Lessons for History from Rome: Total War

Speaker Seann M. Dikkers, from UW-Madison GLS Group.

Dikkers who is a doctoral student who has also presented a GLS 4.0 this past summer. He has worked with Kurt Squire on his Civilization III research.

Total War publishers use historians on the game developers. Dikkers also said that the publisher was much easier to work with than Civilization's publishers. Total War publishers did not shy away from working with educators and welcomed their game as a potential teaching tool. Producer Sam Weinberg stated that one of the keys to historical thinking is to divide up historic into segments and periods

Shogun, Medieval, Rome all recreate historical eras and allow players to experience history and the impact that decisions had on events. Dikkers spent a little time going through the history of the Total War

As the teacher, engage with the players and ask questions. "Why use ladders when the gates are open?" If players do not have an explanation or rationale for their actions, then ask leading questions to help them discover the learning. Ask them to talk to each other, seek out advice online.

Gameplay Mechanics include:

  • Settlement types
  • Financial Management
  • Family Trees / leadership
  • Guild Halls
  • Papal / Senate edicts
  • Technology Development
  • Diplomatic Relations

The game investment and enjoyment leads to further study and discovery. He suggests that when doing clubs and applying games, have multiple games to build through and apply. Using multiple games allows for more details, spend about 6 – 9 weeks per game.

Structuring Sessions:

  • Play – post details & handouts (45 – 60 min)
    • If there are announcements, post it – don't lecture it
  • Breaks – 5 – 10min
    • Teaching balance… How do you walk away from a game?
  • Add challenges
    • Do after/during break
    • "Who can find a strategy to beat the Romans?"
    • Can use as a teaching tool
  • Play (60 – 90 min)
  • Save – Quit
    • 30 seconds
    • No, "Right after this."
    • There are important events outside of the game
  • Critical Interactions
    • "I'm going to teach you how to take care of my lab"
    • Give them some responsibility
    • Use it as a time of reflection and learning

Continuing Challenges

  • Find a Strategy: What is the holistic process of strategies of success?
  • Game objectives
    • How does this help with literacy and learning

One of the key pieces that Dikkers discussed that is important for the successful advocacy is capturing examples of learning to provide evidence to those making decisions about funding and supporting these gaming and learning experiences.


While I have not played Rome: Total War, I have played some of both Shogun and Medieval. The historical accuracy in each game is amazing. The games are a great example of Bogost's "procedural literacy" concept. Total War players are learning about the decisions of historic leaders and how decisions impact the surrounding events. Dikkers did a great job of laying out the larger world that Total War includes and set up some excellent educational experiences. Just as Roper from the FAS stated in other session, the challenge is not if game will be used for education, but if they will be used well. Total War is a great example of games that can be used well with traditional world history curriculum.


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