A video game simulation based on Canadian history is launching Thursday with high hopes the youth-friendly technology will make the country's past come alive for students.
HistoriCanada, developed by Toronto media firm Bitcasters, runs on the platform of the well-established Civilization III strategy game. Thomas Axworthy, HistoriCanada co-creator, said he hopes the game will engage Canadian youth in their own history.
"Canadian history is sometimes portrayed as dull as dishwater, and there's a perception that history is only interesting if there are a lot of battles," said Axworthy, the chair of the Queen’s University Centre for the Study of Democracy.
"But one of the things about civilization is that it's not just a war game, and that there's a complex interaction of economic, religious, social and military choices."
By putting those choices in the gamers' hands, Axworthy said, the new game will allow players to reshape Canadian history in a more interactive "what if?" approach.
"One of the most appealing elements of the game is anyone can win. If you are a skilful player playing as the Mi'kmaq, Atlantic Canada can be yours. And that's an important thing, because too often we tend to look at history as inevitable. But if you looked at a map in 1640 it sure didn't appear that way," he said.
Gamers can play as either the English, French, Ojibwe, Huron, Mohawk, Algonquin, Montagnais, Mi'kmaq or Abenaki. The first episode focuses on the years between 1525 and 1763. Two more episodes are expected to be released in the coming months, taking players to the year 1896,through Confederation and the expansion to the West.
While players will have the option to rewrite history and take the country in a new direction, the game developers say that understanding the real history will enable players to be more successful. Historical resources including the Canadian Encyclopedia are built into the software.
After players complete each episode, the HistoriCanada website can rate their performance and provide background into what actually happened in Canada's history.
The game can currently be downloaded for free from the website, provided users already have Civilization III and the popular game's Conquests expansion pack on their computers. But the full game, including Civilization III, will be available early next week.
Bitcasters CEO Nathan Gunn said he expects the game to be a success, in large part because it is fun to play. And he also thinks educators are increasingly starting to realize the value of injecting fun into teaching methods.
"Games that teach are becoming more accepted now," he told CBC News online. "I think the worm has turned and we've gone beyond the idea of video games as Duke Nukem first-person shooters."
There are plans in the works to distribute 100,000 free copies of the game bundled with the Civilization III software.
The million-dollar project has been 10 years in the making, with active development for the past two years. Funding has been provided by Telefilm Canada and supported by Historica and Canada’s National History Society.