Witness to the Revolution is an immersive, interactive 3d experience of the 1770 Boston Massacre built as a partnership between Carleton College undergraduate students and the Old State House museum in Boston. Based on original historical research, the game allows players to digitally experience the eighteenth-century city while exploring the “hard problems” of settling on a singular truth about the past.

The History

The Boston Massacre is often considered an early precursor of the American Revolution. When British troops shot Boston civilians in the street in March of 1770, both British Army o cials and radical Sons of Liberty like Sam Adams and Paul Revere immediately seized on the incident for propaganda purposes. Both sides gathered depositions shaped to demonstrate that the other side had provoked the shooting. These depositions are so contradictory that no one – either contemporaries or later historians – have ever settled on a single narrative of the event.

The Game

“Witness to the Revolution” is a geographically accurate 3D serious gaming experience — built using GIS mapping software, procedural modeling techniques, and the Unity 3D game engine — that makes a virtue of this contradictory evidence. Players collect depositions from witnesses and must assess the value of the deposition, based on their appraisal of the witness’ reliability, social interactions, and coherence. As the player is sent on quests throughout eighteenth century Boston to find new witnesses, he or she experiences the small scale and local nature of the colonial town. Once the player has amassed a su cient number of depositions and noted which aspects of the testimony seem reliable, the player returns to the site in front of the Town House (now the Old State House Museum) to see one possible reconstruction of the Boston Massacre that plays out in accordance with the story that the player has just constructed. Di erent depositions and di erent assessments of the evidence will produce di erent versions of the Boston Massacre, reinforcing the lack of historical consensus about what really happened.

Our Goals

The Old State House museum is the historic site on the Freedom Trail primarily responsible for the interpretation of the Boston Massacre. Once the game is complete, the Old State House has several ideas for how they plan to use it both within and outside of the museum. At the moment, the museum is able to show visitors the contradictory evidence as text, but has only a single film that reconstructs the shooting from a single (if confused) perspective. This game will allow their visitors to experience the hard problems of interpreting the past. Moreover, the museum hopes to be able to use the game as preparation for school visits, allowing Boston public school children to grapple first with the di culties of evidence before they come to the museum.