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  • May 04, 2023 1:26 PM | Anonymous

    Registration for this year's Annual Institute is still open and games filling up fast! Take this fantastic opportunity to experience some of our most popular Reacting games in a controlled environment. Whether you're a Reacting Veteran or Newbie, the games featured at the Annual Institute will give you something to take away for your classrooms and offer an unforgettable experience.

    Registration is open until May 19th, so don't wait! Register for the Annual Institute today!

    Read on to learn more about the Nine Games and Newbie Workshop we're featuring at this year's Annual Institute!

    The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 B.C.E.

    Democracy in peril in ancient Athens!

    Step back in time to Athens in 403 B.C.E. and immerse yourself in the intellectual and political struggles that shaped debate in the Athenian Assembly. As Athens emerges from the devastation of war with Sparta, players must decide the fate of direct democracy and other issues such as the role of magistrates, the citizenship of slaves and foreign-born metics, and the restoration of its empire.

    With primary sources from Plato's Republic and Pericles' Funeral Oration, Athens 403 BCE is a great way to introduce students to political theory, philosophy, and ancient history. This game is straight-forward and structured making it perfect for first-time instructors and first-year seminars.

    Wrestling with the Reformation: Augsburg, 1531

    Can you keep Augsburg independent and prosperous?

    Religious, economic, and civic duties collide in this dynamic game that challenges players to balance the competing demands of citizens and foreign powers in the midst of the Reformation. As a member of the City Council of Augsburg, you'll have to navigate complex decisions that will impact the city's military defense, economic growth, and spiritual purity. With salvation and Augsburg's very survival at stake, players must work together to form alliances and make critical decisions to secure the future of the city. This game is perfect for students studying Cultural and Social History, Medieval History, Religion, Western Civ, or World History.

    Detroit 1859: The Frederick Douglass-John Brown Meeting

    The Abolitionist Movement is at a crossroads!

    Step back in time to a critical moment in American History as the Abolitionist Movement reacts to recent bombshells including the Dred-Scott decision and Fugitive Slave Act. As you take on the role of a prominent abolitionist, you'll have the chance to engage in lively debates and discussions with other key abolitionists, including John Brown and Frederick Douglass. With the future of the Abolitionist Movement hanging in the balance, it's up to you to work together and find a new viable plan to end slavery in America.

    Will you be able to come to a consensus, or will disunity impede your progress? Introduce your students to the debates that defined the abolitionist movement with this newly developed game that was recently featured at the GDC in 2022.

    Diet and Killer Diseases: The McGovern Committee Hearings, 1977

    The deadliest food in your kitchen is in the sugar bowl...

    Why are they still selling non-fat yogurt and who got the idea it was a good thing? It all stems from the McGovern committee's findings in 1977. As US senators and doctors examine the scientific evidence on dietary fat and its impact on health. You'll explore how the committee's report was influenced by more than just scientific data and how the findings of it were amplified by journalists to change how we think of nutrition and health.

    As you navigate factional, competitive, and collaborative player interactions, you'll consider issues of public health, science, journalism, and political lobbying. This game is perfect for those interested in the history of medicine and health, history of science and technology, political science and government, and STEM.

    Greenwich Village, 1913: Suffrage, Labor, and the New Woman, Second Edition

    A New Century, A New America?

    Immerse yourself in the socio-political changes that characterized the early 1900s. Labor, Suffrage, and Bohemian ideals clash in New York City in an attempt to forge a new America. With notable historical figures, including Emma Goldman, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and W.E.B. DuBois, Greenwich Village Second Edition offers a rich overview of 20th century political movement. Students will attempt to persuade each other through lively debates, stinging op-eds, and artistic expression to gain influence and make sure their views are heard.

    The all-new second edition comes with more structure "under the hood," while still providing players with considerable freedom to initiate debates and explore the ideas of the time. This game works especially well with classes that explore American political movements, labor, race, and gender.  Assignments are designed to move beyond speeches and debates to get students more engaged, making it a great game for new and experienced Reactors alike.

    Ending the Troubles: Religion, Nationalism, and the Search for Peace and Democracy in Northern Ireland, 1997-98

    Giving Peace a Chance in Northern Ireland.

    Step into the shoes of Northern Ireland's major political parties as they reconvene at the Multi-Party talks in 1997 to end 30 years of bloody conflict. Ending the Troubles offers a unique opportunity for history and politics majors to more deeply understand Irish history. It's also an effective way to get general education or honors students to learn the broad issues raised by the clash of civic and cultural nationalism in Modern Europe and the US. Students will find an effective way to explore strategies to achieve compromise between long warring communities. This game also explores the difficulties involved in designing a democratic system that can protect minority rights. Register today to avoid having fingers thrown at your door!

    Rousseau, Burke, and Revolution in France, 1791

    Revolution, counter-revolution, or reform in France.

    Students are tasked with the daunting task of writing a constitution for a revolutionary France. Along the way they will grapple with fundamental questions about individual rights, democracy, and the limits of governmental power.

    This game offers a unique experience for students and an immersive introduction to Political Science, European History, and Philosophy. With themes ranging from political violence, combatting inequality, slavery and the role of the Church, there's something that can be used in any class. Primary sources include Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Social Contract and Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, which allow students to actually apply political theories to governance.

    The Fate of John Brown, 1859

    John Brown: slavery, liberation, and violence.

    An immersive game that places students at a fictional conference debating whether to execute John Brown for his failed rebellion at Harper's Ferry. As players immerse themselves in this pivotal moment in history, they will confront enduring questions about the legitimacy of political violence and the balance between morality and the law. This short game is perfect for classes looking focus on slavery, the Civil War, and the abolitionist movement. As a week-long short game it also has the benefit of fitting into tight courses that are still looking for interactive ways to immerse their students in history.

    Democracy in Crisis, Weimar Germany, 1929-32

    Democracies don't die, they're murdered.

    Step into the shoes of a delegate of the Reichstag and contend with the complex political landscape of Germany during the Weimar Republic. With factions and ideologies clashing for power, players must navigate the pressures of economic stress, political gridlock, and foreign demands while addressing street fights, trade union strikes, assassinations, and deadly polarization.

    The complex issues addressed in this game makes it easy to adapt to different courses and have increasingly relevant real-world implications. Today, Democracy is under attack globally, sometimes insidiously, sometimes directly. The study of how a modern democracy is killed is surely of use for those who wish to defend one now and identify the dangers: gridlock, arbitrary executive orders, constitutional crises, corruption, party over country, and the demonization of opponents.

    Reacting Newbie Workshop

    A great introduction to using Reacting in the classroom!

    Are you relatively new to Reacting to the Past and wanting a curated experience to help you understand how to use Reacting games in your courses? This year's Annual Institute features a workshop dedicated to Reacting Newbies and designed to answer your questions and help prepare you for when you run your first game. Take part in a hands-on workshop series designed to walk you through the process of syllabus revision, assessment strategies, and curricular integration, so you'll feel fully confident when implementing Reacting to the Past. Learn from instructors who have used Reacting and share your questions and experiences with colleagues from across the country. This option is recommended for Reacting Newbies, and for cohorts from the same school.

  • April 24, 2023 4:32 PM | Anonymous

    By: Robert Goodrich
    Professor of History
    Northern Michigan University

    After integrating RTTP into my classes at Northern Michigan University and attending the annual faculty conference at Barnard, I started working on a Weimar game (what ultimately became titled Democracy in Crisis: Germany, 1929-32) in 2010. Mark Carnes and I had a conversation at one point a few years later about it, and, paraphrasing, he stated that everyone had always joked that it would be impossible to do a Weimar game—it just be too complicated and polarizing. I was naively unsure how to take the comment.

