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  • 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 | Anonymous

    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

  • November 22, 2022 9:36 AM | Anonymous

    Lauren Unterberger
    Reacting Consortium Student Employee
    Barnard College

    I started my Reacting adventures in a cramped bedroom during my freshman year at Barnard College. During the Covid semesters, all of my classes were online. So, each day I would grab extra sheets out of my closet for a makeshift chiton, draw on an eyebrow pencil beard in my Facetime camera, and transform from Lauren, the nervous freshman, to Meletus, the radical Thrasybulan Democrat of ancient Athens

    The policies I desperately lobbied against in my aspirational Euripides propaganda passed. But that was supposed to happen. This was a vote that I could never mathematically win. 

    Three years later, I’m a Junior at Barnard College, majoring in Medieval & Renaissance studies with a minor in Ancient Studies. I’m not surprised at all that my simulated time in Athens led me to my minor. During one class gathering of the Athenian assembly, I wrote and performed an original Greek tragedy using classical allusions to mirror the political injustices faced by Thrasybulan Democrats following the Peloponnesian War. I was already a theater kid, but this academic project presented me with the opportunity to dive into the world of classical drama, and to understand it as a means of political commentary and manipulation. I’ve been exploring the throughline of legal and political development in classical to Renaissance drama at Barnard ever since. 

    I’ve donned my classical uniform a few more times since then, returning to the exact issue of the aftermath of the Peloponnesian War. For the last two summers, I’ve led a chorus of Barnard alums, aged 25 to 85, acting as members of the Athenian assembly at our Reunion Weekends. Each year, I know how the vote will end, and each year I’ve picked up a new argument for the losing battle. Whether it’s legal analysis on Euripides’ Libation Bearers from Professor Helen Foley’s Classical Mythology or a moral realization in performing Anne Carson’s An Oresteia in Professor Gisela Cardenas’ Acting II, there’s always something new to be brought to the conversation. The questions that Reacting games ask never have just one answer, nor the problems one solution. The process of reaching new (or old) historical conclusions grows with me, twisting and developing itself like a sentient maze to face each new argument and idea. It’s a phenomenon I find fascinating and endlessly exciting. 

    My current role with the Reacting Consortium finds me wearing fewer fake beards. I’ve worked on all kinds of things for Reacting, including: the website, file management and upload, social media, user database exports, and more fun stuff like garnering resources to build a student-focused section of this lovely website. Reactor Central, as I’ve deemed this project, will serve as a guiding hub of experiential learning on how the Reacting game is played, and as an HQ to return to when you play it again with new questions & answers!

    About the Author

    Lauren Unterberger (she/her) is a junior at Barnard College, working towards a bachelor’s degree in Medieval & Renaissance Studies in 2024, with a specialization in legal and literary history. 

    Blog Author Questionnaire

    One word to describe faculty: Committed 

    Two words to describe your school: Small & Big 

    Three words to describe students: Driven, Collaborative, Innovative 

    Four words to describe your favorite games: Political Intrigue, Argument, Alliance

    Five words to describe Reacting: In and Out of Class!

  • October 27, 2022 12:33 PM | Anonymous

    By: Robert Biggert and James Petullo
    Creators of Plexus
    Assumption University

    Plexus is a real-time, multiplayer educational game platform built at Assumption University. As a professor-student team, our impetus for this game was two-fold: first, to create active and engaged classrooms and second, to harness the (usually unproductive) student use of technology in the classroom (laptops, tablets, smartphones). In short, our solution to the classroom conundrum is “If you cannot beat em, join em.”

    Originally, our game was intended for use in sociology classes, specifically as a tool to aid in the teaching of social movements and collective action: students could be placed virtually into a conflict scenario, playing as either protestors or police. To support this style of play, our game is broadly based on game theory. This entails two actors with divergent interests both facing the basic choice of whether or not to use violence to achieve their goals. Thus, our game model includes a payoff matrix that awards payouts to each side during repeated play, ultimately determining a final winner at the end of the game.

