Revolution / Monarchy is a recreational-educational publishing activity studied with requirements of historical accuracy and immersive learning.
The experience begins when the user receives a paper file with archive materials and simulated assignment letters, with the task of analyzing the reproduction of three French newspapers of the revolutionary era, all containing information relating to the declaration of war, signed by France on 20 aprile 1792 against the Kingdom of Bohemia, Hungary and the Kingdom of Prussia.
Designed as an activity for groups of students coordinated by a teacher, it is an example in which a historical event is chosen to be able to understand, compare and critically reconsider a fact through the consultation of different sources and multiple points of view: an excellent exercise of basic level to activate individual and collective skills in an attempt to arrive at a shared interpretation, concealing the propagandistic and subjective rhetoric of the various authors.
The activity was originally carried out between September and October 2017, as an experiment of the SPAN research group, inside the UIBI Foundation of Lucca. The main objective of the project was to investigate the possible potentialities between visual communication, narration, immersion and pedagogy applied to learning and training processes.
The theoretical frameworks formulated for the development of the activity consider the fundamental requirements proposed in the Recommendation of the European Parliament on Key Competences for Lifelong Learning (2006),
and the results of a research by the MacArthur Foundation and discussed in the book Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture
Media Education for the 21st Century (H. Jenkins, The MIT Press, 2009) where notions of playing, simulation, performance, appropriation, multitasking, distributed knowledge, collective intelligence, judgment, and negotiation are fundamental elements for the development of a media culture ready for the challenges of the near future.
For the Italian public the texts have been translated from the original French language, always trying to respect the scientific nature of the original materials with a literal paraphrase. Where necessary, minimal modifications and omissions have been made, (combining sentences or removing clarifications, comments and other secondary information), implemented responsibly with the aim of simplifying the playful mechanics during the process of acquiring information from the documents, thus favoring the level of adequate difficulty.
Combining historical-scientific resources, playful learning and immersive communication methods, the experimental activity carried out allowed us to observe the positive interaction between creative potential and knowledge, returning a case study useful for evaluating the level of synergistic functionality between immersive systems and learning environments.
- Arnaldo Filippini
art direction+ game design
- Laura Falorni
iconographic research + graphic design
- Enrico Granzotto
historical research+ narrative design
- Alessandra Tonelli
pedagogical research + learning processes
1.2. Research and sources
The research phase involved a large number of primary and secondary sources. The extraordinary collection of images of the Gallica archives allowed us to consult materials and documents of the time (including minutes, periodicals, posters and editorial products) becoming an invaluable source of historical, narrative and visual inspiration for the development of the project.
After a search limited to the period April 22–24, 1792, the documents selected for the activity were:
- Ami du Roi
Monarchist newspaper| (April 24; 297X210 mm; 2 pages)
“L’ami du Roi, des Français, de l’Ordre, et surtout de la Vérité, par les continuateurs de Fréron”, was a monarchist newspaper created on June 1, 1790 by the priest Thomas Marie Royou and Galart de Montjoie. Translated from French means “The Friend of the King, of the French, of the Order, and above all, of the Truth, by the continuers of Fréron”. The name of the newspaper declares the total ideological devotion to the King, which coincides, according to the title, with Truth. The radical concepts expressed in the texts underline the explicit pro-monarchic orientation, enhanced in courtly tones and polemical positions, often argued by French aristocrats who emigrated abroad and by conservative subjects belonging to the clergy.
- Ami du Peuple
Revolutionary newspaper (directed by Jean-Paul Marat)
(April 22; 270X160 mm; 6 pages)
“L’Ami du Peuple, journal politique et impartial”, was a newspaper founded in September 1789 and lasted until 1792, by Jean-Paul Marat. Translated from French means “The Friend of the People, a political and impartial newspaper”, and on the front page it had the words under the title Vitam impendere vero (life for the truth). The newspaper was sold clandestinely at dawn and housed the opinions of Marat, author of numerous current political articles with hostile and threatening tones directed at anti-revolutionaries and moderates.
- La Sentinelle
Revolutionary patriotic newspaper| (April 23; 420X270 mm; 1 page)
La Sentinelle (The Sentinel) was a newspaper inspired by Girodine orientation that appeared during the French Revolution in 1792 and 1793, and subsequently from 1795 to 1798. Founded by Jean-Baptiste Louvet de Couvray, La Sentinelle has the form of a large-format poster printed on pink-colored paper, and it was posted every two days on the walls of Paris and in the main provincial cities.
The newspapers reproduced for the activity contain descriptions, extracts of interviews and original ideological considerations relating to the assembly of 20 April 1792, during which the declaration of armed intervention against the Kingdom of Bohemia, Hungary and Prussia was decided and voted. The proposed texts report contrasting political interpretations, stimulating the reader to carry out a search and a comparison of the content.
2.1. Historical context
After months of disorders, the Jacobin revolutionaries in power approve a new constitution that makes France a constitutional monarchy.
In a problematic political climate, France declared war on the Kingdom of Bohemia, Hungary and the Kingdom of Prussia, envisaging the beginning of a conflict destined to change Europe, opposing the ideal of a revolutionary liberation to the conservative monarchical authority.
With the aspiration to explore past historical events to understand the problems of the future, the choice of the French Revolution was motivated by considering its historical period as an extraordinary scenario of cultural reflections, extremely well-known visual imagery, and a fundamental topic of school programs.
The circumscribed example of the declaration of war was therefore considered as an ideal first context to begin to investigate multiple narratives and time intervals, where characters, geopolitical balances, conspiracies and conflicts intersect, expanding the possibilities of deepening the content, thus making the Revolution French an intellectual property with an extremely high potential for interaction, narration and immersion.
Once the context had been defined, the story was designed for a limited activity (foreseen in 90–100 min duration), with references to serial content, inserted sustaining a possibile extended educational entertainment strategy.
As an informant, you are involved in a secret correspondence network between France and England, with the task of collecting material on French political plans. Despite the strong resentment against Austria, it is not clear what the real interests of the King of France and the National Assembly are behind the decision of an armed intervention. Your task is to analyze the materials provided, with the aim of understanding their true informative value.
The temporal and narrative evolution of the activity are articulated through the reading of three paper letters, each used as a starting element of a specific phase of the game:
- The first letter (initial situation) triggers the narration and the entry point into the fictional world, outlining the historical context, the location (Paris), the role of the player, the final goal and the material available: the user knows the scenario, accepts the assignment and starts consulting the sources to answer the three questions asked by the sender.
- The second letter (key event), to be opened after the first 50 minutes of activity, helps the user to look for the fundamental information suggesting the primary questions and inviting them to strategically manage the playing time.
- The third and final letter concludes the activity by revealing the solution to the primary questions, measuring the player’s work by solving the narrative relationship between the fictional world and historical truth.
Involving famous historical personalities, political exponents, interconnected historical phenomena (the violation of the Pillnitz declaration, signed on 27 August 1791), geographical and linguistic diversification (with the possible future possibility of interacting with documents in French), the single activity has been inserted in an extended narrative scenario, favoring the creation of a multilayered information architecture narratively predisposed to seriality, where the user gradually unites information elements and builds his own learning and entertainment experience among the actions of his own character, the mysterious client, and the real historical events.
The possibility of interconnecting multiple stories imagining the international implications of the French Revolution, see for example the relevant correlation with the previous war of American Independence (1775–1783), or the future rise of Napoleon Bonaparte, suggests the massive educational and creative potential still available.
2.3. Game mechanics
The game starts when the user receives the paper file with the materials. Once the first introduction letter has been opened, the player is asked to study the French newspapers and to compile a report intended for a contact within the Times of London, interested in obtaining verified information on the complex political context in France. The letter, written by hand and dated April 22, 1792, contains a reference to the declaration of war on Austria and Prussia which took place a few days before. The sender of the letter, a stranger signed Z.K., expresses conspiracy doubts about the recent events of French foreign policy, evaluating the decision of war intervention of King Louis XVI as an unexpected and ambiguous action. As an informant of Z.K., the player therefore has the task of analyzing the three newspapers provided, evaluating the content and selecting the information he deems essential, with the aim of trying to understand the true informative value behind the different political interpretations of the declaration war.
After 50 minutes of activity, the player can access a second letter, where Z.K. underlines the urgency of having the information requested. In this letter the sender directly explains the three primary questions addressed to the player.
- Revolutionary France is still young. The political crisis is destabilizing the entire nation. What vision guides the Jacobins to undertake a war campaign in such an uncertain time?
- They inform me that Marat is puzzled by the war decision. Why? And above all, what scenarios does he hope for?
- One of my contacts in the national assembly tells me that the role of the monarchists remains confused. They support the revolutionary cause against another European monarchy. But with what benefit? What obscure interest can Louis XVI have in triggering a conflict against his wife’s nephew?
After reading the questions, the player has 20 minutes to write the answers using pre-printed analysis sheets and inserted into the supplied bound notebook. After 20 minutes, the player receives a third letter, where the editor-in-chief of the Times of London (final recipient of the information given to Z.K.) declares the correct receipt of the report sent by the player, and in gratitude, shares with him 3 excerpts from the published article, cut out from the British newspaper. The 3 extracts constitute the complete historical answers to the original questions, and thus allow the player to compare his own report with the solutions. The final verification moment allows therefore to reveal the mystery of the motivations behind the historical event by verifying the level of understanding and interpretation reached by the player.
2.4. Learning processes
The activity was designed considering the History as a knowledge to be learned, but above all as a context where to gain experience and structure useful and transferable skills. The student-user learns some basic concepts related to the French Revolution (periods, causes, political balances, characters) and, collaterally, structures a mental attitude predisposed to research, to the selection of important information, to the synthesis and understanding of contents, building stable and essential mental mechanisms to many other interdisciplinary contexts.
The activity stimulates two particular types of learning: the user “learns that” (proto-learning) and “learn as” (deutero learning), that structure “mental clothes”, lasting thought mechanisms (Baldacci, 2012).
The play mechanics were designed as interactive conditions capable of facilitating the learning process, catalyzing cognitive involvement, the activation of skills and the resulting acquisition of new knowledge. The activity was also conceived by providing educational scenarios and diversified users, and therefore designed to facilitate flexible use of materials, especially in schools.
- Skills activated
- Mental operations
Understanding of a written text
Comparison between multiple sources
Compiling a document
- Training results
The activity is designed to train specific personal skills and encourage additional educational insights considering: understanding how written sources referring to the same fact express different authorial perspectives; understand the difference between real events and interpretations; develop the skills of comparison, deduction and synthesis.
It is clear, therefore, that play can facilitate certain learning processes. However, the learning environment must be specifically structured. The planning of the ideal work context to implement the playful mechanics provided by the activity must be studied considering a specific learning process by adaptation, in an environment intentionally provided with contradictions, imbalances and difficulties, with the intent to realize “learning without teaching” theorized by Seymour Papert, where the teacher plays a fundamental role in designing the learning environment and where the student moves and interacts with knowledge, educational mediators and classmates.
It was fundamental, with a view to sustainable learning, to consider the activity as an example of educational experimentation aimed at enhancing the historical research methodology, instructing the user to analyze and evaluate the variable description of an event with the objective to make cognitive processes activated during the verification of a source of information.
In brief, to design functional gaming missions with educational purpose it is necessary to consider 5 fundamental requirements:
It is important to offer a simulated environment where the user experiences the illusion of a fictional context with a certain task to complete, interacting with other subjects and with the environment itself. The user’s ideal involvement is particularly high and his attention is focused on the goal to be achieved.
- Story and interaction
It is necessary to design the narration as an element of orientation for the user between game mechanics and events, behaviors and interactions in the simulated environment. A functional narrative facilitates learning dynamics, making them consistent and fueling the player’s motivation.
- Resolutive mission
It is possible to propose complex problems in form of a mission to be solved as game and educational activities based on: key principles of acceptance of an explicit and shared system of rules, presence of an explicit objective, voluntary participation, and personal identification mechanisms.
- State of flux
The activity must direct the user to always play to the limit of his potential to reach a state of high emotional and mental involvement (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975), with a level of difficulty studied to reduce the risk of frustration, boredom or abandonment. The concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky, 1935), the ideal learning space, is fundamental, where the user can structure complex and advanced mental and action patterns, with a view to continuous self-improvement (encouraging a self-challenge).
- Personal choice
An assignment letter binds the voluntary acceptance of the task, making the user assume the personal responsibility for resolving the problem, thus triggering a self-imposed, conscious and committed participation.
2.6. Graphic design production
The graphic design phase had to consider the specific visual and technical qualities of archival materials, originally printed with printing presses and fusion fonts, or handwritten with ink and nib.
Reproduction of newspapers required an iconographic research dedicated to the editorial formats present in France, and to the deduction of the corresponding graphic grid of movable characters, obtained by studying the relationships existing between printer elements (graphism), and spacing and blocking elements (countergraphism) , through an accurate typometry process with analogue type measurements and a faithful digital reconstruction. A similar process involved the analysis of movable characters for the choice of fonts, verifying the characters actually produced at the time and the respective coherently selected digital versions.
For the historical coherence of the paper letters we studied the type of existing format and folding (variable based on rules of social belonging and the economic condition of the sender) and the national calligraphy in use. As a specific reference for the cursive and elegant calligraphy style of the letters (also referred to as English cursive or copperplate), we were inspired by a personal letter by Robespierre dated 6 July 1791, reproducing two calligraphies, combined with their two fictional senders (Z.K. and the contact of the Times).
Particular effects of wear and crease were also applied to the texts, reproducing writing imperfections and printing defects that could be found even at the time, to return editorial works with high immersive potential.
The choice to use analogue supports also allows the player to physically manipulate and touch paper documents, increasing the level of sensory-perceptive immersion with experience, and in coherence with the technological context of the story, reducing costs, and increasing the ease of transport and possible distribution.
