An online game simulation has some Phoenix Elementary School District parents upset. Mission US: Flight to Freedom has received both praise and disdain, as it seeks to enlighten students by simulating slavery.
In the simulator, students adopt the persona of a 14-year-old girl named Lucy King who is trying to escape a Kentucky plantation. Using a format in which “players” choose what to do next, users have to react to the plantation master’s demands, sometimes receive beatings, and plan an escape by river.
Outraged parents report that they were not aware of the game, and felt that they should have been asked permission to allow its use.
“I found out about it last week when my son told me what happens in the game,” said De’Lon Brooks, a Phoenix father whose seventh-grader attends Emerson Elementary, a K-8 school. “I was just like, ‘No. Not at all. That’s not going to work.'”
Brooks continued: “As a parent, and as someone who grew up under civil-rights members, I couldn’t allow my son to be subjected to that without my permission.”
Game creators did not comment about the simulator; however, their online summary says the mission “immerses players in rich, historical settings” and “empowers them to make choices that illuminate how ordinary people experienced the past.”
Phoenix Elementary School District spokeswoman Sara Bresnahan said they were unsure how the Flight to Freedom simulation made its way into the classroom. The district’s online repository of instructional tools did not include that particular Mission US game, although it does include the City of Immigrants mission, which involves a 14-year-old Jewish girl immigrating to New York from Russia in 1907.
The district blocked access to all Mission US simulations on Tuesday, as Bresnahan said she agreed with parents’ concerns and was taking the issue “to [the] district administration to be reviewed quickly,” USA Today reports. Bresnahan said the district is investigating to see if its use was pervasive or isolated.
Mission US is not without praise. Educators, students, and gamers give it high marks and it has received several awards.
“The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Humanities provided funding for the development of Mission US, which earned nearly 20 awards and honors after its 2010 launch,” USA Today reported.
Via their website, creators claim that the simulations help students “develop a more personal, memorable, and meaningful connection with complex historical content” (see videos of the game below).
For Brooks, historical or not, the Flight to Freedom simulation downplays the suffering of slaves, making horrendous outcomes mundane.
For example, one outcome in which the player loses features this message: “You and Henry are beaten, locked up and sold south the next week.”
Then, it asks if the student wants to play again.
“I don’t think they’re mature enough to be using this program,” Brooks said. “My wife and I were really concerned about the violence.”
Neal Lester, an Arizona State University professor and expert in African-American literature, said, “I just think it’s a horrible idea to move slavery into the realm of gaming.”
“Why does it have to be fun?” Lester observed. “Slavery wasn’t fun.”
Other missions, such as A Cheyenne Odyssey — where students play a Native-American boy fighting to save his tribe — have also drawn skepticism.
“Equity, restorative justice and cultural competency are key to our strategic planning,” Bresnahan said after a meeting during which district officials were urged to remove the simulations. “Our governing board and administration have numerous initiatives underway on these topics to increase our awareness, understanding and education.”
The Flight to Freedom simulation was launched in 2012.
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