Video Games as Educational Tools

I'm a gamer.  I have been since circa 1981 when I received an Atari 2600.  All throughout my childhood and to the present day, I'm frequently told that video games will "rot your brain."  Once upon a time, this may have been true.  Super Mario Bros., while requiring excellent hand-eye coordination, brought neither knowledge or wisdom.  It didn't even force me to face my fear of mushrooms.

However, as technology has progressed, video games have become more theatrical and intellectual.  Sure, you're not going to earn your Ph.D. based on all those hours spent playing Halo, but there are certain games out there that have the potential to spark interest in certain disciplines, such as history, literature, and philosophy.

I'm something of a history buff and lately I've been playing games from the Assassin's Creed series, which take place against the backdrop of real history.  The first game takes place in 1191 during the Third Crusade.  Many of the locations and characters are or were very real.  Playing the game sparked a fleeting interest in the Crusades, which some say still form the foundation for Western/Islamic relations.  However, the deep Middle Ages were simply too static to hold my attention.  Assassin's Creed II, on the other hand, takes place during the height of the Italian Renaissance, which is quite possibly the most dynamic period in human history.

Traveling the virtual world of 15th century Italy and taking an active, albeit fictitious role in the Machiavellian  politics of the day (Niccolo makes an appearance) made me want to research the period.  And the side quest of buying works of art of the day made me crack open an old textbook from an undergrad art history class.  I knew the time period was revolutionary, but I had no idea of the specifics until I played the game and did some reading.  This just goes to show that the method in which information is delivered is extremely important.

The first BioShock game exposed me to the philosophy of Ayn Rand.  In this game, the player explores an underwater city that was founded on the Randian principles of Objectivism.  But instead of supporting the tenets of this philosophy, the game seems to oppose them as utopia turned to dystopia before the player arrives.  Regardless, the game inspired me to read Atlas Shrugged.  I hated it, but I read it.

There is also a game called Dante's Inferno, which is based on the epic poem of the same name.  I have not played this game, but I first heard of it when I was reading the book.  Eventually, I'll play it to compare it to Dante's writing.

The whole point of this rambling diatribe is to illustrate that video games have become an excellent avenue to the humanities at a time when some are saying that they are under fire.  While there will always be those that are interested in history, philosophy, and literature, video games can serve to spark an interest in many that would not be exposed to these subjects otherwise.  Or maybe I'm just an awful geek that feels the need to have a deeper understanding of the video games I play.

No comments: