Tag Archives: Canada

Website Review: Mission 2 of Mission: US – “Flight to Freedom”

All video game franchises attempt to improve with time. With PBSMission:US, however, the delays were making us question whether there was going to be a second mission after all.

It has been a long time coming, but the second installment marks a solid improvement on the original.

The Neighborhood last visited this PBS interactive history game with its inaugural mission, which dealt with a young Boston boy dealing with the events leading up to the American Revolution. While we found it a worthy start, the mission was somewhat flawed with excessive dialogue, cartoonish, anime-like characters and lack of visceral action.

In this second mission, “Flight to Freedom”, the game moves to the mid-1800s as the slavery issue divides Americans. Lucy is an enslaved girl on the King plantation in northern Kentucky, near the Ohio River and the free state of Ohio. The story follows her daily life on the plantation, assisting fellow slaves escape north, escaping to freedom, being recaptured and sold at an auction, and hopefully fleeing again to freedom. Along the way, Lucy encounters abolitionists, free blacks, other slaves, overseers, haughty masters, slave catchers and others in American society with varied views on slavery.

Many of the flaws of the first mission have resurfaced. The Japanese-like characters and the excessive dialogue have remained. Also, certain aspects of the background seem somewhat sanitized. The slave quarters seem a little too spiffy (they look so well-built they resemble Levittown tract-housing), the fields seem a little too tidy, and the overseer and slave catchers seem a little too diplomatic (I’m sure they probably cussed more in real life).

The choice of crop at the plantation, furthermore, is interesting. Instead of cotton, tobacco or rice, the King plantation grows hemp, a once-valuable crop used in making bags, coarse clothes and especially rope.

I just wonder if my more street-savvy students would snicker at such a harvest, given hemp’s more potent and illegal cousin. Is that Snoop Dogg hanging out a little too long around those burning leaves?

Yet besides the cartoons, the sanitation and the subtle references to illicit drugs, Mission: US’ second mission does have marked improvements on its predecessor.

“Flight to Freedom” now allows the main character Lucy to say and do a wider variety of things. Unlike previous missions, which tend to move the story forward a little too linearly, Lucy can now be sneaky, aggressive, persuasive, obedient…even violent if she wants to. The game allows you to collect badges based on how you interact with characters and the situation. The badges also help you finalize the ending of the story the way you want it to end.

This makes the action more human and realistic—making the story all that more relatable to today’s students. After all, to make all enslaved people and free blacks look and act the same is a gross disservice. These people reacted to their situation in varied ways. It was a fine line between a seemingly obedient house servant and a Nat Turner-like insurrection.

Also, the dialogue is remarkably apt for the period. The first mission had colonists that sounded more like Nebraska than Boston. This time around, you can hear the twangs of the Ohio valley, from the drawls of the Kentucky planters and slave catchers to the Midwest nasal airs of Ohio abolitionists.

Lastly, the developers added a nice feature called Think Fast! About the Past for each mission. It’s a timed trivia game that allows you to learn more background information about each time period. Thankfully, the second mission game includes brutally honest information about the nineteenth century.

No, most northern whites were not abolitionists. Most abolitionists didn’t necessarily believe in racial equality. And life for free blacks in Canada was not exactly peaches and hockey sticks.

I hope in the future, PBS will develop missions with more action, longer plotlines and more realism. Yet “Flight to Freedom” is a great leap forward for the Mission:US franchise and it bodes well for upcoming installments.

Let’s see how long it takes to release Mission 3…let’s suppose by the end of the decade ;)

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Videos for the Classroom: What About Prejudice (1959)

I love these hokey 1950s educational films–the sincere morals, the clear messages, the sea of perfectly coiffed Caucasian youngsters.

Our good friends at the Social Studies and History Teachers blog had released this 1959 doozy to their readers, and its worth a look here at the Neighborhood.  This McGraw-Hill film What About Prejudice chronicles the trials of Bruce Jones, an outsider who we never see from the waist up.  For whatever reason–ethnic, racial, socio-economic–the other students at this high school shun and castigate Bruce due to their own prejudices.  It isn’t until one selfless act that the students finally overcome their preconceived notions and accept Bruce as an equal.

I know, this is so bad it gives the word “corny” a bad name.  Yet students who watch this can analyze how feasible it is for them to (a) accept someone like Bruce, or (b) change their mindset after one event.

Real life is rarely as neat and Brylcreemed as a school filmstrip.  Enjoy.

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Videos for the Classroom: The British Empire in Colour

In watching our recent troubles, both economically and on the world stage, I was reminded of another great power that often had to come to grips with its legacy.

I found this incredible documentary, The British Empire in Colour, which gives a sweeping account of the climax, then slow decline, of one of the most influential colonial empires on Earth.  Most importantly, it explores the legacy, both glorious and tragic, of the British colonial experience as it stands in former dominions such as Canada, Australia, former Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and Jamaica.

Starting with the Roanoke and Jamestown experiments in North America in the late 16th-early 17th century, Great Britain amassed an empire over the course of two centuries that spread over three-fourths of the globe.  The empire was solidified on the unshakeable belief that the British nation–the white European British nation–had a divine destiny in spreading its culture, its language, its institutions to a world “mired in darkness”, to use a phrase of the time.

Yet even though many of these colonial possessions–Canada, Australia, India–are enjoying success as independent nations, the negative aspects of colonialism have left their deepest and most cruel mark on these former colonies.  

Starting with the “dominions of settlement,” the settler colonies such as Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Rhodesia, a systematic marginalization and destruction of native populations has wreaked havoc on once-proud local cultures.  The carving of African colonies in the 1880s and 1890s has exacerbated religious, ethnic and tribal tensions still to be resolved today.  Furthermore, these same colonial subjects, especially from India and Jamaica, had found that the reality of living in the British homeland–a reality rife with racism and economic turmoil–was a far cry from the idyllic descriptions in their imperial educations.

Share this video with your students, especially those studying Global Studies for their Regents exams.  It will give you an excellent glimpse at the twilight of a great power–and the consequences of those left behind.

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