Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Operation KTHMA: Day 1

(KTHMA means "possession," and it's a word that turns out to be very important in the course. I'm going to try to avoid spoilers here in the early stages, because I'm lucky in that a few of my students actually read my blog, and thus I won't spell the significance out right now, but feel free to find me via e-mail or Twitter and inquire. The irony of a guy who has probably spoiled Bioshock for more people than anyone else in the world being careful about spoilers in his own game isn't lost on me, by the way.)

Day 1 of the course/operation will be an in-class briefing. I'll be taking the role of the Demiurge from the beginning, but making it clear that the Demiurge has disguised himself as a simply university professor, and that that disguise needs to be maintained for the integrity of the operation. I'll start by expressing the premise of the course/game: the Demiurge has made a mistake in his teleological calculations. Western Civilization is in danger of losing vital skills and information that can help world culture survive and help people spread world civilization to the stars. I may throw in a reference to Zefram Cochrane. I will emphasize (as I do at the beginning of all my courses) that Western Civilization and its roots in ancient Greece have no inherent superiority to any other part of world culture; I'll say that the Demiurge is also launching other missions to places like Africa, India, and China.

In order to resolve this crisis, the students must change history in the subtle way that, the Demiurge says, such a thing is possible. The Demiurge can't reveal right now what the method will be, but he promises that he will reveal it soon. He can, however, reveal the reason behind the method: the fundamental importance of play. Because Herodotus and Thucydides, like the homeric bards before them, engaged their culture in a fundamentally ludic (that is, playful and interactive) way, reshaping the past as they found it into a discourse intended to enlighten their audience, the Demiurge has the ability to use his operatives' (that is, the students') imaginations to immerse them in the past, and to allow his operatives themselves to play the world.

The Demiurge realizes he is being obscure, but promises that this fundamental notion will become clear in the course of the mission.

We'll then talk about the central goals and objectives of the course/game, which would be the same whether we were "playing" it as a game or "taking/giving" it as a course. It's worth noting that before now I've never thought of laying out goals and objectives this way for this course; it's a notion that's come to me both from instructional design and from game design, and is not something in which I ever received training in graduate school. I'm nearly certain that I am far, far from alone in that among professors.

The goals of the course are
  • skill at analysis of the writings of Herodotus and Thucydides
  • skill at analysis of historical discourse across time periods
  • knowledge of the writings of Herodotus and Thucydides
  • knowledge of the practice of Herodotus and Thucydides (that is, what they actually were doing in ancient Athens in the context of Greek and Athenian culture)
  • knowledge of the cultural context of that practice in ancient Athens (in particular homeric epic, tragedy, and Plato, as well as what we know of daily life)
  • knowledge of the relationship of the practice and writings of Herodotus and Thucydides to what we know of the actual events of the past
The objectives associated with those goals are, for the skill-based goals, the ability to analyze the relevant discourse, and, for the knowledge-based goals, the ability to summarize the relevant information.

The Demiurge will express those goals and objectives in the form of the students' mission--these are the objectives that they must achieve in order to help save the world's hope. The Demiurge can at this point only reveal that they will demonstrate their attainment of these objectives in completing each of seven individual mission modules, and in completing the entire mission of Operation KTHMA.

Then we'll take a look at what the Demiurge has done with the HuskyCT site for the class, especially the "Pyschometric Sortition Tool" (in some ways resembling the questions at the start of some games from Bethesda like Morrowind and Fallout 3), which they'll be expected to complete before the next operation meeting.

(When they complete the tool, I will assign each of them to a numbered class, with the rank of "Observer Class 1," "Observer Class 2," etc. At that point, I will add them to groups for their classes on the website, and give them access to a document that describes the first level of their class, and the skill that goes with that level; they will have access only to their own classes, and will have to learn about the other classes from one another. Once that reveal has happened, I'll post more here about it.)

If we have time left, the Demiurge will engage the operatives in a discussion about their preconceptions about history, focusing primarily on the ever-new difference between history as the events of the past and history as accounts by people of their ideas about the events of the past. We may get into the etymology of "history," but I'm hoping to save that for Day 2.