In the course of doing some writing on why making games and modifications for existing games is a much better educational endeavour than simply playing historically-themed games (it seemed much more clever when expressed in 7000 words than 20), I came across the following post on Rob MacDougall’s blog which covers some of what I’m thinking:
In simpler language, Civilization’s game play erases its own historical content. Learning to play means learning to ignore all the stuff that makes it a game about history and not about, say, fighting aliens. One could easily program a different game with a different set of ideological assumptions—Galloway imagines a “People’s Civilization” game by Howard Zinn—and see precisely the same de-historicizing effect. Mastering the simulation game necessarily involves a journey away from reality towards abstraction, away from history towards code.
However, I don’t know whether there’s anything particularly unique to computer games about that idea – isn’t any game, when you really get down to it, about mastering the mechanics of the game, the rules? (whether or not those rules are expressed mathematically or in a rule-book is immaterial I should think).
Anyway, there’s a lot more on his blog worth a longer look! Ultimately, MacDougall concludes that what one should do is get the students to design their own game. We’ve been doing just that at the Simulating History project at Brock for some time; we’ve got a workable beta up and running, but man! there’s a lot of work involved. My role in that project (making the game) is more of a background reviewer-type guy; I’m not at the coalface.