Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Military museum aims to give video gamers historical context

The Illinois State Military Museum is asking video gamers to put down their controllers and stop by to get a first-hand look at some of the equipment, uniforms and weapons they see as they fight in the digital world.

The “War Games” event at the museum (admission is free), which runs from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, June 24, was the idea of Lizzie Roehrs, 21, of Springfield, an intern at the museum and a student at the University of Illinois Springfield.

She noticed that kids coming through the museum on school field trips could easily identify many of the weapons on display. They told her they had seen them while playing video games. “The connection is already there. They are already associating what they see in video games with history,” Roehrs said. “But, with playing a video game, they don’t get a lot of context. So the idea for the event came from not only wanting to encourage kids to continue an interest in history, but also to teach them that there is more to the events in video games than what’s on the screen.”

During “War Games,” there will be re-enactors at the museum explaining how and why certain equipment was used. Attendees will also be able to try on uniforms and explore a trench.

In addition, Roehrs is setting up displays in the lobby with some of the tools and weapons in the museum’s collection that she’s seen in video games. One such item is a Japanese knee mortar that can be seen in “Call of Duty: World at War.”

Soldiers from the Illinois National Guard fought Japanese troops in the Pacific Theater during World War II as part of the 33rd Infantry Division. Roehrs has also found uniforms and uniform patches that are seen in some of the video games. “We have a ton of artifacts at the museum. We have an entire vault full of artifacts and an additional building on the National Guard base that is packed with these artifacts. We have items from the state militia through the modern, global war on terror,” Roehrs said.
“I look at these kids as potential history buffs,” Roehrs said. “Maybe they don’t realize that they are as into it as they are. If you give them a little more of the history, bring them out to the museum and show them the real thing, that could spark an interest in history.”

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on June 16, 2017.

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