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  • July 19, 2023 1:23 PM | Anonymous

    Becca Livingstone
    Professor of History
    Simpson College

    I assigned Monuments and Memory-Making in my Fall 2022 First-Year Seminar course, which centered on the theme of Civic Engagement.  I, as a historian, naturally gravitate towards thinking about such things historically.  As Abby discussed last week, the contest over how we frame, construct, and teach our national history is a central issue in today’s politics.  The very crux of these debates – what history do we tell, celebrate, exclude, and decry – are defined by who is involved in the conversation.  

    These are big, complicated questions.  Understandably, most students of mine were not particularly interested in exploring these questions; they were busy navigating their first semester in college, figuring out how to be college students, how to fit in, and how to make a good impression on their peers.  In fact, many of my students expressed a distinct reluctance to discuss anything remotely ‘political’ because of how divisive and uncivil those conversations have become.  There was resistance to civic engagement at precisely the time when they were coming of age to be able to vote.  Is there any wonder why with the current hyperpolarization in the country?  But this is what makes the college classroom space all that more important.  Where else can our young people learn the tools for how to discuss contentious issues if not in our classrooms?  How else can we help them figure out how to not only disagree with respect, but also listen to other viewpoints, engage in meaningful discussion, and build consensus about how to move forward together?

     Monuments and Memory-Making provided an interesting point of entry for my students to explore the issues in our current political debates about history without directly engaging in the politics that made them resistant.  It’s topic – the Vietnam War and the 1980s controversy over the memorial’s design – is far enough away that it didn’t directly touch their lives or outlooks.  The game became a less contentious space for them wrestle with the questions of: Who are we as a nation?  How do we deal with uncomfortable and (in many cases) shameful parts of our history?  How do we come to terms with the reality of history and its actors both holding and acting upon beliefs and values that are antithetical to our modern world?  What does this all mean for who we are as a nation today?  By setting these questions in the world of the early 1980s, students more easily engaged with the divergence in perspectives framed by different experiences, allowing them to more readily explore the negotiated nature of historical memory.   

    The experience of playing the game left them with the crucial question of ‘why should this matter to them beyond the classroom space?’  This is where the debriefing session became critical; it was the place where we made the connections between the game and our present.  First, we discussed how the game demonstrated the power and the impact that everyday people, just like themselves, have on the creation of historical memory.  The interaction of roles opened students up to thinking about how people today can have such divergent understandings of American history.  To complete the ultimate task of the game, students had to figure out how this disparate group of people could (or couldn’t) come together to achieve a consensus of what it meant to be American.  This then served as a springboard for us to consider how these questions are alive today and why they matter to all of us.  

    We as a nation are still trying to figure out who we are now and who we want to be.  It should not be the voices of the few or the powerful that decide the vision of the past, present, and the future of our nation; rather it should be the voice of the many, the people.  The stories that we lift up and give voice to matter.  Through this experience, my students began to think about how historical memory is constructed by various competing voices, both big and small, that mostly have nothing to do with historians or the professional discipline.  Instead, it is ordinary people, just like them, who ‘make’ a nation’s historical memory.  The game served as a lesson in civic responsibility and empowerment.  It also showed them how to engage in civil discourse about things that matter deeply to people.  Two things, which our present state of politics are sorely in need of.    

  • July 12, 2023 2:17 PM | Anonymous

    Abigail Perkiss
    Professor of History
    Kean University

    Recently, one of my students told me that it was impossible to truly put himself into the mindset of the role he had been assigned, because he would have been seeing the past through his 2023 eyes. As instructors, we do our best to acknowledge and mitigate this inevitable collision of past and present – of a student’s contemporary predicament influencing the way they understand and interact with a role, a text, a historical moment.

    But what happens when the game asks students to confront this very collision, and calls on them to understand that our present impacts our understanding of the past as much as our past impacts our present?

    Suddenly, their current reality becomes a site of inquiry, an entry point into the ways we as a society experience and make sense of the past, and how those meanings become contested.

    Such is the case for Monuments and Memory-Making. When my co-authors, Rebecca Livingstone and Kelly McFall, and I began conceiving of this game – in 2013 – we aimed to give students a glimpse into the creation of collective memory by entering contest over the construction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. We wanted students to consider how we create a national memory of our collective past. How we move on from a lost war. How we remember the dead while honoring the living. How we reunite a fractured nation.

    We wanted students to understand that the past is neither fixed nor concrete, that empirical evidence is always viewed through the lens of the contemporary reality in which it is interpreted. We wanted them to see that the struggle for the memorialization of the Vietnam conflict was rooted as much in the civic life and politics of the late 1970s and the early 1980s as it was in the preceding decades of fighting.

    Nine years later, as we were finalizing the manuscript for production, armed insurrectionists stormed the US Capitol, brandishing the flag of the Confederacy. Though the history of the Capitol attack was – is – still being written, it was clear early on that this act was more than a mere nod to the past. In the halls of the Capitol, in congressional chambers, and through the streets of Washington, DC, those who participated in the attack invoked an interpretation of history that called back to the aftermath of the US Civil War, when former enslavers fought to memorialize the southern cause as noble and just, a heroic battle to preserve the ways of the South while minimizing the brutality of the system of slavery.

