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Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, and the Dawn of Computing

by Mark M. Meysenburg

Why weren't there computers in Victorian England?

Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, and the Dawn of Computing takes place in early nineteenth-century Britain, focusing on the calculating engines designed by Charles Babbage. The central intellectual collisions in the game concern the conflict between imagination and reason, the nature of science and scientists (are they talented, wealthy amateurs, or is science a profession?) and whether and to what degree science and engineering projects should be subsidized by the government. The main question in the game is whether or not Charles Babbage should be awarded funds from the British government for the development of his Difference Engine (an automated calculator capable of automatically creating, typesetting, and printing mathematical tables) and/or Analytical Engine (a true proto-computer), during the early to mid-1800s.

This is a Level 3 game that is still under development but has been approved by the Reacting Editorial Board (REB) for general use. A detailed explanation of the editorial process and game levels can be found on our REB Page.



Economics and Economic History, History of Science and Technology, Philosophy, STEM

19th Century; Modern History

In a Few Words
Math, Science, Fun


Primary Source Highlights 

Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (Babbage); On The Application Of Machinery To The Purpose Of Calculating And Printing Mathematical Tables (Babbage); Sketch of the Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage, Esq. (Menabrea, Lovelace)

Themes and Issues  
Imagination vs. Reason, Amateur vs. Professional Science, Private vs. Government Funding, Laissez Faire Economics

Player Interactions 
Factional, Competitive

Sample Class Titles

Rejected Rebels: Why the Right Idea Doesn't Always Win

Level 3 game (what's that mean?

Notable Roles

Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, Dionysius Lardner

Secret voting, Rolling Dice, Formal Podium Rule, Resurrection roles, Assembled circular slide rules (templates are provided), Mathematical tables, Sample resolutions, Morbid props for the ornamental hermit

Chaos and Demand on Instructor 
This game is fairly chaotic and demanding on the instructor. There are quite a few moving parts in the game that the instructor needs to keep track of. The Power Card mechanics in the game can result in a chaotic end to the game.

Using the Game

Class Size and Scalability
This game is recommended for classes with 14-25 students.

Class Time  
For this game, 2 to 3 setup sessions and 6 to 9 game sessions are recommended.

Possible Reacting Game Pairings
This game can be used on its own, or with other games. These pairings are meant to be illustrative rather than exhaustive or prescriptive. Babbage may pair well with:


You can adjust the assignments based on the desired learning outcomes of your class. This game can include traditional paper/research/thesis-driven writing and science writing. All roles are required to give formal speeches.


"The game provides a teaching resource for the history of computation, where in my experience there are not many such resources. I intend to run this game at the first opportunity in my history of mathematics class. It might even make a good introduction to the course as a whole."

"One of the game’s strengths is that students can engage with primary sources in computation and mathematics. I know from teaching history of mathematics that it is very difficult to provide primary sources that are approachable without heavy-handed editing and translation of both terminology and notation. The core documents here are expository and quite clear."

"The game provides a lot of support and structure for an instructor new to the RTTP method. It also looks fun to play."


Reacting Consortium members can download all game materials below. You will be asked to sign in before downloading.  

Please Fill out the Permissions Request Form Before Using Babbage in Your Class!


All students need a Gamebook, which includes resources and historical content. Members can download the Gamebook, and provide it to students for free or at cost.

VERSION 3.1. Updated January 2016.

Instructor's Manual

The Instructor's Manual includes guidance for assigning roles, presenting historical context, assignments, activities and discussion topics, and more.

Instructor's Materials

The Instructor's Materials include Role Sheets, which contain biographical information, suggestions for further reading, and role-specific info or assignments.  


Mark M. Meysenburg

Mark M. Meysenburg is a Professor of Computing at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska. He teaches a RTTP-based FYS course every fall, focusing on the history of science.


Members can contact game authors directly

We invite instructors join our Facebook Faculty Lounge, where you'll find a wonderful community eager to help and answer questions. We also encourage you to submit your question for the forthcoming FAQ, and to check out our upcoming events


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