    Additionally, we have added support for game customizability. Professors can upload educational content for students to read before the game starts, while the actor names and payoff matrix can all be customized to reflect the intended game scenario. This customizability has enabled the use of our game in contexts outside sociology, including the Arab Spring protests in a history class, the mechanics of oligopoly collusion in economics, and homeless encampment clearings in a criminal justice course. Nevertheless, our goal is to build a platform that can facilitate play of many different role-playing games, beyond our current two-actor model.

    Throughout our research, we considered the RTTP model, which we had run in classes previously, to be the exemplar in the field of educational gaming and simulation. Due to our focus on protest, we used Nicolas Proctor’s Chicago 1968 to link our platform with the RTTP model. We did so by building a game on Plexus that replays the enormously consequential Battle of Michigan Avenue. In this way, we view our game as a complementary mini-game to a larger role-play, facilitating play of high intensity, singular events from the overall game scenario. RTTP is the gold standard of education role-playing games, and we think that a micro, online gameplay option would greatly increase RTTP users’ ability to more quickly deliver engaging and exciting content from the larger role-play to their students.

    We believe that most role-playing games can be hosted wholly or partially online via a pairing of our model and the RTTP framework. We would be delighted to assist the RTTP community in the creation of new online mini-games or the porting of existing games to our platform.

    About the Author

    Dr. Robert Biggert and James Petullo have been designing ed-tech games (since 2019) at Assumption University in Worcester, MA. Robert is a recently retired professor of sociology at Assumption and James is a senior studying Computer Science. Their interdisciplinary research has led to their creation of Plexus, an online platform for hosting customizable, realtime role playing games.

    Blog Author Questionnaire

    One word to describe faculty: Engaged

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

    Three words to describe students: Kind, Hardworking, Focused

    Four words to describe favorite games: Fast-paced, Engaging, Fun, Cerebral

    Five words to describe Reacting: Innovative, Absorbing, Active, Proven, Leader

  • October 20, 2022 4:32 PM | Anonymous

    By: Scout Blum
    Designer, Rising Waters and Professor of History and Philosophy

    Troy University

    I have a t-shirt with “I love toxic waste” emblazoned across it.  I don’t really, obviously, but I cut my academic teeth on studying how people deal with toxic waste, environmental crises and activism.  That work isn’t easy -  these are demoralizing, difficult topics to confront.  I consider myself an activist, as well and struggle with the balance of “objective” research.  I’ve wanted my research to inform activism in positive ways.  Can academics use their research in constructive ways without abandoning honest assessments of source material?  Is there a way to instill hope in work about racism, sexism, environmental disasters, and climate change?  These are hard questions – and I’ve found that you can’t avoid them when designing games – just as historians can’t avoid them in research.

    Many tabletop games, however, have a long history of marginalizing, completely avoiding, or whitewashing some of those exact issues.  This is most apparent in board games about colonization – they’re almost always told from the perspective of Western white colonizers and completely ignore the negative consequences of colonization. The favorite example is a worker-placement game called Puerto Rico.  Set in an ill-defined colonial period, the game uses “colonists” as labor, blatantly pushing slavery under the rug for the comfort of their players.  There are clear reasons why these ideas are only recently receiving pushback.   Board games are designed by white men.  They assume an audience of other white men.  And, importantly, designers of history-themed games are not historians, and they generally have little interest in a rigorous examination of history or how history works.

    My board game, Rising Waters, takes players into an African American perspective of the 1927 Mississippi flood, an environmental disaster of epic proportions.  Central Michigan University Press, the game’s publisher, aims to introduce new standards in tabletop gaming by having academics complete both design and peer review.  It’s a cooperative board game, where players work together against both racism and flood waters.  As the game progresses, players accrue “losses” – when waters flood land, towns, people, and other components.  If they’re able to stay below a certain number of losses over a certain number of rounds (these represent weeks of the historical flood), then they win.

