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Free Resources: Thirteen and WNET.Org's Mission US Online History Games

Posted Nov 18, 2010
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THIRTEEN, in association with WNET.ORG, has announced the launch of "Mission US," a new series of free online games designed to let middle school students learn and "live" history. The first game mission, "For Crown or Colony?," focuses on events leading up to the American Revolution.  The game, together with a rich variety of supplemental resources for students and teachers, is available for streaming and download at  This initiative is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting with additional support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Mission US invites students to be "players" during pivotal eras in the country's past.  The content helps students understand and appreciate multiple perspectives and gain a more nuanced view of history, according to the announcement.  "For Crown or Colony?" provides kids with insight into the mindsets of both Patriots and Loyalists.   

Teachers who participated in classroom tests of ‘For Crown or Colony?' reported that students were more intellectually and emotionally engaged during the Mission US unit than in the typical unit they teach.  It helped their students see the events leading to the American Revolution in more human terms that they could understand.

"For Crown or Colony?" immerses players in the world of 1770 Boston before the American Revolution.  Players take on the role of Nathaniel Wheeler, a 14-year-old apprentice to the publisher of the pro-Patriot Boston Gazette.  They steer Nat's actions - from confronting soldiers patrolling the wharves to falling for the niece of a Loyalist merchant - as he carries out tasks for his master.  While interacting with a variety of people from colonial Boston society, including historical figures like Paul Revere and Phillis Wheatley, Nat encounters different views on British authority and colonial protest.

As the stakes rise, the gamers' knowledge of the period grows through their unique experiences that involve reading primary historical documents, collecting period artifacts, and clicking on "Smartwords" (vocabulary) embedded in the dialogue.  Nat's fate rests in players' hands: Should he complete his apprenticeship and support the Patriots' cause, remain loyal to the crown, or leave Boston, taking a new job at sea?  No matter what path Nat chooses, he witnesses the events of the Boston Massacre and, ultimately, must decide where his allegiance lies.

Designed for use at home or in school, the game is divided into five parts, and may be played individually or collaboratively.  Mission US is designed to help students with different learning styles acquire skills critical for understanding history that are identified in state and national education standards.  In addition to the game, the Mission US website will offer numerous downloadable resources and activities for classroom use, including document-based questions, a primary source collection, vocabulary activities, background on historical figures, writing prompts, and visual aids. 

The stylized approach to design used in Mission US has the flavor of anime and 2D casual web-based games that have grown in popularity as alternatives to console games.  The design, like the content, is informed by the latest scholarship.  The development team includes historians from the American Social History Project (ASHP) at CUNY, researchers from Education Development Center's Center for Children and Technology (CCT), and game developers from Electric Funstuff.

To help spread the word about Mission US into communities, ten PBS stations will spearhead multi-tiered outreach initiatives in 2010 and 2011 that include training local teachers how to most effectively use the resource with their classes.  The comprehensive Mission US support materials are free and downloadable for use in classrooms and homes.  Other outreach partners are the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the American Library Association (ALA)/American Association of School Librarians (AASL), which will promote utilization of the game in classrooms, afterschool programs, and libraries across the country.    

Each of the games in THIRTEEN's Mission US series will challenge players to take on the role of a young character living through a significant time in American history.  In "Flight to Freedom," slated for release in spring 2011, players will assume the role of a runaway slave, as they explore events leading up to the Civil War.  Roles under consideration for future missions include an assistant involved in the race to complete the transcontinental railroad, a muckraking journalist in early 20th century New York, and a member of an Oklahoma family that migrates to California during the Great Depression. 

Mission US is produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. 

Major funding for Mission US is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  Additional funding is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Source: WNET.ORG,

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