Video games, as a form of art and entertainment, go back about 40 years. The very earliest electronic play on computers goes back a few decades earlier but still remains firmly in the post-war 20th century. So what use could games possibly be to someone trying to re-create 1836?
A history park in Indiana, Conner Prairie, runs an exhibit called Prairietown, a historical re-enactment area designed to teach about life in the area in the 1830s. During their recent renovation, they’ve looked to video games for inspiration on the re-design. Games, after all, engage their players, and that’s what the exhibit managers want for their visitors. And they’ve discovered that role-playing, modelled after the way video games get us all to take on new identities, is the way to go. According to an article in the Indianapolis Star:
Visitors will take on roles as artists, gardeners, cooks and even criminals. Using guidebooks, they’ll be prompted to find supplies and jobs and to deal with various obstacles along their journey through the 1830s-era setting, accumulating points and rewards in a way that officials likened to a video game.
“We’re building on the idea of gaining experience and rewarding people for clusters of experiences, all united by a similar theme,” said Aili McGill, Conner Prairie’s director of operations, “We’ve actually learned what has worked in video games.”
It seems like an unlikely pairing, but it’s true that video games capture the imagination, especially of younger players, in a way that many other avenues of education and information don’t. Many students find history particularly dull and yet memorise entire sagas and intricate background lore relating to their favourite game worlds.
Prairietown doesn’t include any modern technology to keep their 19th century feeling intact. But if they can manage to create the same kind of hook with their physical environment that games do with their virtual ones, then they might just be on to something.