J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Mission US, or My First and Last Post about Videogames

It’s always a printer’s apprentice. Where does Johnny Tremain end up working? At the Boston Observer newspaper. Where do the Liberty’s Kids kids meet? In Benjamin Franklin’s shop, as I recall. Where does the hero of one of my unfinished novels hang out after leaving the ropewalk? At Edes and Gill’s printshop, and then Isaiah Thomas’s.

And here’s Mission US, a new online game from Channel Thirteen in New York. Its introduction says:

Mission US is a multimedia project featuring free interactive adventure games set in different eras of U.S. history. The first game, Mission 1: “For Crown or Colony?,” puts the player in the shoes of Nat Wheeler, a 14-year-old printer’s apprentice in 1770 Boston. As Nat navigates the city and completes tasks, he encounters a spectrum of people living and working there when tensions mount before the Boston Massacre. Ultimately, the player determines Nat’s fate by deciding where his loyalties lie.
Nat works for printer Benjamin Edes, who’s a character in the game. Other real people include Edes’s wife Martha, Phillis Wheatley, Pvt. Hugh White, and Paul Revere. I haven’t tried Mission US myself, but welcome comments from any historically-minded gamers in the target audience.

As for the popularity of printer’s apprentices as protagonists in historical fiction, it’s an easy way to make a young character privy to important information, and to give him (or in some cases her) work that modern readers can understand. Plus, writers feel a natural affinity for other people who work with the printed word. I rather wish I’d figured that out before I plotted my novel around a possible cliché.


Charles Bahne said...

In today's world the young lad (or lass) would be a blogger's intern.

Judy said...

I tried the game yesterday. I don't know about a kid playing but I felt like the the directions within the game were poor. In the first 10 minutes I had met a very literate and self assured Phyllis Wheatley, T. Lillie's neice, a British "redcoat" and maybe another one or two anacronisms. I realize it was an animation but the clothing was atrocious. The Bostonian Society website is a much better venue for learning about the Boston Massacre!

J. L. Bell said...

Feedback via Twitter from @Smoothe_1: “My 11 yr old daughter just tried. She said ‘It’s so cool’ 4 times. I think target aud may B older but she seems 2 enjoy it. Thx!”