Screenshot of the Mission US homepage, with a revolutionary war video game.I read about today’s featured resource earlier in the week at Free Tech 4 Teachers. The website, Mission US, offers two free, high quality, historical video games.

On the website, you’ll find two different games. One, “For Crown or Colony” let’s student’s play the part of a young apprentice in Boston in the years leading up to the American Revolution. The other, “Flight to Freedom,” puts students in the shoes of a young slave girl in Kentucky in 1848.

A Few Reasons to Like the Games

I spent a little time playing through the beginning of “For Crown and Colony,” and in general I’d say I like the games. Here are a few initial impressions, but keep in mind that I haven’t played the entire game and I haven’t done anything but view the trailer for “Flight to Freedom.”

Good Quality Audio and Video. Ok, so the video isn’t great. These games are reminiscent of late 1990’s adventure style games. You can click on stuff to interact, you have animated characters that talk during dialogue scenes, and you have a map you can click around to travel. But, although these are two dimensional scenes, they have some high quality animation. And the audio is great. There is some nice background music, and the voice actors do a pretty good job of bringing the characters to life. All in all, it has the look and feel of a well funded game, not an educational activity with a shoddy facelift.

Humanizing Characters. One thing that struck me about the parts of “For Crown or Colony” that I played is that the characters were all humanized. It’s easy to demonize the loyalists and to worship the patriots. But there’s a young girl who’s uncle is a loyalist (and your character kind of has a thing for her) who is very likeable. Likewise, there’s an older apprentice who is a patriot, and his likeability is a little ambiguous. The dialogue options that you choose from really make you think about where you stand on issues – rather than simply supporting the patriots and hating the British.

Streamable, and Web Based. You have to sign up for an account, but the games are perfectly playable on the website. I played them in my browser at home and at school, and I didn’t experience any issues with my connection or with my computer. This eliminates the problem of having to install software on school computers, and it also lets students play the games both at school and at home. The game also automatically saves at the end of each “day” (each part), and you can save in the middle of a day to resume your game somewhere else.

The bottom line is that this is a fairly engaging, immersive learning environment. I’d say it’s definitely worth some time to give kids the opportunity to explore these worlds, make choices as these characters, and “live” through these two time periods.

Who Are These Games For?

I’d say that these are great options for middle school students, struggling readers in high school, or language learners. The language is fairly simple, and all of the dialogue is read aloud as well as printed on the screen. I don’t see comprehension being much of an issue for anyone.

In terms of gameplay, this reminds me of a lot of the games that I played as a young kid, in upper elementary or middle school. So these may even be useful for 4th or 5th graders. I have absolutely no experience teaching kids that young, though, so I’d be interested in perspectives from elementary teachers.

My only concern for high school is that it is a bit “fluffy” in terms of content knowledge. For a basic survey US History course, this may be ok, but I would be hesitant to use this in an Advanced Placement or other accelerated class that needs to emphasize a great level of detail.

There are some materials provided for teachers to help you integrate this into class. I’d suggest you read through all of these for some advice. Personally, I think it would be worth spending a day or two starting the game in class, and then have kids play the rest of the game at home on their own. You could then wrap up with a discussion in class, or have kids complete some sort of project (a journal, a reflection, a presentation, a flow chart of choices, whatever) to demonstrate what they’ve learned.

This could also be a great option as an enrichment activity. If you have a few computers in the classroom, you could either rotate students through them, or have students play the game when they’ve completed their other work early. They’re educational and enjoyable; always a good mix.

In one of my grad classes a year or two ago, we discussed a pretty well done game about science and the environment. I think I’m going to track that down and write about that later in the week.

Take a look at the Mission US website, and let me know what you think. Would you consider using these games in class? If so, what do you think is the best way to integrate it into your curriculum and your plans?

Update: I forgot to check while I was initially playing the game and writing this up. But it is a Flash based game, and as such it is not compatible with mobile devices (i.e. tablets). /frown. You’ll have to access the game via a browser on a regular computer. I used Chrome at home and Safari at school, and I had no issues.