Step into the Past with a New Game-Based History Course: HIS350: World War I

Europe today is a powder keg and the leaders are like men smoking in an arsenal … A single spark will set off an explosion that will consume us all … I cannot tell you when that explosion will occur, but I can tell you where … Some damned foolish thing in the Balkans will set it off.”

~ Otto Von Bismarck, 1878

Today, more than one-hundred years removed from the start of the so-called “War to End All Wars,” the lessons it can teach us still resonate.

French Soldier
A French soldier standing in the ruins of Verdun, wearing a gas mask, 1916. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. 2738442/1/115_2738442/cite

Borne out of imperial rivalries and complex European alliances, World War I erupted suddenly in 1914 and ended more than four years later, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. In the years between, the Allied and Central Powers engaged in a horrific and devastating “Total War,” drafting unprecedentedly large armies and transforming their economies to support the war effort, yet producing little more than stalemate and death on much of the Western Front. The Great War changed how wars were fought, and introduced new technology to the battlefield. Students who take the new course HIS350: World War I, which premieres in the Fall II term in October 2016, will examine the origins and consequences of the war, the major strategic decisions, as well as the intertwining history on the homefront of the combatant nations.

The format of HIS350 offers students the chance to explore World War I from a unique and innovative perspective: by taking a step into the past. The course contains three game-based learning simulations from Muzzy Lane Software in which students become the key decision-makers at pivotal moments during the First World War.

In the first game, The July Crisis: Be Kaiser Wilhelm, students take on the role of the German monarch after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. As the Kaiser, will you back your allies, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and pave the path toward a two-front war, or will you seek peaceful solutions by working with other leaders like Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, your own cousin?

In The True Cost of War: Be the General students take the perspective of a general on the Western Front, which has long been mired in stalemate. How can you break the stalemate and claim a victory for your forces? Can you balance the interests of your military advisors, the people at home, and save the lives of your troops in the trenches? How will you assess the ethics and effectiveness of twentieth-century warfare tactics like poison gas, tanks, and air raids?

In Making the World Safe for Democracy: Be President Wilson students take on the American presidency on the eve of US entry into the war. As Wilson, how will you convince the American people that it’s time to enter the war, even though you just ran for re-election on a platform of peace? Can you meet the demands of military advisors, labor leaders, and suffragists to best prepare your army and your nation for the coming fight?

Along with the games, students in the course will read primary source accounts of the war to understand the war’s significance, its toll on the “Lost Generation,” and its ramifications today as we commemorate the war’s one-hundredth anniversary.

HIS350 also contains no textbook costs, as the required textbook is available free through the Excelsior College Library. In order to play the games, students must have access to a web browser that meets the minimum Excelsior system requirements.

You can find more information on HIS350 through the Course Search on our website. Speak to your advisor to see if it will fit with your degree plan.


Mary Berkery, Faculty Program Director, History
Mary Berkery, Faculty Program Director, History