The design and use of simulation computer games in education




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THE DESIGN AND USE OF SIMULATION COMPUTER GAMES IN EDUCATION


[cover art]





Cover Image

3D modeling: Beau Hacking

graphic art: David Smellie

concept: Brett E. Shelton and David Smellie


[150-200 word promotion text]


This volume presents a collection of empirical and theoretical work relating to simulation computer games, exploring the interrelationships between the instructional design and the educational use of these materials. The authors explore the interrelationships between design and use--success in both are critical to achieve the desired ends of facilitating learning--and provide a scholarly treatment of a topics frequently handled in an anecdotal, “pop science” manner.


While there is a broad literature in the design of instructional materials and in the implementation or use of those materials, the design and use of educational simulation computer games is significantly different. The overwhelming majority of traditional instructional materials are designed to be used primarily as a teacher guides a learner. However, the vast majority of computer simulation games are designed to be used directly by the learner, without much mediation. A better understanding of these issues is critical for effective game-based learning. Chapters range from different approaches to design and different subject matter to the different types of technology-based environments.


This book does not provide a “complete” perspective of any depth within cognitive science and computer science technology, nor does it “unmask the myth” of computer simulation games in education, as other volumes claim to do. Instead, this book provides a breadth of perspectives that move from “what we think” to “what we know” about simulation computer games in education, and gives an up-to-the-moment picture of “where we’re at” in the theory, design and use of simulation computer games.


brett e. shelton, david A. wiley, eds.

the design and use of simulation computer games in education

Sense Publishers

SECTION ONE: design

In taking an empirical approach to the study of games and education – one of research and grounded theory, rather than advocacy – this section describes generally the instructional approach to the design and use of simulation computer games. Depending on the “school of thought,” the approaches seem to vary: is the proper perspective to take what we know and practice with traditional instructional design and combine that with game design? Or are there other approaches, separated from traditional instructional design, that may be more effective?

Games in Education: The Epistemic Argument

The first section provides and overview of games and how they are useful in teaching real-world concepts to students. Shaffer takes us into the world of history in his discussion of epistemic issues; what is taught and learned about history through game play, and how we might leverage epistemology within a gaming environment. Subsequent chapters describe how game designs achieve or fall short of the lofty expectations now being set by the educational community for using games in formal learning environments. Chapter: In Praise of Epistemology -- David W. Shaffer

Traditional, Historical, and Conversations between Bridging Approaches

Melding game design into instructional tools would seem a natural progression from traditional instructional design approaches to game design. After all, these techniques have achieved a substantial measure of success in the development of computer-based instruction at a variety of levels. From this perspective, the first chapter provides a discussion of the history of game design and use within instruction, and explores ideas of where the next realms of “meaningful discovery” will come within gaming and education.

Then, the subsequent chapter describes a traditional approach to the design of educational games, the history and substance of such an approach, and argues ultimately for methods for combining the positive aspects of game motivation with those of existing design. This chapter eavesdrops on a conversation about related insights, questions, and opinions from the standpoint of instructional designers and commercial game developers. In experiencing these perspectives, one can appreciate the rich history of designing for learning and the new possibilities that exist for creating meaningful (and fun) experiences. Chapters: Six Ideas in Search of a Discipline – Richard Van Eck; Building Bridges between Serious Game Design and Instructional Design: A Blueprint for Now and the Future – Jamie Kirkley, Sonny Kirkley, & Jerry Heneghen

Exploring Alternate Approaches to Simulation Computer Game Design

As with any “traditional” approach to designing instruction, there are cases when one method seems to work better under particular circumstances or when another method works better for a particular population of learners. So then we can wonder, is putting our effort into combining traditional instructional methods for game design even the best use of our time? Or are there other approaches that might offer additional flexibility for localizing instruction for a particular population, for specific content, through a given genre? The following chapters offer some thoughts on how different perspectives for designing instructional games might be attained through alternative means.

The first chapter in this section highlights a model-layer approach, proven successful in simulation design, for a case of museum instruction. The next chapter advocates design based on aligning in-game activity to instructional goals in an effort to build games that help students achieve “standards” while maintaining the motivational, engaging properties of commercially successful games. The third chapter in this section offers evidence for the value of activity-based reflection during the design process in order to keep track of modifications to instructional objectives as the game evolves. Each of these chapters offers a slight departure from what is espoused in the previous sections as they try to shed light on differing approaches to game design. Chapters: Layered Design in an Instructional Simulation – Andrew S. Gibbons & Stefan Sommer; Designing Educational Games for Activity-Goal Alignment – Brett E. Shelton; “The Peripatos could not have looked like that,” and Other Educational Outcomes from Student Game Design – Ryan M. Moeller, Jason L. Cootey & Ken S. McAllister


Section two: USE

With the increasing international interest of using games for educational purposes has come the empirical iteration of design, development and implementation in both formal and informal learning environments. Certainly we laud these efforts as being crucial to advancing our understanding of computer game use. The effort that began within the areas of science and engineering education has been expanded to incorporate learning across humanities and civics.


Games as Mediums for Social Change and Literacy Practices

The following three chapters describe situations in which gaming environments have been taken into innovative subject areas, and studied through a variety of complex, triangular means. The first offers insight into the Quest Atlantis project and the implementation of multi-participant environments to help teach children social awareness and responsibility. The subsequent chapter discusses literacy—its existence and practice within multi-player online games—and offers arguments of how real-world learning parallels the activities within these kind of make-believe environments. These chapters provide insight into how studying the teaching and learning that takes place naturally within simulated realms can inform the effective design of educational games. The lessons learned lead us to recommendations in how we can design proper support mechanisms for the learning that takes place within these realms. Chapters: The Quest Atlantis Project: A Socially-Responsive Play Space for Learning – Sasha Barab, Tyler Dodge, Hakan Tuzun, Kirk job-Sluder, Craig Jackson, Anna Arici, Laura Job-Sluder, Robert Carteaux jr., Jo Gilbertson & Conan Heiselt; Massively Multiplayer Online Gaming as a Constellation of Literacy Practices – Constance Steinkuehler


Supporting the Implementation and Use of Simulation Computer Games

A variety of social, policy, and pedagogical issues must be considered if games are to successfully support learning. The final three chapters invite us to consider several issues related to the scalability of games as effective instructional artifacts, the ability of simulations to "unteach" faulty mental models, and ways in which technology can augment our experiences in the so-called real world.

The first chapter reminds us that there is a significant difference between the successful implementation of a game in a single classroom and an instructional technology that can be more broadly deployed while still supporting learning. If computer-based simulation games are ever to support learning at the degree of scale that will make their development sustainable, these issues must be understood and addressed. The following chapter describes how encouraging students to design and develop computer-based simulations can draw out fiendishly resilient misconceptions and provide a space in which students can confront these flawed models concretely and directly. The final chapter liberates computer-based simulation games from the monitor and transports them into the actual classroom, backyard, or city park, in what is called virtual reality gaming – an evolving pedagogy that leverages ideas of situated learning to help students experience "place" in new ways. Chapters: Robust Design Strategies for Scaling Educational Innovations: The River City Case Study – Brian C. Nelson, Diane Jass Ketelhut, Jody Clarke, Ed Dieterle, Chris Dede & Ben Erlandson; Building the Wrong Model: Opportunities for Game Design – Kenneth E. Hay; Wherever you Go, There You Are: Place-based Augmented Reality Games for Learning – Kurt D. Squire, Mingfong Jan, James Matthews, Mark Wagler, John Martin, Ben Devane & Chris Holden


[Dedication]


Zane, David Enoch, Megumi, Noelle, and Johnny

Our new little generation of gamers.


Introduction


Pulling together a book is a time-consuming and difficult task, akin to herding cats that believe they have academic freedom. And in the process of following up on authors, checking references, and reformatting chapters to meet arbitrary formatting guidelines, each book editor eventually asks him or herself: why am I doing this?


For us, there are a number of answers to this question.


Our primary goal for the book is to help us figure out where we’re heading in terms of the philosophies and practices of the design and use of computer games for supporting learning. We hope the book will be a useful resource for people working in a variety of disciplines, including game design, instructional design, simulation and training, and educational technology. It is possible that it only makes its mark as a measuring stick of how far we've come in the field of educational games, or a testament to the naivety of our current understanding.


As a sort of truth in advertising statement, we should say that neither of us are what might be called “educational game advocates.” We believe our understanding of teaching and learning is sophisticated enough to admit that there is no “best” teaching method or technology that spans all domains, age groups, and cultures. Obviously, we feel that a number of strategic opportunities exist for educational games to have a positive impact on learning (or else we wouldn’t have edited this book!), and some of these situations are discussed in these chapters. Still, the question remains as to what degree our collective efforts should be aimed at creating and researching “best approaches” to educational game design. What design principles really transcend context? Perhaps we should adopt a view of pure contextuality, simply creating designs and games that work for specific situations within specific domains, and not concerning ourselves with the development of context-free recipes that anyone can use in any situation. A desire to explore this question is another reason for the book.


A third reason for working on the book was to explore an interesting tension we felt at the Games, Learning, and Society conference in 2006. The tension is between “educational games people” who are working to blend game design with traditional instructional design, and “educational games people” who are working to blend game design with more of a learning sciences approach. We are particularly pleased with the manner in which this tension plays out within the book.


And finally, to be honest, this book was a chance for us to make time to work together and learn from each other on a specific project. The individual rewards in this category have at least equaled the more academic rewards we’ve described above.


The book is divided into two major sections: the first deals with the design of simulation computer games in education, the second focuses more on their use in specific educational contexts. Of course, most of the chapters have implications, if not downright direct relationships, to the other section. In fussing over the best way for the reader to experience these chapters, we eventually chose this kind of organization, but we just as adamantly support the idea that each chapter can be considered on its own--each making its own specific contribution standing by itself. Many introductory sections of books include an overview of the book’s chapters and attempt to explain the logic of structure of the book. In a departure from tradition, we have chosen to place this content in situ between chapters, so that the reader does not have to continually refer to the front matter to understand why chapters are grouped together as they are or sequenced as they are. This information is available at the point of need, and we hope this will provide a better flow and overall experience for the reader.


We are looking forward to the open sharing of the material within this volume on the Internet and revel in the freedom for each author to distribute his or her work represented within these pages. We miss the planned contribution of Bill Winn, friend and mentor, whose work within this book would have certainly benefited all of us in many, many ways. Finally, we thank the contributors who offered to us the fruits of their hard labor and the patience to see this process through to completion.





May 1, 2007


David shaffer

In praise of Epistemology1


The recent interest in video and computer games as educational tools follows a tradition of looking at new technologies for educational purposes—a tradition that suggests that new technologies will not live up to their potential for learning. It is true, of course, that computers have been in existence for over half a century, and have been used in classrooms for more nearly three decades, and that in that time there has been no wholesale transformation of education as we know it (Cuban, 1986, 2001). But I will argue here that this is because education itself has been conceived in the wrong way..

In this chapter I make the case that central to any discussion of games and education is the concept of epistemology. Epistemology is, of course, the study of what it means to know something, and here I suggest that games matter because they provide an opportunity to learn in ways that are more authentic than current school practices—but only if we consider how games change what it means to know something—and thus what is worth learning and how we teach it. That is, we can only understand the impact of games in and for education if we first reconsider the epistemology (or epistemologies) of the digital age.

To do this I provide an example of one educational game, The Debating Game, that does not rely on computer technologies—although one that could be easily adapted to take advantages of a range of new media. I use The Debating Game to look at some of the fundamental questions about educational games today through the lens of epistemology. I ask: What defines a game? Why do games matter in educational settings? And what does this suggest about the nature of schooling in the digital age?

My argument will be that education has to be reconceptualized in a way that moves beyond the traditional organization of schools. Schools as we know them developed in a particular place and time to meet a specific set of social and economic needs. But times have changed, and the way we need to think about education has changed too. The academic disciplines of history, English, math, and science are not the only way to divide the world of things worth knowing, the forty-minute blocks of time in which they are currently taught using lecture and recitation are not the only way to learn, and standardized tests of facts and basic skills are not the only way to decide who has learned what they were supposed to learn—and, in fact, these traditional school practices may not even be a particularly appropriate way to organize education in the digital age.

The argument has already been made that change is coming: that young people increasingly need skills in innovation to find good jobs and lead fulfilling lives, and that the economic vitality of our country depends in the long run on their ability to do so (Friedman, 2005; Shaffer, 2007; Shaffer & Gee, 2005; Shaffer, Squire, Halverson, & Gee, 2005). Autor, Katz, & Kearney (2006), for example, have shown that computers have already changed the skills that individuals need for economic success. The job market increasingly values non-routine work that requires complex thinking and pays high wages. So we need to think about how to prepare young people for life in the digital age that requires different skills—and different ways of thinking—than traditional schools were designed to teach.

In this chapter, I suggest that games are one important tool in addressing the challenge of thinking differently about education—but only if we think about thinking itself—about epistemology—in new ways. And I begin by discussing one such game in some detail....

