Art, Travel & Life in Italy & Europe

Learning Renaissance technology through gaming

Pietro Polsinelli is a Florence-based professor, storyteller, game designer and programmer. Along with two friends who are experts in Renaissance technology, Pietro has been developing a game called Genio for the past two years. Genio is a card-based digital strategy game set in the Renaissance Now he is seeking 50,000£ on Kickstarter in order to produce the cross-platform game. I asked Pietro a few questions about his game, with a focus on its potential to help users learn more about the Renaissance.

Equestrian monument card in Genio Game

Equestrian monument card in Genio Game



ArtTrav: The game seems really complex. Can anyone play this?

Pietro Polsinelli: There are two sides to consider: one is the game play universe, the other is the player’s interaction with this universe. While the universe is indeed complex, the way the player interacts is through a set of at most seven cards (your hand), from which she picks which ones to play, forming a set of builders. A builder group can build a limited, finite set of inventions. You pick one which is placed in one of the twelve towns available. This is the complete game play sequence, so you see that it is made of very simple choices. The game is thus playable from ages 7-8 and up.

AT: You mention the bonus of your own learning about the Renaissance while working on this project. What are the three most influential sources you used?

PP: The following three books were particularly useful in my learning about this period.

  • The Economy of Renaissance Florence – This is a book that manages to report the results of academic research in an entertaining and informative way. When creating a strategic game like Genio, it is crucial to be aware of the economic transformations that made possible such an extraordinary flourishing of the arts and sciences.
  • Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King – It is not easy today to understand how difficult, dangerous and daring it was to conceive and built Florence’ dome. This book does a wonderful job in narrating the story of the construction and in explaining the conceptual innovations involved, and this process is exemplary for presenting what the daring Renaissance engineers accomplished.
  • Leonardo da Vinci by Clark and Kemp – This is both a good biography and an analysis of Leonardo’s art and artistic career. The Renaissance is not just Leonardo, but he is unique in being so curious about the scientific method, nature and mechanics and at the same time so capable in the arts.
Clock Tower building card in Genio Game

Clock Tower building card in Genio Game

AT: So, speaking about references, in an article you wrote about learning history and science through gaming, you divide the learning process into direct training, which in this game is basically strategy, and reference acquisition. Can you explain “reference acquisition” and give us examples of what specific things we learn about the Renaissance by playing this game?

PP: What we want to transmit is the connection between economy, technology, arts and social evolution, which constitutes what we today label as “the Renaissance”. You can learn specific things “by reference” for each invention you get to build in game, because first of all constructions require builders, and for some builders to be available as cards they require previous constructions. Moreover each invention has an associated “more in depth” view that will present the history of the invention in context; so if for example you get to build a printing workshop, you will get access to information about the history of printing.

View of Palmanova from above. Photo: turismofvg

View of Palmanova from above. Photo: turismofvg

AT: One interesting fact that I noticed in your demo video is that you have a photo of a hexagonal town piazza in your video – what city is this, and can you talk about the choice of the hexagon as a building block?

PP: The hexagon is the classic building block of strategic games still at the core of games today, and suits well the spiral shape of the towns you build in Genio. This intersects nicely with the Renaissance idea of the “Ideal City”, which so many Renaissance artists and architects wrote about. One of the most interesting manifestations of the Ideal City is Palmanova (in North-Eastern Italy), a star-shaped concentric city with a perfectly hexagonal central piazza. This town was begun in 1593, so it is from the late Renaissance, but its concept is a direct product of the studies of the early Italian Renaissance.

Genio game - composition of cities

Genio game – composition of cities

AT: Will you be collaborating with a Renaissance historian or art historian to fact check the game to ensure “correct” learning?

PP: Actually the entire project has been conceived and built from the start by working together with Alexander Neuwahl and Andrea Bernardoni, who have been researching and working for a long time on Renaissance technology – see www.artesmechanicae.it.  They have published several books and scientific research on this theme and work with a scientific committee composed of the top university researchers in the field of Renaissance technology. They both work at and research with the Galileo Museum of Science in Florence and the Leonardo Museum in Vinci.

Ready to start learning about Renaissance technology and buildings through play? Here’s where you can click to support Pietro’s project on Kickstarter: http://bit.ly/geniogame

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By: arttrav

Alexandra Korey aka ArtTrav is a Florence-based art historian and arts marketing consultant.