Saeculum is an innovative new course in Roman civilization offered at the University of Arkansas through Global Campus, its online learning division. A central feature of this course is an extensive and immersive game experience which presents the history and culture of Rome across generations, focusing on the family story of the gens Fulvii, from the time of Hannibal (220 BCE) to late antiquity (340 CE). Players progress through four story arcs set in key periods of Roman history, involving characters from the Fulvii family, some based closely on historical figures, others fictional yet still carefully developed and contextualized from the historical evidence.
As a game Saeculum is narratively driven, featuring a fully voice-acted experience and numerous opportunities for meaningful choice and player expression. Aside from its engaging narrative, the game features several mechanics meant to reflect various facets of ancient Roman culture and history, even if this is necessarily abstract. These mechanics include a combat system (used to teach about violence in ancient Rome), a debate system (used to teach about oratory and politics), a resource management system (used to teach about Roman building projects and economy), and a client management system (used to reflect the important institution of the patron-client relationship). These somewhat discrete mechanics are integrated through a system of personal Virtue represented as a Talent Tree in which players level up. Many player actions increase their experience in one of four Virtues, each made distinct by its importance within Roman society along with respective gameplay mechanics reflective of these social distinctions.
While Saeculum is intended to be a fun experience, the game also underpins a serious course on Roman civilization. Saeculum does not aim to replace critical engagement with classical texts with senseless video game action. Rather, the game aims to facilitate, both from within and without the game world, a wealth of comparisons that can be made between the two forms, recognizing that video games are moving into a new phase of deeper emotional engagement, moral complexity, and narrative elaboration. One of the ways Saeculum does this explicitly is through its Codex feature, a built-in textbook from which players discover entries as they progress and encounter various characters, events, and locations. The Codex provides an in-game mechanism meant to inspire critical thinking and thoughtful engagement with Roman culture, from known historical characters to political institutions to the material fabric of everyday life.
Saeculum is a sprawling experience containing over twenty hours of total gameplay. It was a finalist in the 4th International Educational Game Competition at the European Conference on Games Based Learning. The game was developed by the Tesseract Center for Immersive Environments and Game Design, employing extensive use of undergraduate interns led by a small group of full-time staff.