The Debating Game

It was the beginning of the spring semester when a group of eighth graders filed into their school auditorium. On stage were two tables with two chairs each. On one table was a sign that said “Pro.” The other table was labeled “Con.” There was a podium and microphone in the center of the stage. The teacher was sitting at a table on the side of the stage with a second microphone.

Four students took their places behind the two tables at the center of the stage—Charles and Samantha at the Pro table, Adam and Louisa at Con.2 The rest of the class sat in the front rows of the auditorium.

“Judges, Debaters, and honored guests,” began the teacher. “Welcome to the Annual Foreign Policy Debate. Our topic for today”—and here the teacher raised his voice—“Resolved: That the United States went to war with Spain for selfish reasons.”

Solemn-faced, he continued: “Arguing in favor of the resolution will be Charles Lewis and Samantha Bell; arguing against the resolution will be Adam Markowitz and Louisa Medina.

“In our debate today, each speaker will have four minutes for opening statements. Speakers will alternate from each team, beginning with those supporting the resolution. There will be a five minute intermission, then each speaker will have 2 minutes for rebuttal and concluding remarks. Judges will have five minutes to prepare their decision.”

By this time the students on stage were sitting very still. Even though they had seen their peers go through this ritual earlier in the school year, they were clearly nervous. The large auditorium was quiet, except for the teacher’s voice over the loudspeakers.

“As moderator, I will act as timekeeper,” he continued. “I will use the following signals:

“This signal,” he said, holding up one finger, “will indicate that a speaker has one minute remaining.

“This signal,” he said, moving his hand in a circle, “will indicate that a speaker has thirty seconds remaining.

“This signal,” he said, waving his hand across his neck, “will indicate that a speaker has five seconds remaining.

“At the end of a speaker’s allotted time, the moderator will turn off the microphone at the podium.

“Debaters, good luck. We will hear first from the side supporting the resolution.”

Debaters and judges

I remember the speech well, because by the time this particular debate took place, I had given it nearly thirty times in my teaching career. The speech was designed to give a sense of gravity to the occasion for these eighth grade history students: to make the debaters and the judges take their job seriously. It was part of a game that these students were playing, called The Debating Game.

In this section of the chapter, I am going to describe The Debating Game briefly because understanding how and why it is a game is an important part of understanding how computer and video games can change our educational system

A week before the debate, the Pro and Con teams had each received a detailed sheet of “Advice to Debaters.” The advice described the format of the debate, and the criteria for victory: that the burden of proof in the debate is with the side arguing for the resolution. The advice in this packet of material was substantive—“This debate centers on two key ideas: what makes actions in history ‘selfish,’ and information about the Spanish American War”—but also strategic, suggesting how debaters might fashion their arguments to win the debate:

As for the meaning of “selfish,” you are on your own coming up with a definition that works for you in the debate. Remember, though, in a debate you need not argue for what you believe in. Whatever argument will win is the argument you should use.

The judges similarly received a sheet of instructions for playing their role, which included specific information about the criteria they should use for judging the debate: quality of the presentation, use of evidence, clarity of argument, and skill at rebutting the opposing team’s positions. They were told explicitly that they were not supposed to judge based on their own beliefs, but rather on the strength of the arguments presented by each side:

The criteria for victory in a debate—the criteria on which you should make your decision—is not which team is right, but rather, which team, makes a better argument.... Debate is more like a court case than a class discussion. You should judge not on the truth of a debater's position, but on her presentation, use of evidence and sources of information, the clarity of her argument, and her skill at refuting points made by the opposing team.

The judges had to prepare a short paragraph justifying their decision immediately after the debate, and then a full report explaining their decision in detail. These reports were presented to the debaters, and thus had to be explicit, constructive, and sensitive.

This was not an easy game, in other words, and playing it meant following detailed instructions about how to be a debater and what it means to judge a debate fairly.

Is this fun?

With this brief description of The Debating Game, let’s ask a fundamental question: What makes this a game and not just a clever classroom assignment to help students learn about the Spanish-American War? Aren’t games fun, and about things that kids already care about? Isn’t school about work, and about doing things that you have to do rather than that you want to do? And by that criteria isn’t this schoolwork and not a game?

Well, actually, The Debating Game was fun. Students enjoyed playing, and not just because it was an excuse to avoid their regular history class for a day. This was a kind of fun that Papert (1980) characterized as hard fun: the kind of fun you have when you work on something difficult, something that you care about, and finally master it.

