New game teaches about life among Native Americans

Topics: College of Sciences and Humanities, Emerging Media, Immersive Learning, Honors College, Building Better Communities

July 16, 2013

Schoolchildren visiting the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis will learn more about the lives of mound-building Middle Mississippians, an early native people, by accessing a new video game produced by Ball State University.

In “Children of the Sun,” third- and fourth-grade students use an iPad app to play the role of chiefs in Middle Mississippian villages and direct their people to accomplish tasks that allow their communities to prosper, grow and interact with others.

Middle Mississippians are known as mound builders who lived from about 800 to 1500, in what is today the southeastern United States from Iowa and Missouri to the Gulf of Mexico and to the Atlantic coast. In Indiana, one of the best preserved examples of Middle Mississippian culture may be found at Angel Mounds State Historic Site, located on the Ohio River in Vanderburgh and Warrick counties eight miles southeast of Evansville. The town was occupied for about 300 years before its abandonment by 1450.

The museum plans to use the game in specialty programs as school groups visit for in depth programming and during its series of themed summer camps.

“The Indiana State Museum is excited to have a new educational and interactive resource for use in our student and summer camp programming,” said Joanna Hahn, ISM’s manager of school programs. “This app will allow us to bring Mississippian culture to life for Hoosier students."

The video game was produced by Ball State students through an immersive learning experience under the direction of history professor Ronald Morris and computer science professor Paul Gestwicki.

"Most multiplayer games are played over the Internet with a distant opponent. Our team recognized a unique design challenge at the ISM and designed a game for local networked play, using both iPads and the physical proximity of the players to create an educational gameplay experience,” Gestwicki said. “Designing a multiplayer game is a significant challenge for a one-semester undergraduate team, and they logged more than 3,200 hours developing the game.”

Through the support of a Ball State Provost Immersive Learning Grant and the Ball State Honors College, game design started in an honors colloquium in the fall of 2012. Game production started in 2013 by testing it with third, fourth, and fifth-graders. Morris' elementary social studies methods classes began to develop curriculum aligned with Indiana's social studies standards to accompany the game at the same time production started.

The project was completed in cooperation with the university's Building Better Communities Fellows. Valerie Morris, associate director of enterprise user relations, created an iPad student text to accompany both the game and the curriculum materials.

“Elementary students will learn about the people who, up to now, have been both remote and featureless in textbooks," Morris said. "Our game allows students to get a glimpse of what it might have been like to live in a community and build a mound.”

The project is part of series made for elementary social studies students and created by immersive learning classes under the direction of Gestwicki and Morris. Other titles in the series include “Morgan’s Raid” (2011), “The Underground Railroad in the Ohio River Valley” (2012) and Gestwicki’s “Museum Assistant: Design an Exhibit” (2011).

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