Ingolf Seidel an editor and project manager of the educational portal Lernen aus der Geschichte at the Agentur für Bildung – Geschichte, Politik und Medien e.V., and also works as a freelancer in historical and political education. Translated by Kate Davison and Marc Hiatt for Gegensatz Translation Collective.
In October 2019 I had the opportunity to play through the first chapter of Through the Darkest of Times and sound out its possibilities in two workshops for the Frankfurt-based Studienkreis Deutscher Widerstand 1933–1945 (Study Group on the German Resistance), one with university students training to be history teachers and one with students in their final two years of high school. A laptop was made available for each participant in the seminar room, so that they could play individually. Both workshop groups were able to get into the game very quickly. One difference was particularly noticeable in their communication behaviour during the game phase. While the trainee teachers largely acted on their own throughout the workshop, after a while the high school students began to engage in mutual communication, at first mainly with their immediate neighbours, but gradually also within the broader group. The exchange tended to revolve around tactical questions, but content-related issues were also addressed. In the subsequent discussion of the game, there was agreement in both groups that it is not a substitute for classic forms of learning, but it could be an interesting entry point and a supplement to school lessons. One youngster said of his own accord that he “clicked through” to win as quickly as possible. Even so, he was still unable to avoid the historical content and unlike other games it was impossible to skip over it. This statement suggests that the narrative complexity of Through the Darkest of Times comes very close to that of the analogue text book. Theoretically, the text passages of the scenes can be read quickly, indeed they can be skimmed over. However, the content of the passages forms the basis for advancing and deciding on one of the options offered. A page from a traditional book that has been merely glimpsed or turned too quickly leaves comparable gaps in knowledge. In addition, making a decision in one of the dilemmas set up by the game is imperative for continuing to play. The players must therefore continue to make moral decisions for the game to continue.
An interesting aspect of the game lies in the fact that it is clearly based on a pedagogical attitude focused on history teaching and learning. However, neither historians nor educators were directly involved in the game’s development. Experts were nevertheless consulted for advice, said Jörg Friedrich from Paintbucket Games in a preliminary discussion. The positive effect of this is that Through the Darkest of Times sticks to its genre. It realistically tells history without insisting on “authenticity”—a concept that in any case must be viewed critically in the context of history—and enables a change of perspective through the different game characters. At the same time, it enables players to grasp the constructed nature of every historical narrative.