best practices in pedagogical design, clarity of lesson objectives, materials to be used, guiding questions, and learning outcomes targeted. Students can use any game we play in our class or can select one of their own choosing.

Final Project:

Students will be developing a game of their own using Muzzy Lane’s Author Tool located here: Author ( This platform has a great deal of customizability and requires no coding knowledge. Over the semester we will be working on distinct aspects of this project such as choosing a topic, pitching it to the instructor, demoing the game for the class, and playing one another’s games as a peer review. These games are intended to teach some aspect of a topic of the student’s choosing using interactive simulations. Samples will be made available for students to draw inspiration from as the semester progresses.

To facilitate grading, I employ the following numeric scale:

A+       98-100 B+       88-89 C+       78-79 D+       68-69 F          0-59

A         93-97 B         83-87 C         73-77 D         63-67

A-        90-92 B-        80-82 C-        70-72 D-        60-62

Note: While the University does not have an A+ or D+ designation, I employ one for internal grading purposes only. No student can receive a D+ as a final grade, and an A+ is an A in the course.

Attendance Policy

Since this is a scholars course with a participation requirement, I expect and require you to regularly attend class. You cannot actively participate in the course if you are absent, and a sizeable chunk of your grade is based upon interacting with your fellow classmates.

If you miss more than three classes you will receive a failing grade.  Make certain to communicate early any dates you anticipate missing due to religious observances or school-approved functions such as athletic competitions. 

Classroom Behavior and Etiquette

Lateness to class: it is understandable if you are a few minutes late to class on a rare basis. But, entering class more than 5 minutes late is disruptive and rude to your fellow students and to me. If you are arriving late open and close the doors as quietly as possible and find a seat quickly to limit distraction to your more punctual classmates.

During the course of the class I expect that phones will be set on silent, not vibrate and definitely not with the ringer on.  The use of laptops is permitted solely for the purpose of taking and referencing notes, and I reserve the right to ban laptops from class if and when their use becomes a distraction from the goals of the course.  Playing video games, watching movies, or updating your fantasy football roster can wait until after class.  Moreover, your screen is visible to those around you, and is unfairly distracting to them when you are treating my classroom as an internet café.  Lastly, this is not trivia night; I do not appreciate the use of laptops as a fact-checking device during class to play stump the professor.  There are 10,080 minutes every week.  I only get 170 of them with you, so please help me to make the most of them.     

We will often discuss contentious issues, many of which may challenge your inherited notions of history. A university classroom is no place for a closed mind. It is the most important place for discussion and debate. This is only possible on an open and even playing field. Hostile words, names, jokes, tones – in short, any attempts to discourage points of view – are not welcome.

When you send me an email, please be sure to identify yourself AND which course you are taking. Please be sure to communicate in a professional manner. Breezy, informal, quasi-text messages with no capitalization and spelling errors do not reflect well on you and will not be looked on favorably. 

On Grades

If you believe that you were graded unfairly or in error and would like to discuss options with me, including a chance for a regrade, then you may do so.  However, I will only discuss grades in person after you have already reviewed the provided feedback and reexamined your own materials. Moreover, I do not respond well to emotional outbursts and pleading. It is not my responsibility to salvage your GPA because you “need to do well in this class.” When you come to see me, bring the original assignment along with a typed explanation of why you believe you should have earned more credit for your work. My decision will be binding and final.


Week 1 (1/24 – 8/28) – Introductions

Week 2 (1/31 – 2/4) – Are We Just here to play games? Yes. But also no.

Monday: Benefits

“Playing with the past”

“Games and Historical Narratives”

“Interactive Storytelling and the Philly Yellow Fever Outbreak”

Wednesday: Obstacles

“Privileging Form of Content”

“Historical Simulations as Problem Spaces”

Week 3 (2/7 – 2/11) – Colonization, Exploration, and Mapping Native Cultures

* Add/Drop Deadline is February 7

Monday – Imperialism II: Age of Colonization or Sid Meier’s Colonization

Wednesday – Discussion and Reaction

“Click to Colonize, part 1” & “part 2”

“Playing at Modding”

“Sid Meier’s Colonization: Is it Offensive Enough?”

