When Playing Video Games Becomes a History Lesson – Smithsonian

On campuses across the country, professors are putting historically based games into the classroom
Ted Scheinman
Senior Editor
“Okay, class, for tonight’s history homework you’ll be playing ‘Assassin’s Creed.’” What might sound like a slacker’s dream assignment is finding new respect in academia, spurred on by a University of Kansas historian who says video games are crucial to the “creation of public knowledge of the past” and belong in the classroom.
Andrew Denning, an associate professor, notes that the increasing sophistication of history-based titles and the growing number of scholars who grew up on video games (Denning, 38, is one) are softening higher education’s distrust of the activity; a University of Tennessee course centers on the “Red Dead Redemption” series, wherein players explore turn-of-the-century America. The level of detail relayed by a game “far outstrips that of a historical monograph,” Denning argues in a recent paper published in the American Historical Review.
Some game companies are now striving for maximal accuracy, even hiring historian consultants. “The new edition of Oregon Trail has referred to scholars of Native America,” Denning tells me. Here are six other games that may find their way onto a syllabus.
This article is a selection from the October issue of Smithsonian magazine
Ted Scheinman | | READ MORE
Ted Scheinman is a senior editor for Smithsonian magazine. He is the author of Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan.
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