    This fight over the narrative of the Civil War – so deep as to challenge the naming of the war itself – has pervaded American life for more than 150 years. In the wake of the conflict, southerners held dear to this noble “lost cause” narrative, as northerners sought to celebration widespread triumph and the reclamation of a united nation. Today, as historians center the experience of enslaved people and the consequences of slavery in retelling the period, white supremacists like those who invaded the US Capitol on January 6 evoke the Confederacy to push back on the ideas of federal oversight and racial justice reform, lionizing those who fought as victims of an aggressive northern campaign to dismantle southern customs and traditions.

    These debates over the past are not simply academic exercises; they matter because the way we understand and make sense of our collective past informs how we make sense of our contemporary reality. These efforts to commemorate a past as the past stem from our desire to craft a national collective memory of what has come before.

    In 2013, we envisioned Monuments and Memory-Making as a game that would call on students to interrogate the relationship between past and present in the early 1980s. We didn’t conceive of the game as an opportunity for students and instructors to contemplate current events in the time and place in which they were playing the game.

  • June 26, 2023 10:50 AM | Anonymous

    By: Robert Goodrich
    Professor of History
    Northern Michigan University

    This is a continuation of the previous blog about the recently published Democracy in Crisis: Weimar Germany, 1929-1932. The previous post can be found here.

    Alongside my overenthusiastic tendency to overdesign the game, the biggest conundrum proved to be the use of antisemitism, Nazi imagery, and playing a Nazi. These issues quickly became a stumbling block as the RTTP community split into roughly two camps. The first camp, to which I belong(ed), argued that this is RTTP. Our own name is “Reacting to the Past.” We do not shy away from historical controversies but instead believe that only by immersing ourselves in the intellectual realities of the past can we understand how history unfolded as it did without projecting our contemporary prejudices onto it. In short, antisemitism matters. Nazism matters. And we need to confront them head on using all the power of RTTP pedagogy.

    The second camp did not disagree with any of this in the abstract. But practical application was different. They pointed out that there was, in fact, a red line that we should not cross, and that proactive use of antisemitic speech and Nazi imagery espoused by student characters were obviously on the other side of that line. A colleague pointed out the potentially disastrous public relations optics of a student using their phone to video a part of the game where a Nazi character spews antisemitic filth, captioned, “Professor Makes Students Be Nazis.” Twenty years of building a positive brand recognition gone in a flash… Other experienced instructors pointed out the dangers to the students. While we expect much of our students, asking, in particular, a Jewish student to either play a Nazi or be exposed to attacks by a Nazi character could well be expected to shut that student down, trigger warnings be damned. If the goal is to learn about these issues, placing such a high affective barrier is not necessarily conducive to that goal.

    I am not about to try to weight how an individual student might respond emotionally to an RTTP character who embraces ideas diametrically opposed to their own beliefs, but we do this all the time. We expect fundamentalist Christians to be Darwinists, Muslims to play Crusaders, Blacks to play racists, Native Americans to be genocidal whites, and so forth.

    And yet there emerged a particular sensitivity to antisemitism. Not that other game designers or the RTTP community in general were insensitive in the cases just listed. Far from out. I spoke with most of the designers of these games and they were keenly aware of the need to take the students’ sensitivities into consideration. They either developed various mechanics to isolate explosive content or they chose to remove it since, although relevant, it got in the way of bigger issues. And the visceral reaction of many faculty at the RTTP conferences when playing Democracy in Crisis kept appearing as the central point of concern in their assessments.

    Here is not the place for an argument about why antisemitism proved a sort of last frontier. The fact is, it was. Game production stalled. The perceived stakes were high. But in 2022 the editorial board voted to advance it and UNC Press accepted it among its first tranche of RTTP publications released this year.

    What happened? I think three things. First, there were changes in the RTTP board. New faces brought new perspectives, and there was a general shift towards advancing the game. But that just begs the question as to what had happened to shift general perspectives. While the game was regularly debated by RTTP, it played no role in board elections. So other factors were at play.

    The second element was the consequences of the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency in 2016. This was not immediate, but the events of the “Unite the Right” rally in August 2017 and Trump’s persistent refusal to take a principled, consistent, and policy stance against racism (quite the contrary, in fact), were accompanied by an almost inevitable statistical rise in antisemitic and other racist acts and beliefs during his presidency. Whether Trump’s role was casual or contributory or correlative can be debated. And I have not done an opinion poll of RTTP members, but I noticed a distinct shift by 2017 in the willingness to grapple more aggressively with the controversial issues in Democracy.

    “Unite the Right” Rally, Charlottesville, Va, 12 August 2017, by Anthony Crider

    The third element flowed from the second. Working with colleagues, especially those who had faced similar design and classroom challenges, we made changes to how antisemitism and Nazi imagery were handled. The revisions specifically prohibited Nazi iconography (no swastika, “Heil Hitler”, fascist salute, or any such thing). Just as importantly, the section on antisemitism now allowed instructors to choose from three broad options on how to proceed with antisemitism.

