by Kurt Squire
Digital games is an emerging entertainment medium that an increasing number of educators are examining as tools for engaging learners. Yet, few models exist for how to use contemporary gaming media in formal learning environments. A commercial historical computer strategy game such as Civilization III is an intriguing artifact to examine in classroom contexts because of its wide appeal, design sophistication, and unique affordances as a world history simulation. Civilization III represents world history not as a story of colonial domination or western expansion, but as an emergent process arising from overlapping, interrelated factors.
The purpose of this study is to explore what happens when Civilization III, a complex computer game developed in entertainment contexts enters formal learning environemtns. This dissertation presents three naturalistic case studies in which Civilization III was used as the basis for a unit on world history in urban learning environments. I examine how the game engaged players, the social interactions that occur, how understandings emerge, and what role game play serves in mediating students’ understandings.
In all three cases, engagement was a complex process of appropriation and resistance, whereby the purposes of game play was negotiated among students’ identities, classroom goals, and the affordances of Civilization III. Civilization III engaged each student in unique ways, and this engagement affected the kinds of questions students asked of their games, the kinds of conceptual understandings that arose through game play, and the interpretations they made about history. History and geography became tools for game play and successful students developed conceptual understandings across world history, geography, and politics. These cases suggest the potential for using simulation games in world history education, but also the significant, unsolved challenges in integrating such a complex game within classroom settings.