Outbreak: Lessons Learned from Developing a “History Game”


  • Kevin Kee Brock University
  • John Bachynski


This paper describes the production of Outbreak, a game focused on the 1885 smallpox epidemic in Montreal. It is a preliminary report on the manner in which, by both theorizing about and building a game, we are responding to some of the questions that have animated the literature on computer games for history. The article begins with a survey of publications by researchers who have studied the capacity of games to support learning, and outlined how these can be used in concert with books and other media. We next provide the context to our project, which was conceived to market a film to be broadcast on television, and support a book on which the film was based – a bestselling history of a preventable tragedy that resulted in the deaths of over 3,000 Montrealers. We outline how we built from the book, creating a game that asked the player to save as many as possible from death, using tools that mimicked that which was available in the late nineteenth century. We conclude by reflecting on the lessons that we learned, and how we will apply these to our present and future projects.






Reflection and Review