“Board Games have a colonization problem”

Week 4 (2/14 – 2/18) – Hands on Learning

Monday: Muzzy Lane Demo & Pedagogical Value of Play

History Conference Panel: Taking Video Games Seriously – YouTube” (a bit long, pace yourself)

“Gaming in Education”

Academic Lessons from Video Game Learning “Intro” on Brightspace

* Wednesday: Final Prospectus Due

“Simulation Design Guide”

Week 5 (2/21 – 2/25) – Manifest Destiny

Monday: The Oregon Trail

Wednesday: Discussion and Reflection

“You have died of Dysentery”

“Playing Cowboys and Indians in the Digital Wild West” on Brightspace

“A Minnesotan reflects on creating the Oregon Trail as the game turns 50”

“The Oregon Trail from Westward Expansion to Computer Game”

Week 6 (2/28 – 3/4) – US Slavery & Why it’s so hard to game

Monday: Flight to Freedom

Wednesday: Reaction and Discussion

“Digital Slave Simulation Game Draws Ire, Praise”

“Teaching Slavery with Board Games”

“Upcoming game deals with 19th C Slavery”

“How Historical games integrate or ignore slavery”

Zoom Interview with Dr. Jonathan Jones, VMI

Week 7 (3/7 – 3/11) – Planning to Play


Twine Game Portfolio

“What does it mean to be a gamer?”

“How to teach using game-based learning” & “What makes a good game?

Wednesday: * Lesson Plan Due

“What makes a good lesson plan?”

“Lesson Plan for New Teachers”

“Common Core Learning Standards”

“Ten Ways to make your game more diverse”

Week 8 (3/14 – 3/18) – No class Spring Break

Week 9 (3/21 – 3/25) – Roleplaying as Learning

Reacting to the Past Europe in Crisis, 1914 all week

Week 10 (3/28 – 4/01) – Stepping into the Past – Representation and Empathy

* Course Withdrawal deadline April 1

Monday:Reacting to the Past Europe in Crisis, 1914 finished

Wednesday: Discussion and Reflection

“Valiant Hearts, The Great War, and the Shaping of Historical Memory”

“Context, Representation, Historical Racism”

Week 11 (4/04 – 4/08) – A People Numerous and Armed

Liberty or Death! board game all week with class split in half.

Readings for off day:

“Native American Roles during American Revolution”

“Sullivan Expedition”

“How did the French Alliance help win American Independence”

“This French Business Saved the US Revolution”

Week 12 (4/11 – 4/15) – Revolution for whom?

Monday: Discussion and Reflection on Liberty or Death

* Friday classes Meet 4/13

Week 13 (4/18 – 4/22) – Historians in the Gaming Industry

* Monday Classes Meet 4/19

“Assassin’s Creed 3 Team Historians talks inspirations”

The (fun, violent) history inside Assassin’s Creed

“Pudding Lane: Recreating 17th C London”

“Meg Jayanth’s Quest to Amplify Marginalized Voices in Video Games”

Wednesday: Zoom interview with Dr. Anne McDivitt, University of Alabama

Week 14 (4/25 – 4/29) – Follow the Moskva Down to Gorky Park

Monday:  Twilight Struggle

Wednesday: Discussions and Reflection

“Cold War Gaming” chapter on Brightspace

“Games About the Cold War”

“Fall 1983 Through the Lens of Twilight Struggle”

“Reading into the Cold War in Video Games”

Week 15 (5/2 – 5/6) – What Hath Students Wrought?

* Demo of Final Projects all week

Week 16 (5/9 – 5/14) – Looking to the Past in the Future

Monday: “Refugee Revisits Her Homeland Via The Oculus Rift”

“The Assassin’s Perspective”

“New Futures for the Past in Analog Games”

Wednesday: Peer Review of Classmate’s Games

Featured image: Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection by GMT Games depicts the American Revolution with players taking on the roles of Great Britain, American Patriots, The French, and Native Americans.

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