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Reacting to the Past: Extended Simulations and the Learning Experience in Political Science
Unformatted Document Text:  Basing simulations on historical situations is a common strategy (Newman and Twigg 2000), but, again, Reacting games differ in that they are simulations of past events that were historical turning points. Before the games are played, students get a traditional mix of lectures and discus- sions that bring them to the brink of the actual historical situation being simulated. The game books include excerpts from standard histories of the independence movement in India and the French Revolution. There are lectures on these histories and the assigned classic readings and a reading quiz, but there is no attempt to provide the kind of in depth coverage one would find in a more advanced course. Students are also responsible for reading the sections of the game book outlining the rules of the game itself. Once the reading quiz is completed and the instructor has reiterated the procedures used in the game, this phase ends with the distribution of game roles. Roles in Reacting games reflect the goals and, in some instances, the personalities of histori- cal figures. For instance, in the French Revolution game, most players are members of one of the four factions: Jacobins, Feuillants, and the nobility and clergy in the “National Assembly” and the crowd of Paris outside in the “streets”. (The crowd is seated at a table separate from the vot- ing members of the game.) There are roles for individuals both in and out of factions: among others, Danton, the Marquis de Lafayette, and King Louis XVI are active participants. There are also a number of “indeterminates”; members of the Assembly who are not members of any fac- tion and who by design hold the balance of the votes necessary to win as the games proceed. Each role has a set of clearly specified “victory objectives”; winning the game means achieving those objectives and winning is tied to a grading bonus. Stepping out of character or ignoring the objectives can endanger the person who does so (characters can be “killed” or “threatened” in both games) and her final grade. The character of the roles brings a level of discipline and team- 6

Authors: Lightcap, Tracy.
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Basing simulations on historical situations is a common strategy (Newman and Twigg 2000),
but, again, Reacting games differ in that they are simulations of past events that were historical
turning points. Before the games are played, students get a traditional mix of lectures and discus-
sions that bring them to the brink of the actual historical situation being simulated. The game
books include excerpts from standard histories of the independence movement in India and the
French Revolution. There are lectures on these histories and the assigned classic readings and a
reading quiz, but there is no attempt to provide the kind of in depth coverage one would find in a
more advanced course. Students are also responsible for reading the sections of the game book
outlining the rules of the game itself. Once the reading quiz is completed and the instructor has
reiterated the procedures used in the game, this phase ends with the distribution of game roles.
Roles in Reacting games reflect the goals and, in some instances, the personalities of histori-
cal figures. For instance, in the French Revolution game, most players are members of one of the
four factions: Jacobins, Feuillants, and the nobility and clergy in the “National Assembly” and
the crowd of Paris outside in the “streets”. (The crowd is seated at a table separate from the vot-
ing members of the game.) There are roles for individuals both in and out of factions: among
others, Danton, the Marquis de Lafayette, and King Louis XVI are active participants. There are
also a number of “indeterminates”; members of the Assembly who are not members of any fac-
tion and who by design hold the balance of the votes necessary to win as the games proceed.
Each role has a set of clearly specified “victory objectives”; winning the game means achieving
those objectives and winning is tied to a grading bonus. Stepping out of character or ignoring the
objectives can endanger the person who does so (characters can be “killed” or “threatened” in
both games) and her final grade. The character of the roles brings a level of discipline and team-
6


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