    Reich Youth Rally,  Potsdam, 1932 (photograph), Calvin University, German Propaganda Archive

    1) Full integration: Antisemitism, as essential to the period and the issues, remains since leaving it out sanitizes the Nazis, and it is the rise of the Nazis that is the primary reason we study Weimar Germany. It must be confronted head on, and that includes exposing how an overtly racist organization can twist its rhetoric to fit into the norms of a democracy.

    2) Full exclusion: It is dropped as a debate issue entirely. While antisemitism was an integrating construct for the Nazis, they rose to power based on other issues – unemployment, opposition to Versailles, anti-Marxism, collapse of traditional values and ways of life, etc. The game, and history up to 1933, make sense without antisemitism (what happens after, however, does not). After all, this is not a game about the origins of the Holocaust or about the Nazis or Hitler. The topic is replaced by racial eugenics (race hygiene) and eugenic sterilization, which gets at the broader issue of Nazi racial thinking.

    3) Hybrid: Antisemitism remains in the game but rather than having players express those ideas in character, we use historical documents from ~1930 to be read by everyone, distributed in place of speeches by antisemitic characters.

    The revisions went a long way towards allaying lingering concerns, but the changed and charged political climate was likely decisive.

    About the Author

    Robert Goodrich’s research interests lie in Modern Central European history with a broad and integrative approach. His research and teaching emphasizes cultural and social history and the interplay of factors such as labor, gender, sexuality, and religion in identity construction. The nature of his research into religion and identity also requires a comparative view of European and American experiences, reflected in his interest in transnational history and recent focus on questions of identity related to Austro-Hungarian migration to, from, and through Michigan. Goodrich also works to promote internationalization at Northern Michigan University and has taken students to Spain, Peru, Greece, and most regularly, to Austria.

    Blog Author Questionnaire

    One word to describe faculty: Engaged

    Two words to describe (your) school: Supportive, Humane

    Three words to describe students: Kind, Underprepared, Distracted

    Four words to describe favorite games: Team-Based, Open-Ended, Immersive, Problem-Solving

    Five words to describe Reacting: Contingent, Document-Based, Confrontational, Student-Centered, In-Depth

  • May 04, 2023 1:26 PM | Anonymous

    Registration for this year's Annual Institute is still open and games filling up fast! Take this fantastic opportunity to experience some of our most popular Reacting games in a controlled environment. Whether you're a Reacting Veteran or Newbie, the games featured at the Annual Institute will give you something to take away for your classrooms and offer an unforgettable experience.

    Registration is open until May 19th, so don't wait! Register for the Annual Institute today!

    Read on to learn more about the Nine Games and Newbie Workshop we're featuring at this year's Annual Institute!

    The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 B.C.E.

    Democracy in peril in ancient Athens!

    Step back in time to Athens in 403 B.C.E. and immerse yourself in the intellectual and political struggles that shaped debate in the Athenian Assembly. As Athens emerges from the devastation of war with Sparta, players must decide the fate of direct democracy and other issues such as the role of magistrates, the citizenship of slaves and foreign-born metics, and the restoration of its empire.

    With primary sources from Plato's Republic and Pericles' Funeral Oration, Athens 403 BCE is a great way to introduce students to political theory, philosophy, and ancient history. This game is straight-forward and structured making it perfect for first-time instructors and first-year seminars.

    Wrestling with the Reformation: Augsburg, 1531

    Can you keep Augsburg independent and prosperous?

    Religious, economic, and civic duties collide in this dynamic game that challenges players to balance the competing demands of citizens and foreign powers in the midst of the Reformation. As a member of the City Council of Augsburg, you'll have to navigate complex decisions that will impact the city's military defense, economic growth, and spiritual purity. With salvation and Augsburg's very survival at stake, players must work together to form alliances and make critical decisions to secure the future of the city. This game is perfect for students studying Cultural and Social History, Medieval History, Religion, Western Civ, or World History.

    Detroit 1859: The Frederick Douglass-John Brown Meeting

    The Abolitionist Movement is at a crossroads!

    Step back in time to a critical moment in American History as the Abolitionist Movement reacts to recent bombshells including the Dred-Scott decision and Fugitive Slave Act. As you take on the role of a prominent abolitionist, you'll have the chance to engage in lively debates and discussions with other key abolitionists, including John Brown and Frederick Douglass. With the future of the Abolitionist Movement hanging in the balance, it's up to you to work together and find a new viable plan to end slavery in America.

    Will you be able to come to a consensus, or will disunity impede your progress? Introduce your students to the debates that defined the abolitionist movement with this newly developed game that was recently featured at the GDC in 2022.

    Diet and Killer Diseases: The McGovern Committee Hearings, 1977

    The deadliest food in your kitchen is in the sugar bowl...

    Why are they still selling non-fat yogurt and who got the idea it was a good thing? It all stems from the McGovern committee's findings in 1977. As US senators and doctors examine the scientific evidence on dietary fat and its impact on health. You'll explore how the committee's report was influenced by more than just scientific data and how the findings of it were amplified by journalists to change how we think of nutrition and health.