    Of course, by that time I already had a beta version of the game. I thought I had come up with some new mechanics that could integrate the abstraction of Weimar’s fickle public opinion and sense of crisis (what I came to call the “Stability Index”). Regarding mechanics, I had followed Nick Proctor’s advice. “Throw in the kitchen sink” is what I remember him telling me during the early design phase, “You can edit it back later.” I responded by making a rather wonky game (it still has a lot of that complexity even after Nick encouraged me to take out the kitchen sink—sorry). I also tried to hit the reality that every single modern issue was on the table during Weimar, but the number of issues kept expanding to either unmanageability or too much open-endedness in terms of what issues instructors and players could choose to integrate.

    Most of these were resolved over time through play testing. Issues that did not generate enough “heat” (I think this was John Moser’s term) were dropped (labor-management relations and religion); so, too, were those where players showed a tendency to simply replicate modern American discussions (abortion, gay rights, the death penalty). Some mechanics were dropped to keep the game focused on debate (trade unions and finances).

    It remains a bit more complicated than most, but within expectations for one of RTTP’s bigger games. In fact, “big” is where this game really unfolds—it works best with a large classroom from 20+ given the fractured nature of Weimar politics. In the end, it hits the main goal of exploring how democracies die through polarization, radicalization, gridlock, and constitutional shenanigans. Generally, players come to appreciate the desperation of moderate politicians torn between extremes as the middle frays, and why they, in that desperation, might be willing to consider previously unthinkable alliances (in this case, a presumably tactical and temporary alliance with the far-right populism of the fascists).

    And now it is 2023. Parliamentary gridlock. Polarization and echo chambers. Hysteria and moral panic. Post-truth discourse and hostility to a free press. Refusal to accept democratic outcomes. Politics as theatre rather than legislation. Corruption. Calls for violence against political opponents. Calls for insurrection and civil war. Xenophobia and national chauvinism. Amplification of counter-factual conspiracy theories. Support of tyrannies abroad. Attacks on and scapegoating of the most isolated members of society. Mainstream enabling of openly authoritarian rhetoric and policies. And, as I write this, the referral for criminal charges, including sedition, against a former president who has pandered to blatant racists and called for the literal “termination” of the Constitution in order to be restored to power.

    I started this project in 2010. I saw it as history. As it now reaches classrooms in 2023, I am not so sure it is not a bit more chilling than a mere historical exercise anymore. To repeat my comment in the game’s introduction, democracies do not die, they are murdered. There is motive and process. And someone takes the necessary actions. Usually, they even confess before the deed is done. If the game has any value, I hope that it is to help us see how a democracy is undermined, why people act in this manner, and how to recognize the actors. And then to take action to prevent it. These are all choices on all sides. And there are always alternatives.

    Democracy in Crisis is one of the many games being offered at this year's Annual Institute. If getting first-hand experience playing the finished version with the author himself interests you, you can register today on our official event page!

    About the Author

    Robert Goodrich’s research interests lie in Modern Central European history with a broad and integrative approach. His research and teaching emphasizes cultural and social history and the interplay of factors such as labor, gender, sexuality, and religion in identity construction. The nature of his research into religion and identity also requires a comparative view of European and American experiences, reflected in his interest in transnational history and recent focus on questions of identity related to Austro-Hungarian migration to, from, and through Michigan. Goodrich also works to promote internationalization at Northern Michigan University and has taken students to Spain, Peru, Greece, and most regularly, to Austria.

    Blog Author Questionnaire

    One word to describe faculty: Engaged

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

    Three words to describe students: Kind, Underprepared, Distracted

    Four words to describe favorite games: Team-Based, Open-Ended, Immersive, Problem-Solving

    Five words to describe Reacting: Contingent, Document-Based, Confrontational, Student-Centered, In-Depth

  • 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 | Maddie Provo (Administrator)

    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

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