    (Photo by Andrew Devenney)

    Beginning with the earliest prototypes of the game, I struggled with how to depict racism.  Although the game involves an interaction between racist whites and blacks in the Jim Crow south, I never wanted the players to be facing off competitively in those roles.  Having a student be required in some way to behave as a racist or reinforce racism in some way through the game seemed problematic in a variety of ways.  Many of my African American students here in Alabama have been the victims of white racism, and with them in mind, I simply didn’t see any point in having them play the game that way.  

    As a solution, I tied the racist actions of the whites to a deck of cards (Landowner cards) with various options:  threats, use of force, racism, fleeing the area.   Since historically the Red Cross camps were white-controlled, there’s a relief camp card in this deck as well.   This makes racism in the game seem more random and arbitrary to the players.  Obviously, racism isn’t really arbitrary or random – whites have specific reasons for using it when and where they do.  But, for African Americans it can seem arbitrary and random when applied.  And having something be arbitrary and random seemed a good way to allow players to see the cruelty of racism, especially in a crisis situation.

    Above all, though, I didn’t want racism to be the center of the story.  I wanted this to be a game where players saw African Americans with agency, and for that, I took from common concepts in video games  – leveling up (I also used this in my Teapot Dome game for RTTP).  This idea required a player board – so that players could keep track of their powers.  And they would collect sets of cards (Community Cards), representing things that African Americans historically used as sources of strength, to power up different abilities.   For example, collecting farm animal cards would help you be able to move your pawns further in a turn.  Collecting family cards would increase your number of pawns.  What this did, in addition, was reinforce a message that I deal with extensively in class:  in horrible situations, resistance can be something as simple as coming together as a family, or getting an education, or maintaining your own small plot of land.  Resistance doesn’t have to be armed rebellion.


    (Three of the Community Cards, with the artwork by the amazing Lamaro Smith.)

    We also wanted to capture some of the particularly visceral racist episodes.  In a 1912 flood, a white landowner forced a group of African American men to work on a levee to keep flood waters at bay.  As the flood waters rose, the white man forced the workers to lay down on the levee to raise it further.  He literally saw black men’s bodies as worth no more than sandbags to keep the flood at bay.  Forced labor in life-threatening situations happened frequently during the 1927 flood as well, along with massive loss of life for those working on the levees.  And as horrible as this moment was, it seemed a good teaching incident.   I initially added the story as a vignette to one of the cards, so players could read an example of how racism appeared.  

    The story, though, particularly captured the attention of Jon Truitt, who leads Central Michigan’s press.  Jon is an incredibly thoughtful gamer – he’s also designed games himself, but plays a lot as well, so I always appreciated his feedback.  In this instance, he felt this type of treatment deserved something more specific in the game.  And he suggested that we integrate this with the storytelling involving the relief camp sites.  I had these elements in the game from the beginning, but they weren’t playing as central a role as they needed to.  

    In the game, players must “donate” cards toward having a relief camp established.  This can be a hard choice, as it reduces their ability to do other things with the cards.  However, if they fail to donate enough cards as a group, when a relief camp card appears in the Landowner deck, there are drastic consequences.  A relief camp is created, one of every player’s pawns must be moved to that location (which takes them away from locations they want to be).  And here’s what Jon added (which has become a very dramatic moment in the game):  one of the Survivor pawns disappears, to be replaced by a levee.  Players realize that by not working cooperatively toward certain goals fast enough, deaths occur – but they are also forced to think about white people’s valuation of black bodies.  It’s been a very effective addition to the game.  (Thanks, Jon!)


    (Left, the first version of the Red Cross card – from early 2020.  Right, the most recent version of the Relief Camp card with the amazing Lamaro Smith’s artwork.  I changed the name as I was concerned about copyright or trademark issues with the Red Cross.  We’re also going to change the colors of the camps to improve accessibility for color-blind players.)

    Language is also something that’s important and needs to be considered carefully when dealing with difficult topics.  And here I want to talk about 2 examples:  the Race Hatred card in the Landowner deck and the “Survivors” in the game.  In both of these, there were discussions about what terms to use both to convey a historical reality effectively, to give the player a sense of being in a different time period, and yet also to remain sensitive to the powerful effects of certain words when dealing with racism.

