A group of teachers and students have teamed up to develop a new educational game designed to teach fourth graders about the realities of slavery and the significance of the underground railroad.
The Underground Railroad in the Ohio Valley River was conceived by Ronald Morris, a history professor at Ball State University in Indiana, and computer science professor Paul Gestwicki. Morris is a former fourth grade teacher whose interest in using games as education tools stemmed from his search to find new ways of engaging the current generation of children.
"I saw kids playing computer games and it just made sense to capture that excitement for social studies and history," Morris told the Financial Post.
In Underground Railroad, players take on the role of a slave and attempt to escape to safety by finding a safe house or trekking to Canada. The player is placed in a random county in Kentucky during the 1800's, which Morris explains is "because a person held in bondage wouldn't have any control over their starting point."
Players are presented with a top-down view of tiles, each representing different counties, towns and rivers. As the player move forward across fields and rivers their health bar will diminish based on the decisions they make, with some decisions costing them more health than others.
The game was developed over a 15-week period following an extended brainstorming session in 2011 between Morris and a group of history and elementary education majors. Underground Railroad launched as a free-to-download title for Windows and Mac on Jan. 2. While the production team, headed by Gestwicki, has no plans to port the game to other devices, they are happy for others to try.
"It was interesting to watch the students play," says Morris, "because the game did not go how they wanted to originally and they would play again and again until they made it to freedom."