By John Galloway
Bloody Foreigners is a series of four education television programmes to be broadcast on Channel 4 this June that demonstrate how crucial points in British history might have had different outcomes were it not for the roles that people from other countries played, in a very positive way. To help get the point across, and to raise broader interest, two specially commissioned computer games are being released.
The first of these, Trafalgar Origins, (www.trafalgarorigins.com) invites players to try their hand at captaining a warship in the early 19th Century when many of the crew were mercenaries, seeking their fortunes in the British Navy.
Players have to learn the basics of gunnery and navigation before setting out on a series of missions. These can be undertaken alone, or as a multi-player event, with links to Facebook to spread the news of success further. A pulsating drum soundtrack helps generate an atmosphere that is further developed with nuggets of information (in Nelson's navy sailors were 12 times more likely to die of disease than through enemy action).
The same principles of authenticity and accuracy are applied to the other game in the series (303 Squadron, going live in early May), based on 303 Squadron in the Battle of Britain. Made up of Poles who had previously fought the Luftwaffe in bi-planes before fleeing to England, these pilots had the highest number of 'kills' in that decisive conflict, and influenced the tactics of the whole event.
Players take on the identity of one of four actual pilots, and try to emulate their achievements, following them through the war to the settlement at Yalta which saw the allies giving Poland over to Stalin. Working either as individuals, or co-operatively, they take on missions and engage in dog-fights – sometimes as German flyers.
Punctuated by extracts from the combatants personal diaries and accounts of the war the whole thing works predominantly as a game, although with its depth of research it also draws players in to want to find out more about one of the more subdued stories from our history.
The programme notes on the Channel 4 website are intriguing too: "Justin Hardy, who has made two of the films, explains why the familiar tale of the Great Fire of London may not be the whole story, how one of the great British naval triumphs owed a lot to foreign sailors and why the British navy was the original equal opportunities employer." Or the moving interview with Witold Urbanowicz, the son of the eponymous squadron leader of the the Polish Squadron 303, the most successful outfit in the Battle of Britain.
You can find more about Channel 4's innovative cross-platform educational broadcasting when its forthcoming projects and games for teens are unveiled by commissioning editor Alice Walker at a spring briefing on Tuesday May 11. The event had been postponed due to the 'volcanic dust' flights crisis. Key themes this year are emotional resilience, civil liberties, sexual health, body image and campaigning, alongside new science and history games.
John Galloway works as advisory teacher for ICT/SEN and inclusion in Tower Hamlets, London, and as a freelance writer and consultant. He is the author of Harnessing Technology for Every Child Matters and Personalised Learning.