Games


Beyond God of War: Latin and Ancient Rome in Video Games

Latin puns: Fun for the whole familia

Latin puns: Fun for the whole familia

For me, one of the funniest moments of every year is when my beginning Latin students learn the word ubi. When I was a kid, this is when we first learned the faux-Latin phrase semper ubi sub ubi. Nowadays, it’s when my students realize that the name of the French video game developer Ubisoft, which publishes some of the most successful gaming franchises in history (Assassin’s Creed, Splinter Cell), is a Latin pun on the word “software.”

While teachers are usually happy to embrace films (GladiatorBen-HurThe Eagle, etc.) as an entertaining way to engage their students with ancient history, video games are still slow going. As a lifelong gamer, I find that disappointing. To that end I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite games to show, talk about, and (on those rare occasions when we have a free class day) play with my students. I’ve selected games that are rated Teen or below and have some meaningful educational value to them, so you don’t need to worry about things getting absurdly violent – or worse, sacrificing historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment.

Civilization VI

The Civilization Series are strategy games in which you play as the leader of a civilization of your choice. Players attempt to conquer the world through a combination of warfare, cultural influence, and technological superiority. Everything – names, building types, military units – is based on historical fact, and is a wonderful opportunity to spark students’ curiosity.

The two most recent entries, Civilization V and Civilization VI, are the only games I am aware of that contain spoken Classical Latin, courtesy of Augustus (in Civ 5) and Trajan (Civ 6).

Rome II: Total War

Known for its massive real-time battles, Rome II: Total War is for the military enthusiasts among your students. Players have the option to replay historical military engagements (how would you have fared against Hannibal at Cannae, or in the Teutoburg Forest?) or create their own with a wide variety of military units, from hastati to ballistae to war elephants. While the graphics are a bit dated now, these games give a sense of the sheer scale of ancient battles.

An expansion pack, Caesar in Gaul, could be fun during the post-AP exam doldrums.

Europe Universalis: Rome

Your more diplomatic and detail-oriented students might enjoy Europa Universalis: Rome. A so-called “grand strategy game,” you are plopped into the Roman Republic in 280 BCE, given control of one of 53 separate factions (you can control Rome, obviously, but how might you handle being in charge of Numidia? Colchis? Bithynia?) and maneuver your way to the top through bribery, diplomacy, compromise, assassinations, strategic marriage, and warfare.

EU: Rome is far and away the most challenging of these games and isn’t for everyone, but it gives players a good idea of the complexity of politics and diplomacy in the ancient world and is worth, in my opinion, the considerable time investment.

Minecraft in Latin

And finally, simply for the possibilities, is good old Minecraft. Over the years I’ve had a number of students who’ve preferred to do architecture projects in the game, which has led to some beautiful creations I still have on my hard drive.

There are also a wide variety of user generated Minecraft creations available on YouTube, which always captivate my students as a sort of “guided tour.” You can look at all kinds of baths and villas, of course, but what about a full-size recreation of the Colosseum?

For additional fun and challenge, the default language can be set to Latin.

Happy gaming!


L.A.R.P. in the Classroom

L.A.R.P. stands for “Live Action Role Playing.” It may sound odd, but chances are good that if you’ve ever run a classroom you have asked students to dress like, write like, act like, or argue in the mindset of a historical figure or fictional character. These active, imaginative modes of imitation speak to the essence of L.A.R.P. A few years ago I decided to implement some L.A.R.P. tactics in my middle school classroom.

I learned about extended classroom role playing projects at a teaching seminar in the summer of 2014; we discussed RTTP (Reacting to the Past) pedagogy embraced and developed at Barnard College in which students take on roles of historical figures and engage in debates about events as they are revealed by the “Gamemaster” (i.e., the professor). Students use primary and secondary sources in order to inform their discussions. In the seminar, we talked about potential benefits of this kind of activity. Some suggested that taking on a role in history would increase level of student interest and engagement with the important questions of history. Students might learn to feel more empathy for others. The activity could also promote independent thinking and curiosity, provide practice with communication, and promote literacy skills involved in interpreting primary and secondary sources. With hopes set high, a colleague and I decided to implement a version of RTTP at the middle school level in our own classrooms.

Inspired by one of the Barnard programs, we assigned each student a role in the Roman senate and played out debates in the aftermath of Caesar’s death. I won’t go into the nitty gritty here, but ultimately, many of our desired results were achieved. Students became excited about the classical history and the class. They dove into primary sources and historical events. They sought out their own answers for questions and discoursed with their peers. They understood key points about the history. I was even able to rope in some language content and concepts using “graffiti” projects and short Latin compositions.

The challenges of this activity had to do with planning and implementing a project of this size in the time allotted. A protracted game with complex characters took many steps to set up. Scaffolding was key and takes time. Three years now using a similar project has resulted in my cutting down what students need to know to the most important points, reformatting all of the primary source materials, and focusing in on how to best “debrief” debates in order to avoid anyone going away with the impression that Caesar’s body was dumped into the Tiber. It took ample preparation to maintain continuity between debates, try to create meaningful assessments and assess students’ work, and role play during class time.

After discussing this project at length with my colleague from the seminar and with other teachers at school, I have come to a couple of conclusions about this level of role playing in the classroom. These may already be quite obvious to you!

  • It’s worth it. Most students enjoy role playing. They get into the ideas and they like to be empowered in their roles.
  • Students don’t always understand the activity. They need resources that clearly show them how to become this other person and frequent review of how to engage with their peers. A fishbowl framework will be my strategy this year.
  • The activity should either be everything you do in class, encompassing language learning and cultural units, or downsized to be a much smaller learning activity to spice up your classroom like a Saturnalia celebration. Balancing a sizable role playing agenda with separately language learning is a difficult task.

I would be excited to hear about your experiences, strategies, and opinions concerning classroom role playing in the comments or at C.A.N.E. this year.


Fun and Games

There are times when it’s nice to have a game ready to play with your class. Here’s a variety of options.

Games that require the internet and a projector/shared computer

Game that requires preparation

  • Rota (print boards or have students draw them, make markers)

Games that don’t require preparation

  • The Dictionary Game
  • One word stories: Students retell a story from a reading (in Latin or English), with each saying one word to make up a complete sentence and then paragraphs
  • Vocabulary Baseball