    As you navigate factional, competitive, and collaborative player interactions, you'll consider issues of public health, science, journalism, and political lobbying. This game is perfect for those interested in the history of medicine and health, history of science and technology, political science and government, and STEM.

    Greenwich Village, 1913: Suffrage, Labor, and the New Woman, Second Edition

    A New Century, A New America?

    Immerse yourself in the socio-political changes that characterized the early 1900s. Labor, Suffrage, and Bohemian ideals clash in New York City in an attempt to forge a new America. With notable historical figures, including Emma Goldman, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and W.E.B. DuBois, Greenwich Village Second Edition offers a rich overview of 20th century political movement. Students will attempt to persuade each other through lively debates, stinging op-eds, and artistic expression to gain influence and make sure their views are heard.

    The all-new second edition comes with more structure "under the hood," while still providing players with considerable freedom to initiate debates and explore the ideas of the time. This game works especially well with classes that explore American political movements, labor, race, and gender.  Assignments are designed to move beyond speeches and debates to get students more engaged, making it a great game for new and experienced Reactors alike.

    Ending the Troubles: Religion, Nationalism, and the Search for Peace and Democracy in Northern Ireland, 1997-98

    Giving Peace a Chance in Northern Ireland.

    Step into the shoes of Northern Ireland's major political parties as they reconvene at the Multi-Party talks in 1997 to end 30 years of bloody conflict. Ending the Troubles offers a unique opportunity for history and politics majors to more deeply understand Irish history. It's also an effective way to get general education or honors students to learn the broad issues raised by the clash of civic and cultural nationalism in Modern Europe and the US. Students will find an effective way to explore strategies to achieve compromise between long warring communities. This game also explores the difficulties involved in designing a democratic system that can protect minority rights. Register today to avoid having fingers thrown at your door!

    Rousseau, Burke, and Revolution in France, 1791

    Revolution, counter-revolution, or reform in France.

    Students are tasked with the daunting task of writing a constitution for a revolutionary France. Along the way they will grapple with fundamental questions about individual rights, democracy, and the limits of governmental power.

    This game offers a unique experience for students and an immersive introduction to Political Science, European History, and Philosophy. With themes ranging from political violence, combatting inequality, slavery and the role of the Church, there's something that can be used in any class. Primary sources include Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Social Contract and Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, which allow students to actually apply political theories to governance.

    The Fate of John Brown, 1859

    John Brown: slavery, liberation, and violence.

    An immersive game that places students at a fictional conference debating whether to execute John Brown for his failed rebellion at Harper's Ferry. As players immerse themselves in this pivotal moment in history, they will confront enduring questions about the legitimacy of political violence and the balance between morality and the law. This short game is perfect for classes looking focus on slavery, the Civil War, and the abolitionist movement. As a week-long short game it also has the benefit of fitting into tight courses that are still looking for interactive ways to immerse their students in history.

    Democracy in Crisis, Weimar Germany, 1929-32

    Democracies don't die, they're murdered.

    Step into the shoes of a delegate of the Reichstag and contend with the complex political landscape of Germany during the Weimar Republic. With factions and ideologies clashing for power, players must navigate the pressures of economic stress, political gridlock, and foreign demands while addressing street fights, trade union strikes, assassinations, and deadly polarization.

    The complex issues addressed in this game makes it easy to adapt to different courses and have increasingly relevant real-world implications. Today, Democracy is under attack globally, sometimes insidiously, sometimes directly. The study of how a modern democracy is killed is surely of use for those who wish to defend one now and identify the dangers: gridlock, arbitrary executive orders, constitutional crises, corruption, party over country, and the demonization of opponents.

    Reacting Newbie Workshop

    A great introduction to using Reacting in the classroom!

    Are you relatively new to Reacting to the Past and wanting a curated experience to help you understand how to use Reacting games in your courses? This year's Annual Institute features a workshop dedicated to Reacting Newbies and designed to answer your questions and help prepare you for when you run your first game. Take part in a hands-on workshop series designed to walk you through the process of syllabus revision, assessment strategies, and curricular integration, so you'll feel fully confident when implementing Reacting to the Past. Learn from instructors who have used Reacting and share your questions and experiences with colleagues from across the country. This option is recommended for Reacting Newbies, and for cohorts from the same school.

  • April 24, 2023 4:32 PM | Anonymous

    By: Robert Goodrich
    Professor of History
    Northern Michigan University

    After integrating RTTP into my classes at Northern Michigan University and attending the annual faculty conference at Barnard, I started working on a Weimar game (what ultimately became titled Democracy in Crisis: Germany, 1929-32) in 2010. Mark Carnes and I had a conversation at one point a few years later about it, and, paraphrasing, he stated that everyone had always joked that it would be impossible to do a Weimar game—it just be too complicated and polarizing. I was naively unsure how to take the comment.

    Of course, by that time I already had a beta version of the game. I thought I had come up with some new mechanics that could integrate the abstraction of Weimar’s fickle public opinion and sense of crisis (what I came to call the “Stability Index”). Regarding mechanics, I had followed Nick Proctor’s advice. “Throw in the kitchen sink” is what I remember him telling me during the early design phase, “You can edit it back later.” I responded by making a rather wonky game (it still has a lot of that complexity even after Nick encouraged me to take out the kitchen sink—sorry). I also tried to hit the reality that every single modern issue was on the table during Weimar, but the number of issues kept expanding to either unmanageability or too much open-endedness in terms of what issues instructors and players could choose to integrate.

