How An Educational Videogame Should Be

HIGH It successfully combines emotion, entertainment, and pedagogy.

LOW Dialogues choices should be more consequential for multiple endings.

WTF No WTF moments. The is a clean game.

Educational videogames have come a long way Since The Oregon Trail.

Although the pedagogical potential of videogames is increasingly recognized, its use in schools is, lamentably, still regarded with suspicion by conventionalists. It’s a shame, as games can be reliable tools for transmitting and consolidating knowledge, and their benefits can support the educational path of our students. As James Paul Gee noted in his remarkable article, Good Video Games and Good Learning (2005), “Young people pay lots of money to engage in an activity that is hard, long, and complex” and “This was just the problem our schools face: How do you get someone to learn something long, hard, and complex and yet enjoy it?

Fortunately, several studios have realized this and have devoted themselves to creating educational works. The last few years have been fruitful with offerings like Immune Attack (2008), Kerbal Space Program (2011), World Rescue (2014), Valiant Hearts: The Great War (2014), That Dragon, Cancer (2016), Minecraft: Education Edition (2016), Attentat 1942 (2017) and more.

Svoboda 1945: Liberation is an incredible addition to this list.

The game is set in 2001. The player takes the role of someone tasked with evaluating whether a schoolhouse in the small Czech village of Svoboda should be given ‘landmark’ status. For this purpose, the player will investigate the history of the school and the village by interviewing the town’s inhabitants. However, what should be just another survey becomes a personal journey when our character discovers a photograph of his grandfather in the school’s attic.

The characters and stories in Liberation are fictional, but many elements within the experience are based on real events. Its main goal is to educate players about World War II and its horrors, specifically in former Czechoslovakia.

The unknown village of Svoboda was not randomly chosen to be the setting. In addition to being located near the German border, the common-seeming Svoboda reminds us of a familiar normality, much as any village might be. It’s the perfect setting to show how war affects even the smallest communities, and that no one is safe from its disastrous consequences. This small-scale setting and the lives we encounter help the player relate to the story and learn through focused empathy.

The people we meet in Svoboda are introduced through profound dialogues about their past and their relationship with the school and the village, and we listen to the traumas caused by the war and its aftermath. It’s through these interactions that we put the puzzle together and understand the history what happened. The way these segments take place is very well-thought-out, displayed via close-ups presented in FMV. The acting is very convincing, and we can easily recognize the emotions on these faces and feel the hardships through their eyes. Svoboda 1945: Liberation is an intimate and realistic portrait of the anonymous victims and the survivors of war.

When not featuring real actors, the game presents more content in a beautiful comic-book style. While we flip through these memories, we learn about the important events that took place in Czechoslovakia during World War II and the Soviet regime that followed, such as the Battle of Dukla Pass, the relocation of Volhynian Czechs, the expulsion of Sudeten Germans, and the collectivization in the communist period.

We also have access to an extensive collection of historical documents (reading these is optional) that will help players expand their understanding of events, and there are some minigames that recreate what characters experienced, such as a card game or a farming simulator, which is an interesting way to tell the story and prevents the player from being a passive listener and reader in this documentary-style gameplay.

What I find most interesting in Svoboda is the which aspect of World War II it focuses on. Instead of depicting events that took place between 1939 and 1945, we’re focused on the aftermath. From an educational perspective, this is a fantastic idea. It does not interpret World War II as a piece of history that belongs to the past, but something that still has consequences in the present, reinforcing the notion that problems don’t magically vanish with the end of a war since the victims continue to carry the burdens of suffering.

Svoboda 1945: Liberation is a truly incredible educational videogame that I, as a history teacher, can recommend for use in the classroom. In addition to its experiential and play value, it proves that educational titles can be captivating without losing their pedagogical mission, and I’m glad that this genre continues to deliver high quality projects and evolves consistently with the efforts of talented teams like this one. Plus, the serious way in which Svoboda 1945: Liberation treats the historical facts and the compassionate way in which it presents the people are a beautiful tribute to the memory of those who survived World War II. This is an especially important gesture, as the last survivors are now nearing their final days, and with them, the knowledge of what really happened. Let’s not lose this and be doomed to repeat it.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Charles Games. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 3 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: As of press time, this game was not reviewed by the ESRB. This title is about the history of the World War II and its horrors. Although the game does not have explicit violent photorealistic animations, some of its cartoonish images depict scenes of people being shot, corpses and physical violence. Some images are accompanied with sounds of gunshots or people screaming in distress.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. The game can be played without audio. The only audio this game uses are menu/interface sounds effects, some environmental sounds, and the dialogues (but these are accompanied by subtitles.)

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. This is a point and click game, controlled by mouse only.

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