    In the game, there’s a card that’s part of the Landowner deck that represents the use of racism generally by whites at the time.  Each one has a short vignette to give an example of racism at the time.  Initially and a couple of years before the far-right outcry over “critical race theory,” I named these cards “Systemic Racism.”  I wanted a term that described racism as ingrained, pervasive, and not just perpetrated by individuals.  During one of our playtests, someone noted that the term was very presentist (which it is), and they asked what term was being used at the time.  Activists, both black and white, at the time used “race hatred” as a way to describe discrimination – the term “racism” wouldn’t come into common usage into the 1930s.  So, they became “Race Hatred” cards – which not only described what was going on but puts the player into the time period.


    (The card on the left is the original prototype for the Systemic Racism card; the one on the right is the current version with Lamaro Smith’s final artwork.)

    The other term that we struggled over was the name for the extra pawns in the game.  Initially inserted into play because players needed access to more workers, these extra pawns started out being called “refugees.”  I deliberately used this term because it was what African Americans used at the time to refer to themselves:  There are hundreds of references in newspapers at the time using that term.  Richard Mizelle, Jr., author of Backwater Blues, one of the main texts on the flood, noted in his epilogue how the meaning of the term “refugees” had been redefined during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  Black people deeply resented the term, as it seemed to imply a lack of citizenship and belonging – allowing government to treat them with indifference.  I understood this, but felt the term was important.  This was how African Americans saw themselves, how they defined themselves, and it said something about the wider issue of their status in society.  One of our cultural consultants disagreed, vehemently arguing that the term was racist.  They preferred the term “evacuees” – also from the Katrina era.  Evacuees, though, didn’t seem to fit.  An evacuee is moved from a place of danger to somewhere safe, and that wasn’t what was happening in 1927 (nor, in many ways, was it what happened to many African Americans during Katrina).  Jon (coming to the rescue again!) noted that Mizelle had used the term “survivor” in his book on the 1927 flood.  So, the pawns became “Survivors.” 

    Difficult issues present thorny problems both for someone presenting research in a traditional way, as well as those who are working to implement these lessons into classroom tabletop games.  Generally these lessons also suggest that, as game designers (just as we do as historians), having a crew of trusted,  dedicated, knowledgeable playtesters is probably the most valuable thing you can have when dealing with difficult topics.  I greatly appreciate all of those who helped me.

    Rising Waters is currently on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter through November 4.  If the game sounds intriguing to you, then check it out and support us!  By supporting this game, you’re supporting efforts to make tabletop games integrated actual historical knowledge and research, for much stronger lessons in the classroom.

    About the Author

    Dr. Scout Blum is a professor of history at Troy University in Alabama. She is the author of Love Canal Revisited (UP Kansas, 2010) and is currently working on a book tentatively entitled Growing Up Green, which investigates children’s environmental values between 1960 -1980. The owner of Mockingbird Games, a non-profit game company, she has been using games in the classroom for over a decade. She is also the designer of Rising Waters, a cooperative board game about the 1927 Mississippi flood soon to be published by Central Michigan UP.

    Blog Author Questionnaire

    One word to describe faculty:  Resilient

    Two words to describe (your) school:  Collegial, Diverse

    Three words to describe students:  Hopeful, Persistent, Sincere

    Four words to describe favorite games:  Cooperative, Tense, Thoughtful, Beautiful

    Five words to describe Reacting:  Engaging, Empathetic, Community, Innovative, Inspiring

  • October 17, 2022 5:42 PM | Anonymous

    By: Noah Trujillo
    Digital Resource Coordinator
    The Reacting Consortium

    Hello everyone, my name is Noah Trujillo and in August I was hired to manage the website and our digital game resources. You may have already met me if you updated a game or had an issue with the site in the past couple of months. I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce myself and offer some perspective on what Reacting games can mean to your students. I had the pleasure of attending an institution where Reacting games were embraced and integrated by its history department which meant I got to experience tons of Reacting games. In the Spring of this year, I graduated from Simpson College with a degree in History and Political Science. I plan on pursuing a graduate program in History, but right now I’m taking a gap year.  I have a lot of fond memories from my alma mater, but my most vivid memories have come from playing Reacting games.

