New game allows students to explore the art of 15th and 16th century Florence
In an unprecedented move to bolster innovation in learning, a new course centered around a video game was launched this fall at Texas A&M University. The course uses the video game ARTé: Mecenas, developed by Triseum. It includes faculty-led lectures and immersive game play whereby students are transported to the 15th and 16th centuries to commission works of art as a Medici banker. Students can earn one credit hour for achieving 100 percent mastery in the game.
“Transformational learning is one of the strategic imperatives at Texas A&M University, and in response, the Department of Visualization is actively pursuing the goal of capitalizing on the current levels of student digital literacy, which are at an all time high, to deliver a new type of high impact learning experience,” said Dr. Jorge Vanegas, dean of the College of Architecture at Texas A&M University. “Offering the game as the course itself is a creative and innovative way, not only to give our students options in the way they learn, but more importantly, to ensure that they are learning in a way that is productive, engaging and fun.”
“The game provides context and fosters strategic thinking that would be difficult to replicate by any other means,” said Lilia Campana, one of the professors of the course, and also a native of Italy and expert in maritime history. “Acting as Medici members themselves, students are in a unique position to gain a deeper comprehension of how the family bank (Banco Medici) operated on a large, global-scale all over the Mediterranean, and how this led to their status as one of the most powerful families of their time. Their economic power was a crucial factor in their patronage of art in Renaissance Florence and beyond. The Medici’s rich, artistic patronage, which was certainly a means of political aggrandisement and control, sponsored some of the world’s art masterpieces, thus dictating the artistic and cultural climate in Renaissance Europe.”
Students have many attempts to play ARTé: Mecenas and advance to the end, a true measure that they have not only learned and retained the material, but utilized their knowledge to prove mastery. True to the life of the Medici, students must balance relationships with powerful city-states, merchant factions and the Catholic Church or risk excommunication, exile and bankruptcy. The game sets the stage for students to grasp the complexities of artwork, the role of art given societal norms, and its overall relevance to the people and policies of the time period.
“The game provides far more interactivity than is possible by listening to a traditional lecture or reading a text,” said Susan Sutherland, lecturer at Texas A&M. “It delivers a tangible way for students to not only recognize works of art, but to explore the context in which they were created. As students are immersed in the game, they build strategic thinking skills and gain knowledge to motivate them to keep playing and learning. The goal of the class is not only to increase their knowledge and have fun playing the game, but to spark interest in further research on the Medici, or perhaps even to go to Florence to see the art and architecture that they have studied!”
André Thomas, CEO of Triseum and a professor at Texas A&M University, spoke about the development of the game and its applications:
“ARTé: Mecenas was created out of necessity. I was approached by a faculty member at Texas A&M, Dr. Spurgeon, who was teaching Art History Survey to non-art students. In just two semesters she had to cover 5,000 years of human art history on a global scale, which is like trying to see Europe in a speed train in a week. She wanted to provide more context and deeper meaning for her students, and thought this could be accomplished through a game. Since 97% of students play games for four hours or more every week, it seemed to be an ideal way to engage students with the course content. She came to me to help design and develop an art history game that not only would teach students about the art and its relevance, but one that also would be engaging.
It was through the development process of ARTé: Mecenas that we realized the potential for game-based learning as a means to help students grasp and retain curriculum in a way that was both relatable and fun. This ultimately led to the creation of the LIVE Lab at Texas A&M University, which gives students an opportunity to create games, and the establishment of our company, Triseum, which developed ARTé: Mecenas into an immersive, academically rigorous and fully tested product that is being used at colleges around the country.”
Texas A&M and Triseum have a three year agreement in place to integrate ARTé: Mecenas across all of the school’s art history survey courses. Texas A&M is providing access to 1500 students per year who are enrolled in art history both on campus and online.