Friday, February 13, 2015

Everything I Learned About History I Learned From Video Games…

Guest Blogger: Arman Bryan
(Arman Bryan is currently a freshman at Ola High School.  He loves history and social studies and is a member of the academic team.  He often answers history questions in class and in quiz bowl competitions and practice based on what he’s learned in video games.)     

Many consider video games as a waste of time and nothing but cheap entertainment. The gaming industry is both profitable and helpful to its consumers. Games don’t have to be the mindless “running and shooting” titles they are made out to be. The popular game Minecraft teaches planning and designing skills, with players striving to build the greatest mansion among their friends. Games can teach hand-eye coordination, memory, or strategic thinking. More importantly, they can teach history.
          
Video games such as Assassin’s Creed and Sid Meier’s Civilization will teach history. In the Assassin’s Creed series, the player controls an assassin from different time periods depending on the title. Time periods such as the Third Crusade in Damascus and Jerusalem, the Renaissance in Florence and Venice, and the American Revolution in Boston and New York have been featured. In Sid Meier’s Civilization series, the player takes on the role of a world leader from civilizations throughout history. In one game, I was Harald Bluetooth of Denmark, and I led my army of berserkers and Norwegian ski infantry to Ramkhamhaeng’s Siamese Empire. I burned his cities and took his capital. In another game, as King Casimir III of Poland, I waged war on Askia of Songhai and took his cities with winged hussars and nuclear weapons. In playing the games, I not only learned about military history, but also about the important people and events of history.  Games like these have helped me in Academic Bowl, where I’ve been able to answer questions ranging from “Who was the Scourge of God, who killed his brother Blaeda, and was known as ‘the Hun’?” to “Name the capital of Indonesia.”  

Other games don’t teach history directly, but teach me how history works. In one game, Mount & Blade: Warband, there are six factions: Kingdom of Swadia, Kingdom of Rhodoks, Kingdom of Nords, Kingdom of Vaegirs, Khergit Khanate, and the Sarranid Sultanate. The Swadians are based on the western European lords and knights, the Rhodoks on southern European pikemen, the Nords on Scandinavian and Nordic warriors, the Vaegirs on eastern European skirmishers, the Khergit Khanate on the Mongol horsemen, and the Sarranid Sultanate on the Islamic caliphates in the Middle East. One character of mine was a merchant. I bought dozens of grain in Jelkala and sold it to Uxkhal for a profit of hundreds of denars. In my human geography class, I have a thorough understanding of cultural diffusion and the importance of natural resources, trade, and globalization, because of the game Merchants bring not only their goods, but their culture, language, and religion.


After playing several video games like Civilization and Warband, I’ve been doing research on my own. I learned about Abu Bakr, a caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate, the feudal systems of medieval Europe and feudal Japan, and the czars such as Peter the Great and Nicholas II. Although these aren’t directly through video games, my interest has led me to buying books about Alexander the Great and reading more about world history and geography. In class, we’ve been discussing the superpowers throughout history, such as the United States currently, Great Britain and the British Empire throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, and parts of the twentieth century, the Spanish during the Age of Exploration, the Ottomans in the east, and the Roman Empire for centuries. I was able to understand and interact with the lesson because of my experiences with the Romans, the Ottomans, the Spanish, and the British Empire through video games. As more and more games like Assassin’s Creed Unity, set in the French Revolution, and Total War: Rome II, where the player commands Roman legions, are being released and are becoming popular, students will be able to learn outside of the classroom and use what they know to help them in the classroom.

1 comment:

  1. I am very intrigued as to how the ways in which you "live history" in these games end up showing you the ways in which historical events have played out in real life. I wonder if your empathy for the people within this different time and place is higher because of your ability to quite literally walk a (virtual) mile in their shoes.

    Although I really enjoyed hearing about how you have taken these historical games and identified interests worthy of further reading and exploration, are there other ways in which these games go further into what is possible for us to understand about human interaction within these contexts. Have you analyzed the ways in which the whole scope of the interactions between in-game characters have to be designed and programmed by a team of people? And what if you were to begin programming a set of interactions that were true to life. Wouldn't you have to go even deeper still into the history in order to get it right?

    I guess all of these questions brings me to the idea that the creation (and playing) of the game itself could be seen as a way of diving into history and understanding it from the inside out. How can we better use video games (and other interactive simulations) to frame our understanding for sociology and history?

    P.S. This comment is a part of the #C4C15 project. Find out more here: http://learningischange.com/blog/2014/12/27/c4c15/

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