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 from the 1820s through the 1850s as they tried to escape northward to freedom. These dangers are depicted non-graphically: 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 like 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 from the southern states to Canada in the 1820s through the 1850s. It begins with a brief description of the historical 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'll be captured and marched back to your master as that you'll find a new life in the North.
Is it any good?
By using real locations and names of infamous slave hunters and describing the perils faced by the escaping slaves, this game provides a brief but authentic glimpse into American history. The Underground Railroad lasts only a few minutes, but it invites repeat plays to see how differently the 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, the game is certainly designed to make kids think, although its short duration will probably also 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 doesn't really 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? What would you risk to secure your freedom?
Talk about the Underground Railroad. What sorts of dangers did the people who sheltered slaves and helped them escape face? Do you think you'd have had the courage to do what they did?
Do you think you learned about history by playing this game?