Roleplaying History with The Atlanta Compromise

Lots of faculty, staff, and grad students across CUNY and in all disciplines use games in their teaching and learning. With so much going on we at the CUNY Games Network thought it might be fun to spotlight some of our terrific members and the work that they’re doing.

Prof. Iris Finkel is Reference and Instruction/Web Librarian, Visiting Lecturer at Hunter College. At the end of the American Literature, American Learning couse at the CUNY Graduate Center in Spring 2016, Iris and her fellow students published Structuring Equality: A Handbook for Student-Centered Learning and Teaching Practices. The book is available to download in its entirety on the HASTAC website, including Iris’s chapter The Atlanta Compromise, Reacting to the Past.

I recently had a chance to chat with Iris about developing her game as well as plans for the future.

Maura: Your game, The Atlanta Compromise Game, is modeled on the Reacting to the Past games. How were you first exposed to RTTP? How did you decide to use RTTP as a model for your game?

Iris: I attended a session at a CUNY Games conference a few years ago and learned about the RTTP games there. I love the idea of having students play a role in a historical event as a way of studying history. I wrote the game as my final project in a class I took with Cathy Davidson at the Graduate Center. It was a great way for me to learn something new in a way that could be useful for others.

Maura: Can you briefly describe the gameplay of The Atlanta Compromise Game? What courses are the best fit for this game, and how many students can play simultaneously? How much time does the gameplay take?

Iris: The Atlanta Compromise Game is based on a period in history when progress towards equality of black and white people in the South was halted. The outcome of the Plessy v Ferguson case reinforced the acceptance of separate but equal. This was only about eight months after Booker T. Washington’s conciliatory speech at the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition. I thought creating a game where students could be actors in these events would offer an opportunity for them to make connections to issues that we are still struggling through over one hundred years later.

I designed the game with high school seniors and first year college history classes in mind. I also think that it could work in a Library 100 class (an information literacy course taught at Hunter) and hope that I will be able to use it, or interest other librarians who teach the class to use it. Currently, roles are written for 15 students, but fewer students can play or more roles can be added. Students can take part in the process of creating more roles. The game is played over four class sessions with homework assignments to support in class role playing.

Maura: Let’s talk a bit about your process of creating and play testing your game. Did you make any significant changes during playtesting? Were there any student reactions or situations during gameplay that you hadn’t anticipated?

Iris: I discussed the prospect of play testing the game with my daughters’ history teacher and although he was interested, he didn’t have time to fit it into his curriculum. At that time, I was encouraged by others at my daughters’ school to contact a teacher who moved to another high school in New York City who might be interested in using it in his classes. Your interest in writing about the game now is inspiring me to pursue that option. But, as of now the game has not been play tested.

Maura: What are your plans moving forward with The Atlanta Compromise Game? Will you continue to use it as-is, or develop it further?

Iris: I would like to see the game actually played so I will continue to try to make that happen. Reaching out to History faculty at Hunter, or fellow GC students who teach in Hunter’s History department, is next on my list.

Maura: What are your future plans with game-based learning more generally? Is designing another game in the works for you?

Iris: I don’t have any immediate or future plans for game-based learning, though I continue to look for inspiration for a game to use in the classroom as well one that I can develop on my own.

Many thanks, Iris, for sharing your game with us (and indulging my questions). If you’re a CUNY Games Network member or a CUNY faculty, staff, or graduate student who’d like to talk with us about the games you’ve created, drop us a line and let us know, we’d love to learn more about and showcase your work!

Photo by Chris Humphrey.