    Most of these were resolved over time through play testing. Issues that did not generate enough “heat” (I think this was John Moser’s term) were dropped (labor-management relations and religion); so, too, were those where players showed a tendency to simply replicate modern American discussions (abortion, gay rights, the death penalty). Some mechanics were dropped to keep the game focused on debate (trade unions and finances).

    It remains a bit more complicated than most, but within expectations for one of RTTP’s bigger games. In fact, “big” is where this game really unfolds—it works best with a large classroom from 20+ given the fractured nature of Weimar politics. In the end, it hits the main goal of exploring how democracies die through polarization, radicalization, gridlock, and constitutional shenanigans. Generally, players come to appreciate the desperation of moderate politicians torn between extremes as the middle frays, and why they, in that desperation, might be willing to consider previously unthinkable alliances (in this case, a presumably tactical and temporary alliance with the far-right populism of the fascists).

    And now it is 2023. Parliamentary gridlock. Polarization and echo chambers. Hysteria and moral panic. Post-truth discourse and hostility to a free press. Refusal to accept democratic outcomes. Politics as theatre rather than legislation. Corruption. Calls for violence against political opponents. Calls for insurrection and civil war. Xenophobia and national chauvinism. Amplification of counter-factual conspiracy theories. Support of tyrannies abroad. Attacks on and scapegoating of the most isolated members of society. Mainstream enabling of openly authoritarian rhetoric and policies. And, as I write this, the referral for criminal charges, including sedition, against a former president who has pandered to blatant racists and called for the literal “termination” of the Constitution in order to be restored to power.

    I started this project in 2010. I saw it as history. As it now reaches classrooms in 2023, I am not so sure it is not a bit more chilling than a mere historical exercise anymore. To repeat my comment in the game’s introduction, democracies do not die, they are murdered. There is motive and process. And someone takes the necessary actions. Usually, they even confess before the deed is done. If the game has any value, I hope that it is to help us see how a democracy is undermined, why people act in this manner, and how to recognize the actors. And then to take action to prevent it. These are all choices on all sides. And there are always alternatives.

    Democracy in Crisis is one of the many games being offered at this year's Annual Institute. If getting first-hand experience playing the finished version with the author himself interests you, you can register today on our official event page!

    About the Author

    Robert Goodrich’s research interests lie in Modern Central European history with a broad and integrative approach. His research and teaching emphasizes cultural and social history and the interplay of factors such as labor, gender, sexuality, and religion in identity construction. The nature of his research into religion and identity also requires a comparative view of European and American experiences, reflected in his interest in transnational history and recent focus on questions of identity related to Austro-Hungarian migration to, from, and through Michigan. Goodrich also works to promote internationalization at Northern Michigan University and has taken students to Spain, Peru, Greece, and most regularly, to Austria.

    Blog Author Questionnaire

    One word to describe faculty: Engaged

    Two words to describe (your) school: Supportive, Humane

    Three words to describe students: Kind, Underprepared, Distracted

    Four words to describe favorite games: Team-Based, Open-Ended, Immersive, Problem-Solving

    Five words to describe Reacting: Contingent, Document-Based, Confrontational, Student-Centered, In-Depth

  • March 01, 2023 11:07 AM | Anonymous

    By: Ray Kimball
    Founder and CEO
    42 Educational Games Coaching and Design

    I recently read Jane McGonigal’s Imaginable: How to see the future coming and feel ready for anything – even things that seem impossible today. Because McGonigal’s background is in gaming, I saw parallels between the book’s framework and the Reacting Community. Below are my Reacting takeaways from Imaginable. Each section has a graphic with McGonigal’s rules and summary of those rules, followed by my musings.

    Given the current state of the world, it is really hard to focus beyond the immediate. But the tyranny of the present is exactly why McGonigal’s idea of envisioning the future is so critical. When so many of our assumptions about education have been upended, now is the time to see what the future might have in store for us. Why ten years out? From a Reacting perspective, ten years gives sufficient time for a game to go through the publishing process. A Reacting game that is only a glimmer of an idea now could easily be in a published status ten years from now.

    Reacting is ridiculous! That’s not a disparagement of Reacting, but simple statement of fact derived from the state of higher ed. It is ridiculous to believe that students would collaborate out of class, read longer form pieces, and inhabit the personae of long-dead individuals. But that is precisely why Reacting is so powerful: it gives us a way to realize a different style of teaching. Imagine science classes playing Climate Change and Charles Darwin to understand both contemporary challenges and foundational debates. Imagine Chinese, French, or Latin classes playing Confucianism in ChinaEnlightenment in Crisis or Crisis of Catiline to practice their language skills and gain a deeper cultural understanding. Imagine American Politics classes playing Chicago 1968 and Food Fight to better grasp the complex interplay and occasional dysfunction of American governance. Reacting may be ridiculous, but it is also completely capable of “rewriting the facts of today.”