    When I first got to college, I already had my next four years planned out. I would major in political science and focus on nothing but politics. The proximity to the Iowa caucuses was the main reason that I chose to leave the beautiful Colorado Rockies for the Midwest. But over time my devotion for politics was replaced with a love for history mainly because of the Reacting to the Past games that were ingrained in most of the history classes at my institution. I owe a lot to these games, they've made me more empathetic, creative, a better speaker, and a stronger writer. 

    My first and most memorable Reacting experience didn't actually come from a Reacting to the Past game. It was actually during a semester-long orientation class led by Nick Proctor that showed me what role-playing in the classroom could look like and how much fun it could be. The class was called "The Galactic Senate'' and stood in stark contrast to the other orientation classes, which followed the usual lecture or discussion format. Instead, Proctor's course had us taking part in a mock Senate filled with fictional representatives from the Star Wars universe. It was incredible. Every day we would come in, in character, and pretend to debate different issues straight out of science fiction. Anything from deciding the rights of robots and AI to the legality of highly addictive spices or even the fate of entire planets. I had some of the best moments in my college experience during that class, mainly because we, as students, got to really decide how each day would go. Despite being a gen-ed class I spent more time thinking about the Galactic Senate than I did in any other class, including the classes in my major. I remember spending hours drafting proposals or arguments for this mock senate and staying up at night thinking about what the next day's session could bring. At the end of the semester, I signed up for two history classes because they also used role playing games as teaching tools.

    I'll never forget playing my first game, which was set during the French Revolution. How after reading primary sources for a week, hearing that role sheets were being handed how the class would suddenly get quiet. And how that quiet anxiety would turn into relief and excitement after I got my role sheet, with my mind abuzz thinking about how the game would play out and what strategies I would employ to try and win. And then experiencing the actual game with all of the action and chaos. Once again, I would spend hours writing articles, rehearsing speeches, and cajoling other players for votes. Despite being graded, it never felt like work and was actually quite fun.

    So, I ended up taking more history classes so I could experience different games. I ended up being able to play seven different games in total, with the majority of them being in my first two years at Simpson College. By the time I reached my junior year the games started to become replaced with more traditional forms of research and learning. But I was still excited to go to class because at that point I was hooked on studying history. Reacting had shown me a side of myself that I didn't know existed and allowed a deep appreciation and love for history to flourish. By the end of my undergraduate experience, I had gone from a student solely focused on studying politics and who had based his college choice on its proximity to the Iowa caucuses to considering myself a History major first and taking political science classes as more of an afterthought. In all of my years as a History major, even when I was taking three four-credit history classes in a single semester, it never got boring. I think that if I didn't experience Reacting to the Past games at the beginning of my college experience, I would have never pursued history as anything more than a passing interest. The part of me that thoroughly enjoys studying history would have remained dormant and I definitely would be less fulfilled.

    I owe a lot to Reacting games and the tremendous instructors who made them come alive, which is why I'm very excited to be able to help make these materials more accessible. I am always astounded by the amount of thought and effort that I see on the Facebook Reacting Lounge or in the constantly updated game files. In case you don't hear it enough, the effort that you put in is incredibly important. Take it from me, Reacting games are doing incredible things for your students and the energy that you spend making their experience better do not go unnoticed.

    If you ever have any questions or concerns about the website, please feel free to email me at noahtrujillo77@gmail.com.

    About the Author

    Noah Trujillo serves as the digital assets coordinator for the Reacting Consortium. He earned a bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science from Simpson College in 2022. Right now, he is taking a gap year but intends to pursue a graduate program in History. Noah currently floats around between Littleton, Colorado and Austin, Texas.

