Rubric for assessing historical scenario-building for Civilization

One of the things that always amazes me about playing Civilization IV (or indeed, just about any game you’d care to name) is what might be called the ‘metagame’ – the discussions on the forums, the fansites, the user-created mods. It seems to me that this is one of the most important aspects of the educational use of commercial games. On Civfanatics, there is a discussion entitled ‘the Rise and Fall of Rome‘ which I find absolutely fascinating. These folks are not historians, they are not classics students, but in the course of trying to make an historically ‘authentic’ simulation of Roman culture they embrace such difficult concepts as the conditions behind the emergence of the Social War – and then they devise a way to allow for the possibility of a Social War emerging in the game play! (other historical scenarios in Civ IV available here)

That is the kind of discussion I would want to emerge in my classroom, were I to formally assign the creation of a Civ mod or scenario as part of the assessment of the course. The problem that I’m addressing in this post though is how would I assess the scenario, and the metagame? I’ve addressed the problem of assessment when students play a scenario (in my ‘Year of the Four Emperors’ scenario for Civ IV I assigned a ‘game diary’ that asked pointed questions of the students at particular points in the game) but I’ve only started to grapple with the problem of assessing construction recently. How can you be fair and assess two individual students, one who has a good technical grasp of python, xml, and scenario building but is hazy on the history, and one who knows the history but freezes at the sight of the worldbuilder? How do you mark the mass of material that will be produced as a byproduct? How do you manage the paper trail?

I had a similar problem during my dark old days as a high school teacher of technical drawing. The solution there was a rubric, and I think the solution here might also be a rubric. Rubrics have the advantage of boiling everything down to a checklist of various criteria. Your students can see at a glance what you are looking for, and they can see what they have to do to achieve a good grade. As the prof, you save yourself time, energy, and headaches. Below is my proposed rubric for marking the creation of a scenario for Civilization IV:

Rubric for assessing historical scenario-building for Civilization

The first criterion addresses the question: has the student selected a good problem to try to render in a scenario? Civilization has built in assumptions about how history unfolds. Does the proposed scenario play to those assumptions, or does it challenge them?

The second criterion assesses whether the student has assembled the appropriate secondary or primary literature to ensure the ‘authenticity’ of the scenario (and a very good student will explore just what makes for an authentic scenario).

The next two criteria are asking the student to plan out the scenario on paper first. Where will the issues be? What kind of a map? What scale is appropriate both geographically and chronologically? Clear writing = clear thinking = an easier time of building the scenario. My own scenarios at first suffered from woolly design…

The ‘demonstrates understanding’ criterion might be the place to assess whether the student realizes the problems of simulating history…?

The ‘uses forum/wiki’ criterion – I envision having a group forum or wiki for students to talk out their design problems, and to offer help, hints, and suggestions to each other as they design their scenarios. I’m envisioning each student designs their own scenario, but I want the experience to be a social one. This is especially important for my distance education students…

‘Identify design issues’ – I’m not sure whether to keep this or to discard it. It really should be moved up to the ‘design’ part of this rubric. I do want the students to be demonstrate that they are aware of the constraints the Civilization environment imposes.

The last two are performance related. A student who is otherwise a poor historian (and would get low grades in an essay-based course) would here have a chance to pick up some points – and demonstrate their historical knowledge through making.

So, that’s all off the top of my head this morning. I would be interested to know how others have approached (or if they’ve approached) the problem of assessing the use of games in an educational context in this manner. Should the rubric be expanded? Contracted? Is it hitting the right targets?

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