MIT STEP Lab Presents


Revolution is the Education Arcade's multi-player, American Revolution-themed role-playing game based on historical events in the town of colonial Williamsburg.



Revolution is the Education Arcade’s multi-player, American Revolution-themed role-playing game based on historical events in the town of colonial Williamsburg. Set in 1775, on the eve of violent revolt in the colony of Virginia, the game gives students an opportunity to experience the daily social, economic, and political lives of the town’s inhabitants.

In the late 18th century, tensions between the British Empire and its colonies on the eastern coast of North America were reaching a critical point. From Georgia to Massachusetts talk of revolt hung heavy in the air, and the threat of war lingered on the horizon. The colonists were about to suffer the bloody birth of a nation, a nation that would eventually shape the course of human history. But this couldn’t be known by the people of the time, who went about their everyday lives much as anyone had through the ages — one day at a time, their only goal to make their way through the world into which they were born.

By allowing role-play from one of seven social perspectives — from an upper class lawyer, to a patriotic blacksmith, to an African American house slave — Revolution places students in a situated learning context. Games respond to player choice. One’s actions have real consequences that depend on one’s politics, gender and class standing in colonial society:

  • Does your allegiance lie with the soldiers of the British governor, or with the local militia?
  • Can a retaliatory trade embargo against imperial taxation laws be justified if it also brings debilitating damage to the town economy?
  • Are moral convictions enough to risk helping a runaway slave hide from his pursuers?

Revolution asks students to make these and other hard decisions. Eschewing a “master narrative” in which “great men do great things,” the game teaches students an “ordinary” experience of history that includes passionate rhetoric and heroic battle, but also economic frustration, political indifference, and the mundane of everyday life.

Developed as a multi-player 3D game, Revolution is designed to be played in a 45-minute classroom session in a networked environment. Each participant navigates the space of the town, interacts with other players and townspeople, and is given the opportunity to act in and react to various events that in one way or another represent the coming of the war. Revolution includes a strong narrative component, an important aspect to drawing the player into a world of actual historical events. But players also improvise their own stories, based on the resources available to them as well as the choices they make in real-time as the game unfolds. Because the game is networked, players collaborate, debate, and compete, all within a simulation that maintains historical suspension of disbelief with graphical and behavioral accuracy. Revolution combines the best elements of live classroom role-playing exercises and period drama films to provide a new kind of teaching resource for understanding American history.

Revolution‘s seven playable characters span the social spectrum of 18th century colonial America. Students can play among the upper class gentry, the middle class shopkeepers and craftsmen, as well as Williamsburg’s less fortunate, the African-American slaves and indentured servants of the white lower class. Fiery patriots face off against staunch British loyalists, with the more economically minded and level-headed moderates as mediators. Each character’s gender, class, and political affiliation affects how computer-controlled characaters respond verbally and physically to the player’s actions — or even whom a player may talk to in the first place. Below are the profiles of Revolution‘s charcaters:

  • Robert Carter Nicholas was one of Virginia’s conservative patriots. An able lawyer, Nicholas served for ten years as a burgess before becoming treasurer of the Virgina colony. Nicholas helped draft the resolutions against the proposed Stamp Act, but he did not share some of the more radical opinions, such as those of Patrick Henry. He tried to prevent premature violence in March 1775, by opposing Henry’s attempt to raise a private army to watchdog the British. Nicholas was never an advocate of independence, but he did sympathize with many objections to Britain’s rule. However, he felt reform and diplomacy were better solutions than violence. In this game, his goals are to reason with and placate the colonists without resorting to violent revolution.
  • Catherine Grymes was born into a family of successful Massachusetts tailors. Her parents’ business thrived, and Catherine learned the rules of the trade well. When she was old enough to leave home, she decided to establish a tailoring business of her own. Wanting to avoid competition with her parents, she left Boston and headed South. She eventually ended up in Williamsburg, where she opened a tailoring business on England St. Having grown up in the political upheavals of Boston, she has a strong sense of her colonial heritage and is proud to be an independent business owner. She corresponds with her parents regularly, whom often send news of the ongoing civil unrest caused by the British occupation. As a result, she has strong colonial patriotic sentiments. Her goal is to keep her business running smoothly, while expressing sympathy with the more restless of the patriots.
  • Hannah was born on tha farm of George Steadmond, a wealthy patriot. Her mother was a house slave, doing all matters of personal duties for Mr. Steadmond, including shopping, cooking, and cleaning. Hannah followed in her mother’s footsteps, and was soon helping around the house. When she was a teenager, her mother fell ill, leaving her and her baby brother alone. She cared for her brother and took over her mother’s job as well. When Hannah was in her 20’s, she was regarded as a capable servant, who was trusted to manage the house both when Mr. Steadmond was there and in his absence. Her brother was not yet 10 by this time and he did not work much, but rather played in the neighborhood. It was Hannah’s fear at this time that her brother might be sold, as Steadmond did not need another house slave.
  • William Waddill was born in Williamsburg and at a very young age began his apprenticeship to the Geddy family, the local blacksmith dynasty who performed a variety of metalworking services, including gunsmithing and silverwork. William learned all these trades, although he excelled mostly in silversmithing and engraving, which earned him a reputation among the wealthy of the town for his fine wares. He even made the engravings on the previous governor’s coffin, the man replaced by Lord Dunmore. Although his sister was married to James Geddy Jr., whom occupied a place on the Williamsburg council, William remained a loyalist and was ready to help anyone sympathetic to the crown.
  • Margaret Chadwell was born into a poor family in London. Her father, a minister, did not have much money to feed his 5 children. When Margaret got pregnant out of wedlock, her father threatened to cast her out of the house unless she could marry the father. The man, an arrogant son of a silversmith known to bed naïve girls, refused. Margaret’s father kicked her out, and she went to a convent where she miscarried soon after. Disgraced, her father would not accept her back, even after her recovery. However, two of her brothers, Harold and Amos, gave her some money to travel to the new world to start over. After arriving in Williamsburg in August 1774, she found work in Chowning’s Tavern as a cook and servant. As a newcomer to the colonies, she doesn’t know much about their politics, and remains a casual loyalist. She is enjoying her life so far in Williamsburg, though the work is hard. Because of her job, she overhears much political gossip and is afforded opportunities tp speak with upper-class people she wouldn’t otherwise be able to. She generally enjoys this status quo, and would probably try to prevent civil unrest if she could.
  • Dan was born on a farm in northern Virginia. Although it was difficult to know for sure, he was likely a second-generation slave, his grandparents having probably been born in Africa and brought over to the colonies a few decades before. He was sold away from his parents at a young age to George Steadmond of Williamsburg. There he worked diligently in the fields and eventually started a family. He was known for being strong-willed among other slaves, and particularly to Mr. Steadmond, whom he was punished by occasionally for insubordination, usually by whipping. One particular instance, which was a mystery to those around the farm, resulted in Mr. Steadmond becoming so enraged that, to spite Daniel, he sold his wife and child away to another farm in a distant town. Since then Daniel has not been as out-spoken, but rather secretly hopes to find information about his family’s whereabouts so he can abscond and rejoin them.
  • John Lamb has lived all his life in Williamsburg. His father was a carpenter, and John followed in his footsteps. John, however, had more interests beyond mere carpentry, and quickly gained a knack for other manners of woodworking, such as cabinet-making, barrel-making, basket-making, and wheel-making. He has therefore gained a reputation as a sort of jack-of-all-trades in woodwork. His mother recently passed away of smallpox, a long and arduous experience that left he and his father in a dismal depression. John’s father took up drinking, and spends most of his time at the local tavern. John on the other hand threw himself into his work and is now feeling better by keeping busy. He has also spent much of his time attending rebel meetings, as he tends to side with the politics of colonial patriots. This is something his loyalist father does not approve of, causing tension between them.

Development complete winter 2004; No further work on this project.


Project Specifics


High School Students

Content Area

Games, Learning, and Puzzles

Project Contact