Mission US: Flight to Freedom
is a choose-your-own-adventure delivered in five parts, bookended with a prologue and epilogue. It is fascinating enough for kids to play at home, but it also includes extensive teaching materials making it perfect to be explored in a school setting.
Developed by a group of historians and educators, and funded in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Humanities, this game makes history seem relevant to kids by letting them see events unfold through the eyes of a historic peer. By becoming Lucy, kids learn about slavery conditions, the Underground Railway, and political opinions about slavery including abolitionists as well as other anti-slavery groups such as the Free Soilers and Colonization groups. They will also find out about the Fugitive Slave Law and other laws of that time and why this conflict eventually escalated into a war.
Players meet Lucy while she is working on the King Plantation in Kentucky. When the foreman unjustly charges her with burning down the smokehouse, she faces being severely beaten or sold; so she decides to run away. Leaving her mother and little brother Jonah, Lucy finds her way to the Underground Railroad and eventually makes her way to Ohio. While Ohio was considered a "free" state, Lucy discovers that she is still at risk from slave trackers. Nonetheless, she bravely joins the abolitionist cause and puts herself at risk of being recaptured as a slave.
Presented through a series of scenes which use text, video, and maps, you make decisions for Lucy. The game plays out based on your decisions; so it is different each time you play. Not only do you make choices about what Lucy does, but you also determine her behavior. These decisions determine what "badges" you earn representing the values, traits and skills of the Lucy you are developing. The badges become important during the epilogue, because you will use the badges you have earned to create an ending narrative for Lucy.
Your Decisions Have an Impact
Some of the decisions you will face as Lucy include deciding what to take when she leaves the plantation. Should she steal? Pack extra food? Should she stay on the well-traveled roads or try to go it alone in wooded areas? What should she say if stopped by a slave catcher? Lie or run? Later in the game you will have to make decisions about helping others. Can you find a free man's papers that some dishonest slave catcher tore up? Can you persuade established, credible citizens to testify that a free man isn't an escaped slave?
The game also does a great job of increasing vocabulary. Key concepts and difficult historic terms are introduced by highlighting them in yellow. If kids click on them to learn their definitions, they earn "Smartwords" which will increase Lucy's literacy skills and help her to escape slavery.
Mission US: Flight to Freedom is an excellent educational role-playing game for kids. From the minute you step into the shoes of Lucy, you are hooked. Her problems become your problems, as you match wits with a cruel overseer and an overbearing daughter of the plantation owner who used to be your friend. After you run away, you experience the fear of being caught and worry about each decision. Luckily, if things don't go well, you can choose to replay each part. The game is so realistic that it may take you several times of playing through the running away part before you learn which series of decisions will allow you to cross over into the free state of Ohio. We were captured by slave catchers twice before we successfully made it into Ohio. But that trial and error is part of what makes this game so good.
Why This Game is Good
Games like Mission US: Flight to Freedom, that let you learn from your mistakes, create powerful learning opportunities for kids. As kids live through days of Lucy's life, they will learn how people resisted the institution of slavery and how one person's bravery can make a difference. Replaying a part of the game with newly acquired knowledge about the history of that time will open new paths of gameplay. The branching storylines, each tied to your possible decisions, are brilliant in their diversity and ingenious in how they weave together to create the fascinating story path of this game. The story line is careful to reflect the history of the time and show it from multiple perspectives. From hearing spirituals being sung in the beginning of the game to Lucy's haunting voice at the end recalling her journey, this is a powerful game that all kids should experience.
All tech products are judged on a five star scale by looking at the following factors: fun, education, ease of use, value, and technical.