I'll admit that I have always had an interest in both the Civil War and WWII. I'm also an avid gamer. A few weeks ago, I came across a game called Ultimate General. This game started as a mod for the Total War game series and was so popular it evolved into a full fledged game of its own. I knew this would be a perfect learning tool for our students.
As soon as the mission started and troops began firing at each other, the students were "oohing and ahhing." Being from NJ, I chose the Union side. Now, I didn't just load this up to show them little digital soldiers firing each other. I started up the mission and let it play out for a few minutes, and students watched as brigades started to move into formation and the Confederates started to advance. While the troops on screen moved around, myself and the primary teacher were explaining what was happening and why. We started to ask students questions about the terrain and troop movements. "Why would the Round Tops be important?" "Why would advancing your entire brigade here be a good or bad idea?" Another great feature of this game is by hitting the M key on the keyboard, I can turn on the elevation display. This allows students to see that the battlefield was not all flat and how difficult it was to move from one area of town to the other quickly.
We also discussed tactics of troops and why they would want to move to certain areas, and what would happen. Another unique feature of this game which actually lends itself nicely to the touch feature of the Surface is movement. In most RTS games, you need to move units in a straight line however we all know that is not how war is fought nor how troops move in real life. Ultimate General is the first game (to my knowledge) that lets you draw how you'd like your troops to move. So now for the first time you can truly flank an enemy. When clicking on individual brigades, you can also see their "line of sight", shown below by the dark and light patches on the map. As you click on different brigades sections of the map will darken based on what those troops can actually physically see.
This game truly immersed our students and I was told by the teachers who took the students on the trip that they were more engaged while there and could answer more questions than ever before. The game and movie clips only played a small part in that increased immersiveness but I believe that any increase is definitely worth exploring.
This game is also available for the iPad and is currently 50% off for PC and Mac via Steam.