Reacting to the Past is series of elaborate academic role-playing games developed and maintained at Barnard College by Mark Carnes. Reacting games were developed initially to meet the requirements of Columbia’s core program, so each centers on a significant conceptual conflict surrounding a major ‘core text.’
Reacting games are distinctly low-tech. Students are assigned roles, each of which has a significant preparation packet, biography and set of objectives that relate to the conceptual conflict–a role may require that the student pass a piece of legislation in the Athenian Assembly or block Darwin’s Copley medal in 1864. The actual game play, which takes place during the schedule class time, generally takes the form of persuasive speech regarding the ideas contained within the central text. These speeches usually correspond to formal written work.
In contemporary terminology, Reacting games might be considered ARGs, and like ARGs, students playing Reacting games sometimes have trouble remembering that the actions and positions taken by their peers are specified by the role assigned by the professor. The tradition in Reacting is to distinguish between game and regular class periods by conducting some grand public initiation ritual at the opening of each game play session to establish a liminal barrier between the game and reality.
Here are the games currently published:
- Charles Darwin, the Copley Medal and the Rise of Naturalism, 1861-64
- Confucianism and the Succession Crisis of the Wanli Emperor, 1587
- Defining a Nation: India on the Eve of Independence, 1945
- Henry VIII & the Reformation Parliament
- Patriots, Loyalists & Revolution in New York City, 1775-76
- Rousseau, Burke, and Revolution in France, 1791
- The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 B.C.
- Trial of Anne Hutchinson: Liberty, Law, and Intolerance in Puritan New England
- Trial of Galileo: Aristotelianism, the “New Cosmology,” and the Catholic Church, 1616-33
And in development:
- Acid Rain and the European Environment, 1979-89
- America’s Founding: The Constitutional Convention
- Beware the Ides of March: Rome, 44 BCE
- The Collapse of Apartheid and Dawn of Democracy in South Africa, 1993
- Constantine and the Council of Nicaea
- Defining the Mind: The APA in the 1970s (full disclosure – I’m writing this game)
- Forest Diplomacy: War and Peace on the Colonial Frontier, 1756-57
- Greenwich Village, 1913: Suffrage, Labor, and the New Woman
- The Josianic Reform: Deuteronomy, Prophecy, and Israelite Religion
- Kansas, 1999: Evolution and Creation Science
- Kentucky, 1861: A Nation in the Balance
- King or Commonwealth? The English Civil War, 1647–1652
- Korea at the Crossroads of Civilizations: Confucianism, Westernization, and the 1894 Kabo Reforms
- London, 1688: Revolution, Coup, or Royal Renegotiation?
- Marlowe and Shakespeare, 1592
- Modernism vs. Traditionalism: Art in Paris, 1888-89
- Petrograd, 1917
- Rage Against the Machine: Technology, Rebellion, and the Industrial Revolution
- Red Clay, 1835: Cherokee Removal and the Meaning of Sovereignty
- The Second Crusade: The War Council of Acre, 1148
- The Struggle for Civil Rights: Birmingham to Memphis, 1963-66
- The Struggle for Palestine, 1936
I’d like to propose a session–perhaps combined Sukey’s on the proposed college-wide Gen Ed ARG–to discuss the importance of liminality in game play, and to share some of the techniques used in the Reacting community to instill a sense of other-worldliness when gaming in the classroom.
In a related topic, Brett Boessen and I had a brief twitter discussion of Ian Bogost’s blog post at Gamasutra Persuasive Games: Exploitationware a few weeks ago. The liminal experiences emphasized by the Reacting community instantiate those ”hard, strange, magical features of games” that Bogost worries are undermined by making games persuasive. I find myself wondering that if by creating liminal spaces for students to ‘try on’ various conceptual frameworks, we’re training students to understand and defend against persuasive exploitationware, or have just reinvented a new form of it.