    Start by looking at those future forces that will impact your students and potentially create a greater imperative for Reacting. Some of these forces might be a greater emphasis on open access textbooksrethinking of traditional classroom design, or a shift in college demographics. As you look for these forces, look for Reacting allies who might also be stakeholders in Reacting’s establishment or growth at your institution. These might be a student Live Action Role Playing (LARP) group, a like-minded faculty affinity group, or a faculty development grant program. You may be surprised at how many Reacting-adjacent efforts there are in your backyard.


    Above all, understand what your students need. Practicing “hard empathy” with them means seeing education through their eyes. The Marist Mindset List is a great tool for this. You may discover that students want games to tell under-represented stories like those of LGBTQ political figures or post-colonial governments. Using this approach, you can ensure that those challenges are mutually shared by all members of the educational community.

    Reacting is in many ways a shared dream. The broad-based collaborations it inspires are unheard of. What are some options for your Reacting “call to adventure”?

    • Attend a Reacting event. Whether it’s an in-person conference or a webinar, Reacting events are a great way to get a sense of what’s out there.
    • Browse the Games section of the Reacting website. A powerful search function can help you find games you might otherwise miss.
    •  Write your own! Reacting has a growing wealth of resources to support future authors.

    Let’s make Reacting truly Imaginable in education!

    About the Author

    Ray Kimball holds a Doctorate of Education in Learning Technologies from Pepperdine University and Masters’ Degrees in History and Russian Area Studies from Stanford University. He spent ten years on the faculty of the US Military Academy at West Point, advocating for broader adoption of active pedagogies like Reacting. He currently serves as the CEO of 42 Ed Games, a Reacting “Fellow Traveler” organization.

    Blog Author Questionnaire

    One word to describe faculty: Inspiring

    Two words to describe your school: Armed Hogwarts

    Three words to describe students: Ready for change

    Four words to describe favorite games: Escape reality for now

    Five words to describe Reacting: A community like no other

  • January 18, 2023 2:08 PM | Anonymous

    This year brought a lot of changes to Reacting to the Past! From our new relationship with the University of North Carolina Press to transitions in leadership, and our new website.

     Here are ten of the most significant blog posts and announcements that you might have missed this year!

    1. Mark Carnes Steps Down After More than 15 Years as the Executive Director of the Reacting Consortium

    Thank you Mark for all that you've done and continue to do for Reacting to the Past!

    Announcement: Reacting Leadership Transitions

    Announcement: Reacting Leadership Transitions

    Reacting to Mark Carnes with Gratitude

    Reacting to Mark Carnes with Gratitude

    2. UNC Press Takes Over Publishing for RTTP

    Reacting Consortium Partners with UNC Press for all Reacting Games

    Reacting Consortium Partners with UNC Press for all Reacting Games

    3. “The Not So New Guys” Take Over

    Notes from the Executive Director: Nicolas Proctor’s Objectives

    Editorial Comments: Thoughts from Kelly McFall, Interim Chair of the REB

    Talking Heads:  The Not-So-New Guys Discuss their New Roles

    4. Our New Website Gets a Makeover

    Fall 2022 Web Update

    5. Former Reactors Reflect on Reacting

    Reacting Growing with You

    Reflecting on the Past

    What Reacting Can Do

    6. Reacting Comes to High Schools

    Reacting in High School

    The Reacting Consortium - Reacting in High Schools

    7. Chatbots Dominate Facebook Group Discussion

    Reacting to Chatbots

    Reacting Faculty Lounge | Facebook

    8. Another Successful Giving Day

    Giving Day 2022

    9. Game-Based Learning Continues to Grow

    Introducing Plexus!

    The Making of Rising Waters

    The Reacting Consortium - Fellow Travelers

    10. The Reacting Team Grows

    The Reacting Consortium - Contact and Team

  • December 19, 2022 5:39 PM | Anonymous

    Nick Proctor
    Executive Director
    Reacting Consortium

    This post is excerpted from the Winter Newsletter that will be sent in January. It has been posted early here because of its relevance to current trends and discussions in the Reacting Community.

    Early this December, discussions of ChatGPT, the language assembly AI, dominated our Facebook group. As usual, the discussion was passionate and informed. Several people posted especially thoughtful comments.

    One of the best was on December 8th when Jamie Lerner-Brecher shared the results of her prompt, “write a speech as Thrasybulus talking about why Athens should become a democracy.” In ten seconds, the AI produced a capable, well-organized five paragraph essay. One paragraph read as follows,

    “First of all, democracy is not chaos. On the contrary, it is a form of government that is based on the rule of law and the protection of individual rights. In a democracy, the people are free to express their opinions and to participate in the decision-making process, but they must do so within the bounds of the law. This means that a democracy can be orderly, fair, and just.”

    As I contemplated Jamie’s post, I was struck by the degree to which the AI relied on 21st century concepts. If a player presented ChatGPT’s work as a speech, I wondered what might happen when other players started posing questions.

    You say that in democracy "the people are free to express their opinions," does this mean you are criticizing the Reconciliation Agreement?