It wasn’t that that these students cared about the Spanish American War more than any other eighth graders. What these players cared about as debaters was winning and losing, and the pride that goes with playing any game well in school and thus in the public eye. As judges, students cared because their opinions mattered. They were deciding who won and lost the debate, and their written assignment was not merely an exercise to be graded and forgotten; it was going to be read by their peers as an evaluation of their performance in the debate.

While The Debating Game was fun, however, that isn’t why it was a game, because fun is not the defining characteristic of a game. On some superficial level we play games because we enjoy the experience overall. But quite often much of the time we spend on a game isn’t about having fun. Suits (1967), for example, offers a definition of games that does not focus primarily on pleasure, as does Gee (2003) more recently (although both emphasize the goal-directedness of games that for reasons I discuss in the text below may not be central to the notion of a game). Vygotsky (1978) characterizes play in terms of rules and explicitly rejects the notion that play is centrally about enjoyment.

In The Debating Game debaters and judges do a lot of hard work preparing for the debate and preparing their responses to it, just as much of being on a football team is doing drills and calisthenics and weight training and running laps—things that, despite the coaches’ protestations to the contrary, aren’t much fun for most players. Players of video games spend a lot of time repeating very basic maneuvers to be able to progress to the next level. Recently, for example, I was talking online with a colleague while he was playing World of Warcraft. When I realized he was playing I apologized for interrupting and he replied: “It’s ok. I’m just running some boring errands in the game.” Johnson (2005) similarly describes in detail the frustrations and difficulties of playing many modern games—including some of the most popular games on the market.

If fun is not one of the defining characteristics of a game, however, winning and losing aren’t either. Many traditional games are a competition: most sports, for example; chess, checkers and most board games; card games; and many children’s games like Duck Duck Goose, Tag, or Hide-and-Seek. You can even win or lose when there is no competition at all, as in some forms of solitaire. But many games don’t have winners and losers. In The Debating Game the debaters win or lose, but the judges don’t. Similarly, winning isn’t the goal in a game like World of Warcraft. You can become more powerful, but even the most powerful player in the game at any point in time isn’t the winner. Bartle’s (1990; 1996) framework suggests that there are at least four different types of players of multiplayer online fantasy games: players who like to succeed at tasks within the game world, players who like to find out as much as they can about the virtual world of the game, players who like socializing with others in the game, and players who like to gain power over other players. Although the details of Bartle’s formulation has been questioned and expanded upon by other researchers (see, e.g., Steinkuehler, 2005), the basic point remains: different kinds of players enjoys different things about a game, and (particularly for the socializers and explorers) the game ends when you decide to stop playing,3 not when you have “won” the game.4 Different players can have different end states (Gee, 2003) for the same game—different ways to decide when they are done playing. For obvious reasons, games that let players find end states that are personally and socially meaningful are both more engaging and better for learning about things that matter in the world.

In a game like Dungeons and Dragons—the inspiration for many modern computer games—players take on a character and customize it. Once the character is brought to life, players take on the role of their character within the rules of the game. Fighters can do things wizards can’t, and vice versa. Players can be good or evil, can accumulate wealth, become more skillful, or die in their adventures. The outcome is determined by a combination of a player’s choices, the decisions of other players, and rolls of various combinations of dice within an elaborate system of rules. But in the end, no player can do everything. Becoming a master of one aspect of the game necessarily means not becoming good at another. As in life, there is no absolute state of victory. “Winning” is about playing the game well—not necessarily scoring more points than another player, accumulating the most treasure, or achieving some other pre-determined end state of the game. It is true, of course, that Dungeons and Dragons can be played as a competition, as can life itself. But for most players the game is about what one does rather than whether one wins.

Roles and rules

What makes a game a game, then, is neither “fun” or “winning and losing,” nor even the idea that games are “safe,” since games can have serious consequences: injuries in football, losses in gambling games, and so on—a point made eloquently by Geertz (1973) in his discussion of Balinese cockfighting.

Rather what makes a game a game is that it has some particular set of rules that a player has to follow. In a game, players are assigned particular roles—whether “white” and “black” in chess or “dwarf fighter” in Dungeons and Dragons or “It” in Tag—and playing a role means following some set of rules for behavior. In making this claim I am borrowing from Vygotsky (1978), who argued that “there is no such thing as play without rules” (p. 94). What Vygotsky meant is that in all play—even in what seems like open-ended play among very young children—a game creates some imaginary situation that has some implicit or explicit set of norms that determine what players can and cannot do.

