The Lower East Side Tenement Museum has launched a cool new game on its website (tenement.org). “From Ellis Island to Orchard Street” teaches kids ages eight and up what daily life was like for children who immigrated to the LES in 1916.
A vintage-style newsreel talks about the era’s influx of Europeans. On a page decorated with an old-fashioned wallpaper pattern, players create a virtual identity by selecting a gender, name and country of origin; receive a printable passport and boat ticket; and pack up a small suitcase of belongings. The game asks kids to choose only three items from a selection of clothes, shoes, toys, books, bedding, religious artifacts and family photos—a tough task for modern-day tots.
As little voyagers make their way across the Atlantic by watching a boat slowly traverse a map, a seasoned traveler named Victoria Confino (played by a costumed museum guide) shares her immigration experience via video. She describes how dirty and crowded the ship is, and advises passengers to keep documents safe as they disembark. She warns that doctors are searching for people with illnesses, who will be sent back to Europe, so it’s important to stand tall and appear healthy. After an inspection, in which players are quizzed on their identities, Victoria gives a tour of her family’s flat (one of the museum’s exhibits).
The game delivers a large dose of local history in about half an hour. Adults may find the format anachronistic, but kids will likely absorb the message without giving a second thought to the medium.