    What do you mean by the "rule of law"? Don't you mean the will of the people?

    Is Athenian democracy really about the "protection of individual rights"? Does this mean we can't put Socrates on trial?

    Someone who did not write the paper would be hard pressed to answer. Of course, this would require other players to listen and to think. Two things that do not always happen.

    Regardless, I was feeling pretty good when Javier Hidalgo shared some more essays. These were sharper because they used a point of view. They were also meatier because he asked the AI to include quotations from appropriate sources. I think these would still fall apart under questioning. This was echoed by William H. Campbell who commented, “The more we lean into informed viva voce debate rather than writing, the harder it will be for students to use AI.”

    Javier agreed, but expressed understandable concern about relying on debate, which often moves very quickly, for evaluation. I agree. I’m confident when I’m marking essays, but I don’t know that I assess classroom engagement very well. If I was looking at that paper while a player floundered with her answers, I would probably think that she had just gotten flustered.

    As I was mulling this over, my colleague, Rebecca Livingstone, asked me to visit her Vietnam Memorial game as a special guest star. Her students had created an aesthetic disaster and she wanted a Reagan administration official to press them on their dubious decision-making. It was here that I started to see the limitations of ChatGPT more clearly (at least in its current form).

    After I left Becca’s class, I spent the next hour engaging it by asking and then refining questions like, “What would H. Ross Perot think about Maya Lin’s design if it included seven marble statues representing ideas like ‘suffering’ and ‘racism’”? If you glanced at the role sheet or the gamebook, you would know the answer in an instant, but ChatGPT was stymied. The flat, grammatically flawless answers that it produced did not begin to understand the question. It understood all the elements, but it could not combine them.

    I think there are two reasons for this. First, I was asking it for a distinct point of view. Javier had better luck with this, but it struggled with all the ones I tried for Vietnam Memorial. Second, the situation was weird and unprecedented. Lacking a good baseline from which to respond, the responses were always off the mark. Mostly, I received reassurances that different people’s responses would depend on their life experiences.

    As I contemplated ways in which Reacting might respond to this very new set of challenges, it struck me that they are, in many ways, not new at all. As he tells the tale, Mark Carnes was faced with a similar dilemma all those years ago when he walked across Broadway, headed to a class full of very smart students who would give him grammatically flawless answers to questions that have been asked many times before. His solutions then provide us with many of our solutions now: give students points of view, get them talking to each other, and when things get weird, embrace it. They are only human, after all.

    About the Author

    Nicolas Proctor is a history professor who writes games and enjoys teaching classes. As a history professor, he likely has a deep understanding of the subject and is able to convey complex ideas in an engaging and accessible way. His passion for teaching is evident in the time and effort he puts into creating games, which can be a fun and interactive way for students to learn about history. Whether in the classroom or through his games, Nicolas Proctor's love for teaching and history shines through. Thanks, ChatGPT!

    Blog Author Questionnaire

    One word to describe faculty: Dedicated

    Two words to describe (your) school: Tidily Midwestern

    Three words to describe students: Generally stressed out

    Four words to describe favorite games: They make players think

    Five words to describe Reacting: Mark shared his toys, yay!

  • December 05, 2022 10:52 AM | Anonymous

    Courtney Klaus
    Former Reactor
    University of Notre Dame

    I’ve always been a competitive person. 

    When I heard I was going to play a historical role-playing game with stakes that involved being “torn limb-from-limb,” of course, I was eager to win. Even in an Honors class, I stood out as an aggressive Type-A. The way I carried myself in class, my experience in public speaking, and my genuine interest in history made me an ambitious and disciplined student. But it also painted a target on my back. My classmates saw me as someone who couldn’t be trusted. Maybe some of them even thought I was a showoff. 

    Assigned the role of noble Lafayette, I was to lead my moderate faction to victory in the French Revolution, while fronting a temporary alliance with the Jacobins. I was not an especially likable player. In fact, I was one of the first people my classmates decided to kill off, three whole sessions before the game ended. 

    It is tough to imagine how I could’ve done any worse…but that’s the subversive wisdom of Reacting to the Past

    The Reacting pedagogy does not simply reward the book-smart student for memorizing key dates or knowing obscure trivia. Reacting rewards those soft skills that are so hard to teach using traditional methods.

    Reacting teaches lessons in likeability; persuasion; networking; listening; knowing when and when not to speak; and, of course, dealing with failure despite doing your best. These are the lessons that students who are probably accustomed to academic success need to learn the most. 

    I was lucky to face this challenge at the beginning of college. In Reacting, sometimes “winning” was driven by the luck of a die roll. Other times, it just depended on who ate lunch with who the previous week. Networking, strategizing, and compromising with others offered the best chances of success. 

    When I played my second game, I prioritized building connections with other players. I made strategic concessions when necessary. I found more creative and less straightforward ways to build a coalition that supported me. And I did win, though, even if I hadn’t, it would have been okay.  

    Law school is not totally unlike the public squares of Revolutionary France, and I don’t just say that because I fear a very public slaughter each time the professor cold calls the class.