    Blog Author Questionnaire

    One word to describe faculty: Dedicated 

    Two words to describe your school:  Faculty Carries

    Three words to describe students: Empathetic, Hesitant, Scheming

    Four words to describe your favorite games: Reward Creativity, Chaotic, Focused

    Five words to describe Reacting: Tricks Students into Actually Reading

  • October 06, 2022 2:20 PM | Anonymous

    By: Harry Shontz
    Social Studies Teacher
    The Leffell School

    “Well, what do we do now,” asked one of my seniors, as a class full of bewildered twelfth graders stared back at me. I had just explained the rules to “Monumental Consequence” (formerly known as Bomb the Church) to my class on the second day of the semester. None of them had ever played a Reacting to the Past game before, and all they knew of the pedagogy was from my syllabus (which they likely did not read). I had given them role sheets the day before, but not even I was prepared for what would happen after I responded to that first question. I looked back at this student and said to the class, “I don’t know, but in five minutes you need to vote on whether or not you are going to bomb this church, or send in an army to try and save it.” We maintained eye contact for a few seconds, with my department chair watching the first real day of this new class, and immediately, like clockwork, all thirteen students and two playing teachers (friends of the program—Columbia University alumni) leapt up and started strategizing, debating, and gaming.

    This senior course–a three game sequence class called Gaming the Government: Reacting to the Past in World History–was not our school’s first go with Reacting, but the course was designed and proposed long before any Leffell students role-played history in their classes. I learned about Reacting to the Past from my cousin (Barnard, Class of 2009), who would tell me stories of her classes while I was in high school. I loved history and I loved the reality show Survivor; this seemed to be the perfect blend of both and I knew I wanted to use this in my classroom when I became a teacher. After years in my early career of trying to break into the RTTP community, I temporarily put the idea on hold… until COVID hit. 

    When our school was preparing to return in person for the Fall of 2020, I knew that my students were going to need something different. In addition, I had been teaching the same ninth grade World Civilizations course (Neolithic Revolution through French Revolution) for four years, so I needed something new as well. I started to reach out to professors that alluded to using RTTP in their courses on their faculty pages. As it was rather new that high school teachers were being brought into the community, most professors were giving the same answers: “we do not think that it is appropriate for the high school classroom.” Eventually, as the school year was quickly approaching, I received a response from a professor saying: “I do not know if it would work in high school, but I am not a high school teacher, and I am happy to help answer any questions you may have.” Over the next nine months, my ninth grade colleague and I continued to converse over email and zoom meetings, as we got ready to launch Confucianism and the Succession Crisis of 1587 in May of 2021. 

    Thursday, April 29th: “He gave us 8 pages and called it a game…”

    In our last zoom meeting with our RTTP advisor, my colleague and I were told, “You’ve done enough work. You need to launch the ship, and the rest will play out.” With that in mind, we distributed eight pages of the Confucian Analects to our ninth graders. I couched the distribution of this “long” reading with the notion that this would ultimately lead to a game that we would be playing in class for the next three weeks, and that we had spent the entire year planning its roll out. That may have been a bit of an exaggeration, but we wanted to increase their buy-in as much as possible. Apparently, in this ever connected world of social media, students were snapchatting one another with the “absurd length” of the reading assignment, and my ridiculous assertions that this would somehow lead to a game.

    Monday, May 3rd: The First of the Second Guessings

    The first day of setup progressed like any other week in our class that year. I lectured about the Ming Dynasty, I retaught them the Mandate of Heaven and Confucius’s “Five Relationships” (both topics from earlier in the year), and learned that none of them had started the reading for the following day. All typical. I was then asked by what seemed like 17,000 freshmen, “how is this any different from what we normally do?” Contrary to all of the prep work that I had done, this was apparently not a game (I really wish someone had told me). The teenagers were definitely correct in their assertions, and I did not know what I was talking about (obviously). Clearly none of this is true, but I began to wonder if they would actually take the bait? Will they buy into all the hype? 

