Blog Post

History of Canada: Game-changing Civics Learning

By Thomas Axworthy


Canada has a crisis of historical amnesia. We no longer inspire our youth and our newest citizens and immigrants with Canadas national story. No other Western nation does a poorer job of teaching history than Canada.

That is why I applaud some of the recent remarks and decisions by Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. He is correct, as both a minister and a Canadian, to wonder aloud why Ottawas booklet on citizenship contains more on recycling than it does on the history of

Kenney has also pointed out that the same pamphlet makes no mention of Canadas military history and the sacrifices so many have made in the cause of democracy and freedom. We want to make sure that the people who are joining our political community as Canadian citizens have a full appreciation for the values, symbols and institutions that define Canada and which are rooted in our history, Kenney said recently.

The minister is correct in identifying the problem. And he is not alone; Dominion Institute founder Rudyard Griffiths, author of the stimulating new book Who We Are: A Citizens Manifesto, writes: I would argue that the absence of the traditions that evoke the civic legacy of past generations haunts us like a lost limb. We know from certain periods in our history that Canada is a nation that is greater than the sum of its regions and linguistic groups. We know that the totality of who we are is larger than the programs and institutions of the government of the day.

But what is the solution? I believe it is time Canadians moved past sterile pamphlets and lectures to assist in binding and inspiring both our young and New Canadians with Canadas national story. We must try something new. Rather than ranting at both groups we must engage

One way to do so is to ride the current technological wave of gaming. Gaming is booming. Despite the recession, the games industry is still growing 10 per cent annually. Yet few recognize that gaming has recently become the entertainment vehicle of choice for most consumers.
In 2005, the games industry surpassed the movie industry in sales. In 2008, for the first time in recorded history, sales of games exceeded sales of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

Recently, Pricewaterhouse-Coopers made the astounding prediction that by next year the size of the games market will exceed the music industry. Half of all Americans between the ages of 12 and 55 now play video games. Gaming will keep expanding, because it has jumped from traditional playing on consoles or computers to the latest applications for cellphones and electronic gadgets.

Think of itan entertainment medium thats a cultural force stronger than movies and music were in the 20th century. Gaming is thriving because it is interactive. Consumers control the experience and the outcome. It is the perfect medium for the individualism of the age. The power of this medium must be recognized and used by educators and in government institutions like Kenneys Department of Citizenship and Immigration, or they will be missing out on one of the drivers of our time.

Professor Sidney Eve Matrix of Queens University is one educator who knows the power of gaming. Citing a recent report of the European Parliament, which concluded that playing video games encourages strategic thinking, better attention span and creativity, Matrix said, Its time to take a fresh approach to thinking about gaming.

In the 1960s Sesame Street innovated by using the medium of television to teach words and numbers in a new fun way. What television was to that era digital media is to ours. Gaming is now the medium that most inspires imagination and interaction, and that force must be employed to excite Canadians about their past.

To that end, the Centre for the Study of Democracy, in partnership with Bitcasters Inc. of Toronto, is developing the History Game Canada. Through gaming, we intend to challenge students to see if they can be as successful as Sir John A. Macdonald in creating a new country. Our goal is to distribute 100,000 free copies of the game to students, teachers and communities across Canada. Supported by Telefilms New
Media Fund our team adapted and built on the world famous Civilization engine and completed the first chapter to 1760.

Last week in Chicago the prestigious MacArthur Foundation announced that the CSD was a winner in its 2009 Digital Media and
Learning Competition. This prize will enable us to finalize the content and complete History Game Canada. Beyond the obvious appeal of History Game Canada for students, Citizenship and Immigration should consider tools like History Game Canada in their efforts to engage the New Canadians of today and tomorrow. Why not welcome every immigrant to Canada with a gift of a game that is both interactive and educational?

A recent Globe and Mail editorial put it this way: (Kenneys) department is consulting widely with organizations and experts to improve the citizenship program. The move should be welcomed, but should not end there. Immigrants are not the only Canadians needing a civics and history lesson. Both the Globe and the minister have it right. The question now is how Ottawa and provincial education ministries proceed.

Computer gaming could play a significant role.

To learn more, visit History Game Canada.

Thomas S. Axworthy is Chair of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Queens University.



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