By this definition, of course, any system of social activity can be viewed as a game—a position consistent with Goffman (1963; 1967; 1974; 1981), who analyzed social interaction in terms of games, Wittgenstein (1963), who viewed all language as a game, and Donald (2001), who describes careers as extended role playing games. Some game scholars argue for a more specific definition of a “game,” but for every additional criteria, there are exceptions (Juul, 2003). Others have attempted to construct typologies of games, but all include some form of roles and the rules that constrain action within those roles (Lindley, 2005).

If you watch young children play, it often seems that more of the game is about deciding the roles and rules than about acting them out. One child will begin by saying: “Let’s play we’re orphans.” To which another will reply: “No, not orphans, but our parents have gone away and we have to take care of ourselves and our four cats all by ourselves.” And then the first child again: “And one of our cats will be sick and I’ll be an animal-doctor and you can be a food-cooker.” And so on, spending more time setting up an imaginary world they can inhabit than they do actually playing in the world they created.

The rules in these game worlds are, of course, the children’s understanding of how orphans, pet owners, animal-doctors, and food-cookers behave in the world. To make this point, Vygotsky (1978) described two girls who are actually sisters and who also “play” at being sisters. It is a situation I know well from playing various versions of “family” with my daughters. My oldest child will say: “Let’s play family. I’ll be the older sister, and she can be the younger sister, and you can be the daddy.” We’re supposed to “play”, in other words, the actual situation in our real family by explicitly acting by the rules that govern the roles of sisters and father. They are supposed to be especially nice to each other (unless they are being step-sisters, in which case they are supposed to be especially mean), and I’m supposed to play either a transgressive father (“Let’s have ice cream for dinner!”) or an ideal one (“Let’s clean up the house and then as a special treat go to the circus!”).

Lest we think playing family in a game of this sort is just child’s play, consider that this is essentially what the best-selling computer game of all time, The Sims, is all about. The game’s promotional materials tout the fact that players can “build relationships with other Sims and watch them blossom... or crumble. Hang with friends, throw parties, meet the love of your Sim's life, or just live the single life.”

Games like these are fun, but their value is in letting players live in worlds that they are curious about, or afraid of, or want desperately to be able to try out. As Vygotsky (1978) explains, all games are “the realization in play form of tendencies that can not be immediately gratified” (p. 94). In games, players do explicitly, openly, and socially what they will later do tacitly, privately, and personally. They are running simulations of worlds they want to learn about in order to understand the rules, roles, and consequences of those worlds. They are learning to think by examining alternatives in play, and from those experiences they are learning what it might mean to be social outcasts (“It”), war leaders (“white” or “black”), professionals (“firefighter” or “food-cooker”), members of a family (“father” or “sister”), and a host of other real and imagined characters in the world.5

It may seem odd to describe board games like Chess as worlds that players can explore by taking on particular roles.6 But consider Dreyfus & Dreyfus’ (1986) account of chess experts:

Chess grandmasters, engrossed in a game, can lose entirely the awareness that they are manipulating pieces on a board and see themselves rather as involved participants in a world of opportunities, threats, strengths, weaknesses, hopes, and fears. When playing rapidly, they sidestep dangers in the same automatic way that a teenager, himself an expert, might avoid missiles in a familiar video game” (p. 30).

References and rebuttals

What makes The Debating Game a game, then, is that the students step into the roles of debaters and judges, and play by the rules that define those roles: they subordinate their own beliefs to the rules of evidence in a debate, focusing on who presented a better argument rather than who was right; they write an account of the debate not for the teacher but as feedback to their peers. They are, of course, not actually deciding on the merits of the Spanish-American War as historians, nor are they actually grading their peers. But they are acting as if they are doing so. Just as Dungeons and Dragons players are not actually becoming elves and wizards, but are acting according to the rules they (and the game’s creators) think that elves and wizards live by.

Like Dungeons and Dragons, The Debating Game is a fantasy role playing game—let’s call it References and Rebuttals—in which players take on the roles of debaters and judges to inhabit an imagined world in which they are making judgments about the morality of historical actors and about the skill of their own peers.

To see how such a game contrasts with traditional schooling, let’s look at a section of an eighth grade history text that describes the Spanish American War (Wallbank, Schrier, Maier-Weaver, & Gutierrez, 1977). Notice how often the passage uses the passive voice—there are few historical actors here, only vague historical forces. Motives are ascribed not to individuals but to large groups of people. The war is not actually started by anyone in particular; it just starts. Thus:
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