    Tuesday, May 4th: The Last of the Second Guessings

    Despite 60 minutes of me second guessing myself, there was no turning back at this point. We had done too much preparation work to abandon the project. After a surprisingly decent discussion of the Analects (they were a smart class, so they could discuss documents relatively well), I reluctantly handed each student a manila folder, each with a giant red “TOP SECRET” stamped across the front. There was a palpable silence in the classroom for the next fifteen minutes of the period as I watched each student dial through their role sheets. I had planned to individually pull aside my Wanli Emperor, my First Grand Secretary, and my Hai Rui to check in with them and to explain the details of their roles and to answer any questions. Clearly, this would not be possible; every student had questions, ideas, and strategies that they wanted to run by me. The remaining days of the saw heightened sense of anticipation among all ninth graders. They were all scheming, plotting, and planning, but despite all of their ideas, they still did not know what they were in for (honestly, though… neither did we!).

    Thursday, May 6th: The Calm Before the Storm

    With their first memorial topics distributed, students had the opportunity to write for the last day of the setup week. There was a clear excitement in the room, even though nobody was actually talking to one another. I had one-on-ones with each student this day, building on the strategies they had started to develop in the previous class. While the class was truly moving towards something great, though, the class was calm. Nothing had happened…yet.

    Monday, May 10th: Greatness Skips a Generation

    One character in Wanli–the follower of Hai Rui–plays a Confucian radical, and will stop at nothing to further and support the moral rectitude of the emperor. In one class, Hai Rui was slated to speak first; a Hai Rui who I gave to the class clown. Calling upon the Analects in ways I had not seen him do all year, he delivered a blistering memorial to the emperor about his corrupt First Grand Secretary and his unwise decisions to name his third-born as heir. This student spoke eloquently, and then he concluded his quote referencing a long term joke from our class. In studying a variety of leaders, such as Shi Huang Di and his not so successful son, and Vladimir the Great and his similarly fated child, my students came to the conclusions about the merits of the children of great leaders. With this in mind, my Hai Rui concluded his memorial by saying “Emperor Wanli, with all due respect, we have seen that greatness in history tends to skip a generation; it seems to have done so with you.” My sassy ninth grader had dropped the mic, everyone else dropped their jaws, and my students were hooked. 

    Tuesday, May 11th: "Live Tribal"

    As inspiring as Hai Rui may have been with his speech, it was the first in a long line of reasons behind his execution. The execution was not all that exciting–we cannot reenact everything in its entirety–but it sent a shockwave through the classroom. I dismissed the Grand Secretariat after the emperor’s responses to the memorials, and told the Grand Secretaries that they could ask me questions or go out and talk in the courtyard in the remaining 20 minutes of class. As with my seniors in their first game of Monumental Consequence, it was go-time: everyone lept up, and started congregating in different groups and alliances, as discussions continued about who they could trust, who they could work with, and who they could scapegoat. Once the dust settled, one of my students came up to me and likened the experience to a "live tribal" on the show Survivor–we had discussed the show at length; we both knew we were fans.  In Survivor, castaways vote one person out of the competition every few days at "Tribal Council." In older parts of the series (when people still watched), "tribal council" was a very formal interview experience: Jeff Probst would sit in his seat, the players in theirs, and there would be a formal back and forth to talk about the game. More recent seasons, however, have seen the introduction of “live tribal,” where players will huddle and continue to strategize and scheme in front of each other. In my opinion, it  has produced some of the most chaotic moments of reality TV competition. Everyone gets involved in these discussions because everyone has invested interest in the million dollar grand prize. This was the state of affairs in my ninth grade class that day; my students had created a "live tribal" council in the middle of the Forbidden City. I was sold on the pedagogy–as was my department chair–and with a whole week left in my first RTTP experience, I knew I was never turning back.

    About the Author

    Harry Shontz joined the history apartment at The Leffell School in the New York suburbs in the fall of 2016. Since the spring of 2021, he has used reacting to the past in each of his high school courses in 9th through 11th grade, in addition to all reacting 12th grade elective.

    Blog Author Questionnaire

    One word to describe faculty: Innovative 

    Two words to describe your school: Creative opportunity

    Three words to describe students: Unrivaled raw enthusiasm 

    Four words to describe your favorite games: Secret factions; playing blind

    Five words to describe Reacting: Freshman passionately discussing dynastic politics

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