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Games & Simulations for Historians

Department of History, Carleton University
HIST 3812A Digital History: Gaming and Simulation for Historians, Winter 2013

Attila’s Court Civ5 screenshot, Civilization Wikia

Professor:  Dr. Shawn Graham

Office:   Paterson 406

E-mail:   After classes start, please direct all e-mail contact through cuLearn e-mail

Office Hours:   Wed 11 – 12; other times by chance or appointment

Class Time:   Mondays & Wednesdays
1.00 – 2.30 pm

Class Location: TB236

Course Description

The aim of this course is to explore ways of expressing historical narratives through interactive digital media and simulations.

This does not mean that you have to be a programmer. There are many roles that need to be filled when we enter into this realm. The final project is the creation of a detailed game/simulation design document, working in groups of five.

Much of the work that you do will be posted to a course blog. I encourage you to use your own name as a way of developing your online academic signal in the noise of the internet. However, if you have privacy concerns you may use a pseudonym. Please see Dr. Graham if you do have privacy concerns.


The philosophy of the core learning in this course can be summed up as, ‘Hacking as a Way of Knowing’. That is, we play with digital things and try to understand through that process. Every exercise in this course builds on every other. The course objectives therefore are to:

  • Introduce and explore key concepts in digital history, through the lens of games & simulations
  • Develop facility with interrogating the representation of history in digital media
  • Understand and express history in a way that takes advantage of the key affordances of digital media.

Required Textbook

Readings are drawn from academic journals, academic project websites, and other disparate sources. Readings for a given week will be listed in the relevant weekly description on our cuLearn course page. Please also browse

Weekly Topics

As a general rule, each week we will use the first session to set up some of the major themes and questions we will want to explore; in the second session we will look at current research projects, websites, and other materials in the light of those themes. Students will be expected to have completed all readings and will be prepared to contribute actively to the discussion. Please see the weekly modules in our cuLearn course space.

Required (free) Software

I do not expect you to become programmers. However, I do expect you to be curious and to explore the authoring software listed on the ‘Final Game Design Project’ page on cuLearn. If you can use a wordprocessor, you are conceptually ready to try out some of these platforms too. Other useful programs & tools will be posted on the course website.


Grades will be assigned as percentages and alphabetical final grades will be assigned following the percentage equivalents described in the Undergraduate Calendar. Marks for all grade components will be posted on the course cuLearn site. Standing in a course is determined by the course instructor subject to the approval of the Faculty Dean. This means that grades submitted by the instructor may be subject to revision. No grades are final until they have been approved by the Dean.


Your grade is composed of the following elements.

(1) In class participation. I expect active listening and contributing to the discussions. There will sometimes be in-class work, which counts towards the participation grade.

(2) Blogging. Each week, three different groups are assigned particular roles with regard to blogging both the readings and the discussion from Monday’s class. Each group will serve in each role once over the course of the semester. The design of this assignment is adapted from Mark Sample’s English course on videogame criticism at George Mason University (

(3) Critical Analysis of a Game/Simulation. As an individual, you will write a critical analysis of a particular game or simulation. I encourage you to look ahead at the various readings, and to read deeply in the literature, in order to complete this assignment.

(4) Group Game Design Document (which also has four checkpoints during the semester to keep you moving). This is the major assignment for this class. One member of the group will submit for the group as a whole (and also for the checkpoints). If you feel that members of your group are not carrying their weight, talk to Dr. Graham privately.

(5) Individual reflection component on the Game Design Document. This will be submitted by every student on the same day as the Group Game Design Document.

  • In-Class Participation: 15%
  • Blogging: 20% (see cuLearn course site, ‘Blogging Instructions’, to identify which group, and what roles, and when, you will be blogging)
  • Critical Analysis: 25% : Due February 4th.
  • Group Game Design Document: 30% (Missing the checkpoints results in -2% each time).  Due April 1st.
  • Individual reflection: 10%. Due April 1st.

I reserve the right to grade group work on an individual basis.

Late or Missing Work

Blogging cannot be made up if the deadlines are missed.

The Critical Analysis may be handed in up to 1 week late, at a cost of 10% per day up to a max of a 50% reduction of the final score.

Checkpoints cannot be made up. Missing checkpoints will result in a -2% penalty per group each time they occur.

Each group will present their game/simulation during the last two weeks of class. Each member of the group is expected to contribute to the presentation. Missing the presentation, or standing silent/idle during your group’s presentation, will result in -5% for you as an individual.

The Group Game Design Document cannot be submitted late. MAKE SURE THAT THIS GETS HANDED IN ON TIME.

Final reflection cannot be submitted late.

NB You will note that there is no final exam. DO NOT take that as a sign that this class is not as important as your other classes. By not having a final, I wish to signal to you that you must bring your best work to bear on your class work at all times.

XP: Level Up Your Game:

You will notice throughout the weekly blocks on cuLearn that there are folders, files, or forums marked ‘Level Up!’ THESE ARE COMPLETELY OPTIONAL. XP -experience points- may be earned by performing any of the tasks listed in the ‘Level Up!’ folder for a given week. They may only be performed during that week. These might involve doing programming tutorials, modifying scenarios or simulations, trying out things in Codeacademy, and yes, playing games. XP can be traded in for a bye on your blogging duties for a given week, or for an extension on certain assignments, or, for those of you in the top third by XP, a small bonus on your final grade.

Your final documents will be posted online and brought to the attention of the history & games community. The three that generate the most interest (as measured by retweets, likes, or other social media-metrics) will receive an XP bonus. I intend to ask if they will publish these ones. See the ‘XP: Level Up Your Game’ page on cuLearn for the XP exchange rate.

Technology Failure: As much of this course depends on the internet, you will be expected to have appropriate internet connectivity, and a backup plan for your work: ‘my computer crashed’ (and similar) will not be an acceptable excuse. Please make sure your computer is as up to date as possible in terms of software, drivers, Java, and so on.