The Underground Railroad: Journey to Freedom is a historical simulation of the choices a runaway slave must make in order to escape a Southern plantation. What precious items will you carry? Who should you trust? Which route is the safest? No matter which path you take, you encounter important historical people and places along the way.
How to Play
In the middle of the night, you are awakened by an animated figure asking you to get ready. Immediately, you must choose how to respond. The character you'll come to know as your friend Amos will continue the conversation based (mostly) on your choices. After Amos leaves, it's time to pack; and you'll see highlighted items around your room to consider. You can tap any of them for more information, but you can only choose three to add to your traveling bag. Similarly, you can only choose two friends on the plantation to talk to, even though all three have something valuable to share with you.
Throughout the game, you'll be forced to make these tradeoff decisions. Often, the decisions are more about attitude than action -- should you be friendly or standoffish? Sometimes, the game continues in a certain direction no matter what you choose, but some decisions have more impact and could lead you to be caught, brought back, and sold to another plantation. Other choices might result in meeting Harriet Tubman, to hear her story and advice. Or you might encounter famous abolitionists or hear Frederick Douglass speak. These historical figures will share facts about the Underground Railroad in the context of your journey northwards.
The Underground Railroad app isn't the fanciest simulation -- it loads slowly and the characters animate in an awkward manner. However, if kids can move past these low-tech issues, they'll get a lot out of this journey. There is some moderate functionality -- you can save your game and return later -- and you can jump to certain scenes if you want to replay the game without going through the initial scenes again. This is good, since you'll probably want to play again and see how different choices would lead to different results. Also, the game does not require an Internet connection to play.
Making choices with realistic tradeoffs in time, energy, and resources, without knowing how the game will play out, gives kids a sense of uncertainty and emotional tension that makes learning more memorable. There is a good blend of story and historic facts, with real photos and maps and contextual music and dialogue. The frequent interaction of making choices or just tapping to continue keeps kids engaged. The game generally rewards being polite and helpful to others.
The Underground Railroad: Journey to Freedom
is best for kids interested in learning about history. This app also works in the context of reinforcing a school lesson about slavery and the Underground Railroad. The educator guide
for the computer game version has helpful discussion questions and activities. This simulation is best for kids nine and up, since there are references to whipping and beating, although nothing is pictured.Note:
While this historic simulation game is free on PC or Mac, you can't play it on a mobile browser because the online version requires the download of the free Sandstone Player Software onto your computer.
Review written by Liz K. McKinney
All tech products are judged on a five star scale by looking at the following factors: fun, education, ease of use, value, and technical.