Mission US is a visual novel/roleplaying game in which users take on the roles of characters living through various periods of the United States' history. The game teaches it's players about history and the strugles of various peoples throughout US History.
Below is a detailed analysis of this game roughly following Brian Winn's1 Design/Play/Experience framework, including:
Mission US is designed to teach students about United States History. The basic learning outcomes include:
- Know some of the historical events that have made America the country it is today
- Have a basic understanding of what living in the presented time periods was like
- Understand some of the struggles various cultures and peoples have gone through throughout US history
Mission One teaches players about the events leading up to the American Revolution. Some points it touches on include:
- What Patriots and Loyalists stood for
- Tensions between Patriots and Loyalists
- The jobs and educational structure of the era (apprenticeships)
- The basics of daily life in Colonial America
- The importance of the Boston Massacre
Mission Two's sphere of learning centers around the years of slavery long before the Civil War. This is broken down into:
- The daily lives and responsibilities of slaves on a plantation
- The social interactions between slave owners and their slaves
- The trials and tribulations slaves endured while attempting to escape their plantation
- The Underground Railroad and how it assisted runaway slaves
- How former slaves lived once making it to the north
- How many former slaves attempted to give back and help the Underground Railroad
Mission US is divided into several missions (3 at the moment, but with more planned.)
Each mission takes place during a different point in US History, and stars a different cast of
characters. Guided by the player character and their interactions with other characters, players
are immersed in the historical settings the game portrays.
Mission 1: For Crown or Colony takes place in 1770 and stars a 14-year old apprentice in Boston named Nat Wheeler. Tensions are already running high between the Patriots and the Loyalists when Nat first arrives in Boston, and he is thrust right in the middle of that conflict. It's up to the player to help Nat navigate these turbulent times while they learn about the beginnings of the American Revolution.
Mission Two tells the story of a young slave by the name of Lucy. In the early chapters of the game, she lives with her mother and brother on a plantation in Kentucky. Her life takes a turn for the worse when her master's smokehouse burns down and she is blamed for it. She decides to run instead of facing auction in the deep south where slaves are treated even worse.
On the road she meets many people who are sympathetic to her cause and help guide her on her way. She must evade slave catchers, avoid major cities where she may be recognized, and make sure she has enough food to make it to the North.
Once she finally makes it to safety, an abolitionist priest helps her find a family that shelters her and protects her identity. While living with this family, she becomes an active abolitionist herself and helps in the rescue of her brother from her former master.
Since the game has a branching narrative, it can conclude in a number of ways, such as: Lucy being caught and sold at auction, Lucy going to school in the North and becoming a teacher, and Lucy becoming a leader in the abolitionist movement.
The gameplay in Mission US is primarily making selections in dialogue trees to choose how to respond
various situations. The player gets to roleplay as the given character for the mission and experience the
sorts of decisions that had to be made by the people who actually lived through these time periods. During
dialogue, there will sometimes be highlighted words known as "Smart Words." Clicking these words gives the
player the definition of these words. In mission 1, a vocabulary quiz on these smart words is unlocked at the end.
In mission 2, clicking these smart words improves the player character's literacy, allowing her to read more of
documents that can be found throughout the mission.
The player can also navigate the areas that the game takes place in via a map screen. On this screen they can click where they want to go in order to transition to that area. In any given area there may be people to talk to, items to examine to gain insight into their historical value, and items to take and add to one's inventory.
There are also occasionally unique segments of gameplay specific to an event in a mission, such as trying to stay healthy and fed while escaping from a slave plantation in mission 2, or bartering for goods at a trading outpost in mission 3.
The player's choices throughout the game shape the storyline, with various paths through each mission, and multiple endings for each.
All of the user's interaction with the game is done by clicking dialogue options with a mouse.
The player can pick up essential items and explore the world by selecting different areas or
buildings within the locations he or she visits.
The display in the game is very simplistic. It maintains the player's badges (achievements accrued through out the game), the player's inventory, and the game's main menu on the bottom of the screen while keeping all of the visual elements such as the backgrounds, characters and dialogue options above.
Since the objective of the game is to tell a historical story using this setup is quite successful. It does not interfere with playing the game nor does it interfere with the intended learning that the game is meant to provide.
This game was developed to be run in a browser as a flash game with very lax preformance requirements. With this in mind, the game is quite polished and well constructed. Since the goal was to tell a story, the technologies used were sufficient; no flashy cut scenes or hugely expensive gameplay was needed, just well-written dialogue between the characters and enough choices for players to feel their story is unique.
Throughout the game, players must make decisions, which other
characters will respond to either immediately or shortly afterwards.
Often times these decisions will be a reflection of what the player has
learned so far. Additionally, at certain key moments in the stories, players
will have to perform tasks such as handing out leaflets or recruiting witnesses
based on limited information, with the correct choices only being clear if they
understand the material being taught. Aside from the in-game choices, there is a
vocabulary quiz for mission 1, and a set of "Think Fast! About the Past" quizzes for
each mission that test the player's knowledge of the time period that mission is about.
Finally, as the game is designed for students and educators, teachers can personally
test the students gained knowledge if need be.
Overall Mission US was very effective as a learning tool for US history and as an entertaining game. The dialogue in the game was mostly well written both in general and for educational value. The game was made in such a way as to be accessible to all ages, with it being interesting enough for an adult, but not so complex that a younger player wouldn't get anything out of it. The game is also very good at putting the player in the role they are meant to be playing. The strong consequnces for the player's choices allows them to become very invested in the game, and therefore gain a greater understanding of the lifestyle being portrayed. The overall effect is somewhat damaged by occasional graphical glitches and sometimes bigger bugs that reset progress. Other than minor bugs, the game is very well made and effective.