Produced editorial materials:
- Ami du Roi
Fedrigoni “Corolla Book” paper (ivory; 90 g/m2)
- Ami du Peuple
Fedrigoni “Tintoretto” paper (snow; 95 g/m2)
- La Sentinelle
pink paper (60 g/m2)
Fedrigoni “Pergamenata” paper (ivory; 100 g/m2)
- Introduction letter (from the customer informant)
Favini “Rismacqua” paper (light yellow; 90 g/m2)
- Other letters
Fedrigoni “Tintoretto” paper (snow; 95 g/m2)
- Times articles (3x)
ca. 80X40 mm
ordinary paper (light grey, 90 g/m2)
Fedrigoni “Sirio” paper (coffee; 120 g/m2)
Fedrigoni “Materica” (360 g/m2)
- Analysis sheets (tables)
Fabriano paper (grey; 90 g/m2)
- Teacher’s sheets
210X297mm; 4 pagine
ordinary paper (white; 90 g/m2)
- Self-assessment questionnaire
ordinary paper (white; 90 g/m2)
Canson “Mi-Teintes” paper (grey; 300 g/m2)
Fedrigoni “Sirio” paper (coffee; 300 g/m2)
Twine with sealing wax seal
The Revolution / Monarchy activity represented a research design experiment dedicated to an attempt to merge visual communication, narration, play, and pedagogy, with the aim of studying which relationships, and above all what potential, it is possible to establish between immersion and learning processes.
In brief, the activity was developed considering mainly five structural components, fundamental to configure an immersive playful experience with historical scientific requirements:
The direct consultation of available primary sources scanned in high resolution represented a valuable opportunity to study original archival materials, offering the possibility of guaranteeing the transfer of the scientific requirements of the content produced, and the relative conditions of high immersion offered to the players during the reading experience.
The context of the French Revolution represented an ideal narrative scenario to build a multiline narrative, where the player is involved in a spy network and relates to a mysterious client, becoming the observer of a truly happened historical event. The presence of immersive editorial materials and the related analysis mission increase the level of simulation between fictional and historical reality, connecting the gaming action to the learning processes, where the player uses his skills to interact with new sources of knowledge.
The combination of mechanical play details (voluntary assignment, mission, final goal, revelation and self-evaluation) has favored the activation of a state of flow and the exercise of individual skills, with the result of facilitating the learning processes and the acquisition of new knowledge, structuring an activity with functional and playful educational and adaptable properties in different school contexts.
Considering History as a subject of learning means above all recognizing it as a context of knowledge in which to gain experience and structure interdisciplinary skills. Through the acquisition of the basic concepts related to the French Revolution, the player-student is collaterally stimulated to structure his own cognitive attitude predisposed to research, to the selection of information, to synthesis, and to the understanding of content, favoring the construction and the rooting of individual skills and stable mental mechanisms that are essential to personal development.
- Visual communication
The accurate graphic reproduction of characters, composition, format, weight, color, folds and signs of wear of the original historical documents has allowed us to return paper artifacts with a high immersive potential, where the visual and tactile components represent fundamental aspects to enhance the narrative component and involve the user in the experience.
In a constantly evolving media scenario, the opportunities for cross-sectoral contamination between entertainment, knowledge and experimental educational initiatives are numerous and increasing: the combination of historical content, game mechanics, interactive technologies, and immersive systems underline the ability to amplify the ways of entertainment and public engagement, and the important potential to positively influence learning processes too.
 Regulation: historical introduction text.
 Regulation: narrative introduction text.
 Converted and adapted by reducing the linguistic complexity and other criteria, the activity was in fact also tested in a primary school class in Fano, Italy, obtaining extremely positive results.
 A calligrapher was involved in the creation of the handwritten lettering, using a set of fine and flexible pointed nibs, in particular the Gillott 303, Hunt 22, EF Principal models.
 As a further stimulus for study insights, the inside cover of the notebook secretly contains a printed extract of the text of the Declaration of Pillnitz, signed on 27 August 1791, in which the Emperor Leopold II (Louis XVI’s brother-in-law), in agreement with Frederick William II of Prussia and other sovereigns supported the interest in keeping the French royal family safe (also protecting his sister, Marie Antoinette). The declaration is subsequently interpreted by the revolutionaries as an intention of armed intervention, and combined with political tensions, economic instability, and hostility against European monarchies, will fuel the process of beginning revolutionary wars.
The iconographic material, the trademarks (registered or unregistered) and all the information reported as being in any case protected belong to the respective owners. The internal use of protected material responds exclusively to a scientific and cultural intent.
The author releases the document through the license:
- Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0.
This allows third parties to share the published material indicating the origin, respecting the same type of original license and prohibiting the use for commercial purposes.
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