Gaming the Industrial Revolution: Session Notes


Session 1:

In this first workshop, members of our team got to know each other and established the aims of the project. Paper, cardboard, and chips in hand, we designed several board games, and produced a paper prototype of what a game exploring the causes of the industrial revolution may look like.

The session began with an introduction by Dr Alexis Litvine and Dr Juan Hiriart, mapping out the process by which Industrial Re:evolution would be created and its pedagogical and scientific objectives.

After a discussion of the historical context of the game and its educational function and focus, game mechanics and systems had to be laid out.

The team thus split up into two groups, and set to making prototype board games with paper and pen, preparing to consolidate their proposals afterwards into one, cohesive vision.

Both groups incorporated a system of population-based points investment, but differed on the best way to represent industry and agriculture dynamics, as well as the scale of the game.Although a smaller focus was agreed upon, the game would go on to encompass England and Wales, covering everything south of the Scottish border. By now, the game’s inner workings had taken shape, and all that remained was to digitise and realise our vision.

Session 2:

In the two months between the first and second workshops, Alexis, Nela and Matt underwent the process of refining the prototype, and producing an interactive digital version. Whilst its user interface was quite barebones, it incorporated the key systems established in the paper prototypes, bringing together the points-based population investment systems and economic management focus.

By Workshop 2, the game had leapt off of the paper pages and had been brought to life in a digital medium. However, there was still a lot of refinement and improvement to be done. Beginning the session, the goals and focus of the game were reiterated, and the team split up into smaller groups to playtest the digital prototype. This time we were joined by a group of enthusiastic students who were our first testers. We were so lucky to have them with us!

Feedback was then shared, among developers, teachers, and researchers. The main focus would now be on improving the user interface, better communication of games systems to the player, and some streamlining of the way games systems were calculated.

The game was now taking shape and beginning to resemble what it looks like today. The question left to unpick was how teachers could utilise this to enhance learning about the Industrial Revolution itself, thus fulfilling its educational focus. This was scrutinised extensively by the team’s educational professionals and students, with discussion involving how students would connect with the game, how best to utilise it within the classroom, how it could be incorporated into educational modules and curriculums, and discussing whether the game should be used as a passive or active educational tool.

The workshop concluded with a more creative activity. During the previous discussions, we agreed that one of the most successful way to engage with the game for its educative function would be to incorporate characters into the game who could provide perspective on the human impacts the Industrial Revolution. To this end, we took it in turns to think of who these characters could be, with examples including luddites, seamstresses, soldiers, merchants, miners, lords, nobles, and everything in between. As a bonus, these characters would be based on members of the team, making us as much a part of the game as we felt we were.

Session 3:

After the second workshop, it became evident that the game’s systems were sufficient in their core design. What remained to be worked on was working on an effective user interface, as well as external work relating to the use and presentation of the project.

Again, first things first, after a quick briefing of the day’s goals, we dove into testing the game once again. At this stage, the user interface had undergone a compel overhaul, with clear communication of games systems in action incorporated into the map in the form of dynamic icons. All that remained was to implement a proper glossary/tutorial section to explain the game’s mechanics to new players.

With this, the final stages of development could commence. Now, we set to work on how the game would be used. This was managed by the teaching staff working on the project, who organised a system by which the game would be incorporated into lesson plans. Of course, the educative effectiveness of the game would also have to be assessed somehow in these lessons, so a form was compiled to be filled out after a lesson including the game. Seeing as this game had the primary focus of educational usage, this was of critical importance.

Subsequently, to contextualise the game in reference to historical fact, the research staff and development team also set to work on a system of graphs that would compare player choices to historical records and statistics. This would work to encourage players to think deeper about the source material, strengthening the capacity for active and passive forms of learning the game would facilitate. Furthermore, this would allow for competition and replayability, increasing its potential educative value by incentivising repeated playthroughs.

Lastly, there remained the task of figuring out how to implement an informative element addressing two major issues that occupied so many of our discussions: slavery and environmental damages. We cannot imagine a game discussing the Industrial Revolution without addressing these issues.

For this, the teaching staff and student contributors discussed the problem extensively. It was resolved that sticking to a clearcut narrative would be too prescriptive, and the best option was to engage players and students to think critically for themselves about these topics. Thus, it was planned that within the timeline system of the game, in which as the game goes on the player is notified of important historical events happening between turns, different interested parties would debate the issues, with such parties ranging from key abolitionist contemporaries to urban and rural labourers.



Industrial Re:evolution

Industrial Re:evolution is a dynamic puzzle game teaching the causes of the Industrial Revolution.