Sunday, April 10, 2011

'Roman Town' helps kids dig archaeology

While the Roman ruins at Pompeii are fascinating, very few of us get to fly our kids to Italy to explore them and other ruins from the A.D. 79 eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius.

However, families can now simulate that experience by playing the Windows computer game “Roman Town.”

Created by professional archaeologist and former teacher Suzi Wilczynski, founder of Dig-It! Games, the game lets kids become archaeologists and join in the uncovering of an ancient city found near Pompeii. In the process of solving the mystery of what happened to the ancient city of Fossura, kids will experience what it is like to be on an archaeological dig.

Players get hired by a professor who needs help on a dig in Italy. As they travel to several dig sites to supervise the excavation, kids get to actually uncover artifacts hiding in the ground by pretending to wipe off dirt using the computer mouse. They will also learn about the tools and processes used by archaeologists when unearthing artifacts.

The game offers six dig locations. At each location after finding artifacts, kids must sort the items into categories such as metal, glass, pottery, and mosaic. Next they go to a lab to explore what each item can reveal about the past. While in the lab, kids reconstruct both 2-D and 3-D artifacts by clicking and dragging pieces onto an outline. They will also be able to tour each room they uncovered and see what it would have looked like back in time. Part of the lab experience is to play games that further their knowledge of history and archaeology. Before moving onto the next dig location, kids must complete a report by dragging key words onto a partially written report.

Clearly educational, this computer game is amazingly entertaining to play. This is true even though “Roman Town” lacks the bells and whistles normally found in today’s console video games.

The paneled cartoon graphics look rather rudimentary as they reveal the story. However, amusing animated stick figures do the heavy digging at the sites until they find something, and then the graphics magically switch to realistic plots of dirt for you to sift through. The graphical interface upgrades significantly when you are dealing with the artifacts, which seem to sparkle with detail, many appearing in 3-D. And the reconstructed rooms from Roman times are fascinating to scroll through.

While excavating artifacts is fun, the software adds zip to the gameplay by introducing you to two children who lived in the house you are uncovering. They magically appear to talk to you about what life was like in their house and explain how their family used all of the objects that you find. These historic kids help current-day children to relate more easily.

The game requires players to finish up a report after they complete the digging at each of the six excavation sites. This process encourages kids to click on buttons that lead them to more information. They will learn that the Romans had expert glass blowers to make bowls, magnifying glasses and even had glass windows. They will discover the shapes and uses of various vessels, and will learn how the Romans collected rain water from a hole in the ceiling. Kids will be introduced to mosaics and frescos and even help to reconstruct both.

In addition to excavatingand analyzing artifacts, kids will also play games that have a Roman theme. In one called Calculi, players take turns placing tokens on a gridded board in hopes of getting 5 in a row. Other games include word searches, puzzles and matching games.

By creating a game based around simulating an archaeological dig, adding in a mystery to solve about what happened to this town and then magically adding children who lived back in 79 A.D. as characters in the story, “Roman Town” has found a winning combination. This is educational software kids will want to play. As they play to unearth rare finds, their parents can celebrate too for finding this hidden treasure of uncommonly good learning software.

For more interesting topics related to archaeology, visit archaeology excavations.

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