Students learn valuable lessons in history role-playing games

Students learn valuable lessons in history role-playing games

Most classes are filled with endless lectures, scribbled notes, essays and overhead slides. Sometimes there’s a break in the monotony, and if students happen to take a class with Nick Proctor, associate professor of history, this can include a little role-playing, strategy war games and dodge ball, Vietcong style.

Last semester, Proctor’s Humanities 101 class took part in an Athenian trial, which decided the fate of Socrates. Half the class took on the role of Socrates’ students who were arguing for his acquittal while the other half portrayed Athenian Democrats who pushed for his swift execution.

“The basic idea is to give the students a role and give them something to argue about,” Proctor said. “By giving them a role, I think it makes it easier for them to argue with one another.”

Students in Proctor’s classes usually play one to two games every semester. Some games have turned students into Indians, Quakers, slaves, newspaper editors and Kentucky legislators.

Proctor believes these games allow students to really dive into a historical moment or text and grasp a better understanding of it.

“The roles are sort of like masks,” Proctor said. “By being able to have a mask, you are able to say and do things you normally wouldn’t do.”

Proctor sees these simulations as a valuable learning tool in the classroom.

“For one, it makes the document come alive,” Proctor said. “Two, it makes people read the documents more carefully because they’re going to have to argue about them and understand what they’re arguing about. Third, it gets students used to arguing with other students, but not in a playground way, but more in a lawyer way where you actually have to have compelling evidence.”

Freshman Ashley Weiland took part in the Athenian mock trial.

“Instead of lecturing and taking notes, it was real,” Weiland said. “We took what we learned, and we were acting it out. It was set up the way the Athenian court and assembly would actually be like.”

The simulation trials allow the students to come to their own conclusions that may have not been historically correct, but as long as they have a solid and plausible argument and articulate it well, Proctor does not intervene.

“It makes the learning an open-ended thing,” Proctor said. “I think the most important lessons are being taught by students to other students.”

Proctor said the ideas for these games stemmed from his childhood where he spent time playing many war games.

“By playing the game, I understood the history better, rather than if I would have just read a short book about it,” Proctor said. “One of the things about the game is you really come to understand causality better.”

Senior Lucy Wilson has taken part in a few of Proctor’s simulation games, which involved role-playing for a women’s history class and also a war strategy game on a giant board game.

“[The board game] took three hours, but we all wanted to play it again,” Wilson said. “It’s different, and it forces you to think on a different level.”

Proctor’s games even include physical excursion, such as the time students played Vietcong Dodgeball in the middle of the Quad. The object of the game was marines were going on patrol in the jungles of Vietnam. They had to retrieve a special package while the Vietcong attempted to stop them.

“Vietcong Dodgeball-that’s one that’s kind of patently ridiculous,” Proctor said. “I think the day we played Vietcong Dodgeball on the Quad while there was a (board of) trustees meeting going on. Some trustees were walking around and were kind of a friendly firing risk. I think that was one of the best gaming days.”

Senior Nick Webb is rounding out his history major by taking Proctor’s May Term, reacting to the past: China and India.

“During my historiography class, all my classmates went on and on about how much fun they had in Proctor simulations,” Webb said. “I always felt a little left out because I had never taken one before. I decided that taking a simulation course for May Term was probably the best way to make up for the fact that I had missed out on Proctor games for the last four years.”