The Underground Railroad: In the Ohio River Valley

 
(i)

 

Learning(i)

Student-made game depicts dangers faced by escaping slaves.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Designed to make players consider the hardships slaves experienced prior to the Emancipation Proclamation as they tried to flee northward to freedom.  

Positive role models

Players take on the role of a courageous slave risking capture, potentially death to find freedom in the North. The player's character has no avatar or dialogue, but choices help to loosely define the character. 

Ease of play

Play is very straightforward: Click where you want to go, choose from multiple choices when presented questions. That said, successful escape is far from assured. You're likely to wind up recaptured more often than not (this is part of the game's learning).

Violence

Game's opening contains historic photo of a slave with countless whip scars on his back. Text, voice dialogue mention hardships faced by slaves such as being beaten, forced to march in chains.

Sex
Not applicable
Language
Not applicable
Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable
Privacy & safety
Not applicable

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

Subjects

Language & Reading

  • reading

Social Studies

  • geography
  • government
  • historical figures
  • history

Skills

Thinking & Reasoning

  • strategy

Emotional Development

  • empathy
  • persevering

Engagement, Approach, Support

Engagement

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 Approach

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.

Support

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 kids can learn

Subjects

Language & Reading

  • reading

Social Studies

  • geography
  • government
  • historical figures
  • history

Skills

Thinking & Reasoning

  • strategy

Emotional Development

  • empathy
  • persevering

Kids can learn about the lives of American slaves in the 19th century, particularly the challenges faced by those who decided to escape and make a bid for freedom in the North. The game describes the Underground Railroad, explores the reasons why slaves would decide to try to escape, and depicts some of the potential results of their escape attempts, both failed and successful. The experience wraps up with a brief look at the end of slavery, including details on the Emancipation Proclamation and the political actions that followed. This isn't the most traditional game experience, but it's a great supplementary tool for classroom lessons. As students relive a troubling period of history, The Underground Railroad: In the Ohio River Valley provides an opportunity to learn and think.

This Learning Rating review was written by Chad Sapieha

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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?

QUALITY
 

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?

Game details

Platforms:Mac, Windows
Price:Free
Pricing structure:Free
Available online?Not available online
Developer:Ball State University
Release date:January 8, 2013
Genre:Educational
Topics:History
ESRB rating:NR for NA (Mac, Windows)

This review of The Underground Railroad: In the Ohio River Valley was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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