The Underground Railroad: In the Ohio River Valley
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Underground Railroad: In the Ohio River Valley is an educational game meant to give kids an idea of the dangers faced by American slaves of the 1820s through the 1850s as they tried to escape northward to freedom. These dangers are depicted in vague detail. Dialogue boxes discuss chained marches and dying from exhaustion, and one old photo shows a slave with a severely scarred back, but that's as far as any depictions of death and violence go. It's suitable for middle school students studying history and social studies.
What kids can learn
Language & Reading
- historical figures
Thinking & Reasoning
Engagement, Approach, Support
Kids may have difficulty getting into this fairly rudimentary game, which has a very basic look and feel and doesn't offer incentives such as scores or statistics.
Learning is integrated into the experience on every screen in the form of informative text, authentic images from the era, and the names of real people and places. Emotional outcomes will resonate with kids.
The game's website offers additional material about the era, as well as a complete curriculum that homeschooling parents or teachers might use to dive more deeply into the subject.
What's it about?
Designed in part by students at Ball State University, THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD: IN THE OHIO RIVER VALLEY is a free educational game for PCs and Macs that depicts the journey of slaves in the southern states to Canada in the 1820s through the 1850s. It begins with a brief description of the setting and situation, then puts players in the role of a slave who must forge a path north through counties and across rivers. Players weigh risks and choose whether to divide their trips into longer or shorter segments through Underground Railroad safe houses. All decisions carry the risk of capture and the possibility of lowering your energy bar, which is meant to represent the fatigue felt by escapees during their flight. There's as much chance that you will be captured and marched back to your master as finding a new life in the North.
Is it any good?
The Underground Railroad isn't meant to entertain but instead teach. By using authentic locations, using the names of infamous slave hunters, and describing in each turn the perils faced by the escaping slave, it provides a brief but authentic glimpse into a troubled period of American history. The game lasts only a few minutes but invites repeat plays to see how differently slaves' stories might have ended. You may be caught by a bounty hunter, take up residence in a newly established community of escaped slaves, or join the Union army during the Civil War. Once completed, players will be led through a series of slides that provide a little more information on the political changes that eventually ended slavery. Though it's not designed to be fun, exactly, it's certainly designed to make kids think, although the short duration of the game probably also will leave players a bit bored after they try it once or twice. As a result, The Underground Railroad gets students to think and is a good supplementary tool for a history lesson, but it definitely doesn't stand out on its own.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about the concept of slavery. Why do you think slave owners thought it was OK to treat people as property? If you were a slave, what would you risk to secure your freedom?
Families also can discuss the Underground Railroad. What sorts of dangers did the people who sheltered slaves and helped them escape face? Would you have had the courage to do what they did?
Do you think you learned about history by playing this game?