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Blog #2: Civilization

Written by Nicole Mirra
January 14, 2017

By Aaron Goulette

While undertaking my New and Multimodal Literary course at my university, I was tasked with finding new forms of teaching literacy and English-based skills using a variety of web applications. During one of our readings, Civilization had been discussed as encouraging forms of connected learning opportunities as well as a strong tool for meta-analysis and logic. As a gamer myself, I felt the need to jump on this opportunity. After searching for what others had done, such as the attempt of a Norwegian English / Social Science course using Civilization as a learning tool I realized I was not alone. The potential is there, but the key is knowing how to tap into it.

For my research, I selected Sid Meier’s Civilization V to undertake this task. The sole task of the player is to create a Civilization from any era to outclass or out score other players in the game based the following criteria: Warfare, Culture, Technology, or Score.

To put it in a simpler manner, players will confront different problems based on their method and approach to winning. A player who is more of a warmonger, for example, will more than likely have other civilizations respond negatively (or positively) towards their actions. A United Nations will form, embargos could be enforced on them, bans on trade between their civilization are implemented, full alliances could be shattered, all because of one particular act. For that player, the game is already lost because of one decision to focus on warfare than any other trait.

Other players could resort to the “Cultural Win”, a more difficult but enlightening win that requires a civilization to max out all cultural ideologies, create works of art, tourism, and even your own religion that creates such a powerful influence, no civilization could stop it. To quote a player I met online. “I laughed maniacally as my enemies drowned in a sea of blue jeans and pop songs created by my people for the next 1000 years.” Alternatively, players could pursue the technology space race, or win by a fixed timer where a final score is calculated.

Of course, you’re probably asking, “What does this have to do with English and Multimodality?” First, you need to consider the meta-uses of the game after play. CIV 5 by itself is not the golden ticket that will fix literacy. Rather, it is what you do with it afterwards or even during the game using other web applications that will make students appreciate its multimodal approach. For most students, this is already an excellent opportunity to include a form of connected learning, as it easily enhances their interaction and relates to many of the social aspects of their lives. Adding further, should players confront each other in a multiplayer session, how they react to each other as diplomats could have interesting implications and teachable moments for later in the classroom. Eventually you could even add to fictional or non-fictional scenarios to help students understand how the POV of a world leader would affect their decision-making, a technique used in other lesson plans across the net.

While playing the game, I was frequently reminded of various works from ancient authors. Specifically, Vergil and Homer. We often take Homer and Vergil’s words as one of the few accounts of the Trojan war and the events that transpired, despite the fact that they come from entirely different perspectives from one another. At that moment I thought, “What if students created their own perspectives, or their own epic poem, based on their actions in a game of CIV 5?” Point of view instantly went hand and hand with this. The idea was to have students document their gameplay in several snippets, through screenshots the use of screen-casting (another multimodal tool that students can use to exhibit their storytelling technique) to tell their tales of their nation. Imagine students documenting a “great war” between opposing nations, both of which have their legitimate reasons for doing so, and neither side seeing iself as the “enemy”. Even these dialectical entries or blog posts that students created while they documented their civilizations history could serve as invaluable to cross-curricular studies. Consider a student responding to a problem that world leaders have actually faced. How would they react? What would people think about them afterwards? Would people eventually forget and move on, or would it be a stigma on your country? All this takes place in a single-game of civilization.

From there, I was reminded of Orwell’s 1984, where in a previous project, I tasked students with making websites of their own corrupt versions of Oceania, complete with constitutions, propaganda messages, and much more. Had I implemented CIV 5, students would create propaganda that defended their own actions and create an interpretation of major events. For example, can the unwanted religious assault from a civilization be seen as negative? How would the other country respond to it? The potential for real-world or even literary connections is absolutely astounding, but as I have stated before, the game will not do this for you on its own.  In the 1984 scenario, the multimodality was still there. There was still writing based assignments, multimedia presentations, image creation, and video. The game served as the “database” or crux of all student work. 

Of course, there are… implications. Your school district may or may not be ok with the idea of using this type of software due to social stigmas of gaming in general. CIV 5 was not designed for educational use, shown clearly by its method of downloading it (via Steam, a gaming download service). It requires network services for multiplayer (though an entire match can be played on a single computer with multiple players), and must be able to navigate firewalls already put in place by your district.

The game itself also comes with its share of flaws. It is remarkably complex, and has a very high learning curve. Expect students to play several matches before fully realizing how the game works. Then delve into the deeper aspects by providing them with scenarios. Gameplay is extremely long, one game took 3-4 hours on the fastest time settings, though it is possible to change server settings to add time limits, change eras, or win requirements.

Civilization V, despite its complex nuances, has diverse and meaningful effects via non-traditional modalities that can provide meaningful experiences to help students understand content. If you are willing to deal with the learning curve and focus on the meta-aspect of the game, with other applications, (a term dubbed as “App Smashing”) Civilization can easily serve as a tool to enhance your classroom.