    In an environment where everyone is extremely competitive (and scared), traditional measures of “success” are always less certain. Ambitious people experience an unfamiliar lack of control. People can fail, and they can fail hard

    In real life, success can be unpredictable. Sometimes the most important “knowledge” or “skill” involves the way we respond to this uncertainty. What can we actually control? What is our plan B? Where is success most possible? In what ways can we form relationships that will help us achieve our goals? 

    A normal college class hardly ever raises these questions. But Reacting does. 

    Today, my ability to relate to people and engage in a productive conversation is as crucial to my success as my ability to write a decent 20-page memorandum. As a young professional, both skills can be important, but the value of the former cannot be understated. 

    Sometimes, the most impactful interactions are the casual ones you can have with the professor after class or with the alum at the football game. I listen to others, I follow up, I do my best to keep in touch. I also try not to equate my total worth with my ambition or my academic achievements, and frankly, I am all the better for it.

    I’m finding that adulthood comes with plenty of invisible lessons no one ever bothers to teach you out loud. Reacting gave me a head start in navigating some complicated professional dynamics. When you’re working at a large law firm in the city, it sometimes pays to put on a competitive front. Most other times though, it can be better to simply get along. 

    And, frankly, I’ve found that delivering an argument in front of a federal judge can be less scary after you’ve delivered one in front of a bunch of bloodthirsty 18-year-old Honors students. 

    So, what else can I say, except, Viva la Revolution, and long live Reacting to the Past

    About the Author

    Courtney Klaus is a third-year law student at the University of Notre Dame, where she serves as President of the Moot Court Board and Managing Symposium Editor of the Notre Dame Law Review. She has been recognized nationally in appellate advocacy, winning Second Place Oralist at the Frank A. Schreck National Gaming Moot Court Competition and Best Oralist at the Notre Dame 1L Moot Court Tournament. Courtney earned her bachelor's in history and communication at Newman University, where her love of Reacting games inspired her to become a student intern for RTTP and to write her own game for her honors thesis. Courtney delivered a speech at the 2019 RTTP Annual Faculty Institute, which was published alongside remarks from Mark Carnes in Transformations: The Journal of Inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy

    Blog Author Questionnaire:

    One word to describe faculty: Inquisitive

    Two words to describe your school: Inspiring, Unique

    Three words to describe students: Competitive, Crazy, Hilarious

    Four words to describe favorite games: Thought-provoking, Challenging, Creative, Immersive

    Five words to describe Reacting: Empathy, Wisdom, Communication, Collaboration, Fun

  • November 28, 2022 11:08 PM | Maddie Provo (Administrator)

    Dear Reactor,

    This year, we are soliciting donations to honor the founder of Reacting, Mark Carnes. We are all the beneficiaries of the generosity of his decision to share the concept of Reacting far and wide. Not one to rest on his laurels, he has turned himself to the hard work of revising several of the original games. Building upon his own experiences with Reacting, those of others, and an impressive collection of co-authors and collaborators, he is updating and improving games like Defining a Nation: India on the Eve of Independence, 1945, for new editions. 

    Making a donation at this time will honor his continuing efforts by building Reacting as an institution. We anticipate spending the funds that we raise as part of this campaign on several worthy initiatives that all, in one way or another, create more access to our community. 

    People who have attended face-to-face conferences know that the student preceptors are a delight. They fill gaps in the rosters if players do not show up, provide invaluable insight into the student experience of playing games, and otherwise keep everything running smoothly. Ordinarily, most of these students come from the host institution. We seek to include a broader range of students from a wider array of institutions for the 2023 Annual Summer Institute. This will require subsidizing travel costs for preceptors from outside of New York. 

    In addition to subsidizing student travel, we intend to continue underwriting conference registration for faculty from underrepresented groups as well as staff from HBCUs and HSIs. This is an ongoing effort, which has been a success, but in order to expand it, we need funds.

    Reacting builds friendships, but amid all the hugging, back-slapping, and stories of botched assassination attempts, it can be tough to be a newcomer at a face-to-face conference. Consequently, at the beginning of the Summer Institute we usually have a reception for newcomers. This helps counter the degree to which it can feel a little like a summer camp reunion. Put another way, we need beer and pretzels so newbies can be more chill.

    We present the Brilliancy Prize for a particularly ingenious or creative idea or pedagogical practice that advances Reacting games. These include ground-breaking elements of game design, new curricular applications, original modes of institutional adoption or dissemination, or other imaginative and resourceful innovations. This is a cash prize, so we need [ahem] cash.

    Finally, we will use some of these funds to extend the hours for Noah Trujillo. He is our Digital Resources Coordinator, which means that if you have downloaded something from our website, you should credit him. If you’ve seen the new “Start Here” page (or most any page on the site these days), you know his work. Could the website be better? Of course! Can it be better without paying him? Sadly, no.

    For this campaign, an anonymous donor, who likes these ideas has pledged $5000 in matching funds. The math here is easy; we need to raise some money to show that we are serious about these initiatives as a community in order to persuade this individual that we are a worthy cause. Please help us do what we do better. Donate here

    Thank you for your continued support for this, our shared endeavor.

    Nicolas Proctor
    Reacting Consortium, Executive Director
    Simpson College, History Department

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