From a Chronicle of Higher Education blog, see Reacting to the Past: An Open Game Based Pedagogy Workshop at Duke, January 19-20:
I was not in a time machine. I was at the Reacting to the Past Institute at Barnard College, one of the most exhilarating new methods of revolutionizing higher education that I have experienced. Reacting to the Past (RTTP) is a series of elaborate games, set in the past, where students take on the roles of historical characters, and through arguments and gameplay, have the potential to reshape history. In order for students to “win” the game, they have to thoroughly master literary and historical texts for their games’ time period, and to be able to fight against their in-game opponents through a series of oral presentations and written work. In other words, students in Reacting to the Past have to basically do everything their professors want them to do in a college class—read and analyze texts, learn about historical contexts, learn how to construct forceful and convincing arguments—but in the guise of a game. I played two characters in two games—a follower of the Ming Confucian extremist Hai Rui in Confucianism and the Crisis of the Wanli Emperor , set in 1587, and an undiscovered, young Walt Whitman in 1845 in Frederick Douglass and Abolition .
This reminds me of “role playing” in the old Dungeons & Dragons sense, but also the psychology-based trick to foster empathy.