Reacting to the Past: feasible for high school classrooms?

My heart thrummed as I made my way to the rostra after Marcus Antonius, Grace, had made her opening senatorial remarks. I was Marcus Tullius Cicero, in charge of the Republican Party, preparing to release my fiery tongue against my political opponents and take no prisoners as I denounced the funeral of Caesar, which was frankly a kindness he didn’t deserve. I opened my mouth and began to speak. The rest is literally history. 

That was a scene from “Beware of the Ides of March”, a Reacting to the Past-style game written by Carl A. Anderson and T. Keith Dix set in 44 BCE right after the death of Caesar that my classmates and I participated in during the Governor’s Honors Program at Berry College. Our instructor gave us each character sheets of historical figures with distinct political agendas and factions and a rulebook to guide all our political, military, or even criminal (assassinations!!) exploits to get ahead. Caesareans were pitted against Republicans and Indeterminates were caught in the middle, with the choice to join either side or remain neutral. 

Though nothing I said in that speech is worth remembering, that activity was just one of the many unorthodox parts of our grade that would otherwise be replaced by a test or quiz in a conventional classroom. Don’t get me wrong – a Reacting to the Past game could never realistically replace lectures and all that – they’re just really interesting because they, in the words of Mark Carnes, “naturally generate extraordinary levels of student engagement.”

My one comment about the version we played would be that I wished there was more Latin mixed in – it was mostly political intrigue and arguments about morality and power without really anything being conducted in actual Latin. Fortunately, I stumbled across a case study of the exact game we played but fully fleshed out in a university setting, meaning using Latin to communicate in certain parts of the game was actually included. I reached out to Professor Albright, who was responsible for bringing Reacting to the Past to GHP in the first place, and she was enthusiastic about the possibility of applying these games at the high school level, which they weren’t designed for. So here I am, in the process of designing our own mini-Reacting game titled Nero: In a Pisonian Pickle. The several weeks to months that the games typically take to finish playing would be completely unfeasible in a high school setting, so we’re designing Nero to be able to be completed in a week max. Keep an eye out on the site for updates!

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