Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Using "Assassin's Creed" to Teach the Renaissance

New Media Literacy
This project was inspired by Dr. Henry Jenkins' book, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide.  Jenkins writes about "participatory" fan communities, such fanfiction.net and the unofficial Harry Potter fan site, MuggleNet, in his white paper, "Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.  A new collection of fan-made wiki sites, devoted to movies, books, video games, etc. can be found on the site Wikia

According to Jenkins, the New Media Literacies (NML) project "argues that media literacy skills, broadly defined, need to be integrated into school-based and after-school programs, into adult education for parents and teachers and into popular culture itself if we are going to fully address the challenges of this moment of media in transition."  For more, check out NML on Twitter, @nml_usc, their website, newmedialiteracies.org, or Jenkins' blog: henryjenkins.org.

"Inspired by Historical Events and Characters."  This is how each game in the popular open-world, third-party, role-playing game (RPG) Assassin's Creed series, available on Xbox 360 and PS3, begins.  The Assassin’s Creed series of video games is an example of historical fiction.  In historical fiction the "setting is usually real and drawn from history, and often contains actual historical persons, but the main characters tend to be fictional" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_fiction).  Examples of historical fiction range from the film "Titanic," to "Saving Private Ryan," to video games, such as "Assassin's Creed."

The storyline of the Assassin’s Creed is essentially "The Matrix" meets "The DaVinci Code."  Here is the link for the game series, published by Ubisoft: assassinscreed.ubi.com.  Check out this clip in which Assassin's Creed Revelations' lead script writer Darby McDevitt talks about the historical setting and people that lead character Ezio meets in the game Assassin’s Creed: Revelations: youtu.be/Kn-310RoBMY

Below is a picture of Leonardo DaVinci with Ezio, the lead character of the games.  Also appearing in the game series are Machiavelli, Copernicus, popes, members of the Borgia's, and the Medici's.
Included in the game are "databases," in which players are given historical information about people and places from the time period.  Below is a screenshot from one of the game's many "databases" in Assassin's Creed II:

Using "Assassin's Creed" to Teach the Renaissance
This spring, I constructed a project-based lesson (PBL) titled The Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Character Web Project.  This PBL is framed around creating additional Renaissance-era characters to further integrate into the video game series via downloadable content.  The students were asked, "what if Ubisoft decided to integrate other real Renaissance figures as characters in the game?"  The unit is tied to historical fiction, which makes history more "real" and relatable to middle school students.  My 6th grade social studies student teams created character pages on a wiki.  (Not sure what a wiki is?  Watch this: www.commoncraft.com/video/wikis)

Links to my student's finished wiki pages:
Examples of My Sixth-Grader's Downloadable Character Wikis: