Have you ever grown fond of some subject because you played a video game? Or heard about something in a video game and then come by that subject during a class or somewhere else? How can you learn from games?
The previous post was about fairness in justice. This time we’re looking at possibly the greatest strength of games:
Getting people familiarized with things.
Let’s be real – education is pretty boring
School and learning have a pretty bad reputation in our culture. It’s…
Mandatory – everyone has to do it, even if they don’t want to.
Boring – you have to memorize a lot of stuff that doesn’t interest you in the slightest.
Perceived as useless – why would I need math when we all have calculators? (And yes, we used this argument back in the day when smartphones didn’t even exist yet!)
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has argued that there’s something wrong with our education system. That for every student there are only a couple of teachers who manage to light that fire of “I want to learn about this” in us. All the classes by other teachers are just monotonous compulsory punishment that we have to endure. And we sit in those classes for years and years.
When school ends and vacation begins, we are happy. “Freedom!” “Now we can do fun things!”
Neil deGrasse Tyson argues that shouldn’t it be the opposite? “What? School’s over! How will I improve myself now!?”
We should be sad that we have to take a break from learning new things and becoming more intelligent!
Little children are naturally curious and doing experiments all the time. Schools often fail to nurture that drive. Learning becomes boring.
So, there’s some problems with the education system that need addressing.
But until we manage to do that, maybe games can help?
Let’s be real – educational games are pretty boring
Many fall into a trap by thinking, “I want to teach this to somebody, but how can I make it fun? I know! I’ll make it into a game! Let’s combine education and games!”
However, “educational games” aren’t really the solution. We play games for many reasons – immersion, challenge, fun, experiencing situations that aren’t possible in real life…
…but, we don’t really play games “to learn something”. (Despite the fact that in order to play a game in the first place, you have to learn how to play the game itself.) We don’t really want to learn from games.
Fret not. There’s something games do far better. Something far more important when it comes to education.
Actual games to the rescue
When it comes to teaching, a game’s job isn’t to “teach” directly. It’s more like to “be a good game that has some interesting setting or overarching theme”.
So when you play that game, you also become invested in that setting or theme.
After playing a medieval strategy game with kings and knights, you don’t necessarily start immediately googling about medieval life. But when your history teacher brings up the middle ages, you’re now bound to be more invested because it’s something familiar to you.
It has been known for a long time that this is perhaps the greatest strength of video games. You could even call it the greatest strength of entertainment in general (movies and books have the same effect). But compared to movies and books, games have added value in that you’re not just reading or watching a story.
You’re experiencing it firsthand.
Ways to learn from games
There’s many ways to build the player’s interest:
Increase motivation to learn
When I was young, I wanted to play games. But there was a problem.
I couldn’t read English.
Games worked as a motivator to make me interested in learning English, so that I could play better. (Or in many cases, play the games at all!) And not only did I learn English, but by 7th grade (at around 14 years old), I was already reading Tolkien and dipping my toes to Shakespeare’s works. All this thanks to immersing myself in games like Ultima.
New words and names
In the games I’ve played there are many interesting words and names: Yggdrasil, Luna, Sol, Athena…
There are also strange and unknown items and weapons: main gauche, atl-atl, mandrake, ginseng…
These words all have their roots in real life. So when playing Seven Kingdoms 2: The Fryhtan Wars, I wasn’t learning a single thing about Greek mythology. However, when I later in life came by Greek history I saw the name “Athena”, and thought “Hey, I know that from Seven Kingdoms!” I was immediately more invested in learning about Greek history.
Do you know from which materials bronze is formed? If you’ve played any of the old MMOs with blacksmithing like World of Warcraft or RuneScape, you’ll probably know that it’s tin and copper. Just by playing the game, you may have ended up having to smelt hundreds of bronze bars in order to forge them into wearable arms and armor.
Locations and settings
Many games are based on real life locations. Assassin’s Creed takes place in Western Asia, near Jerusalem. Kingdom Come: Deliverance is set in the kingdom of Bohemia in 1403. Total War: Shogun takes place all over Japan…
You don’t have to care about the historical setting of any game all that much. You can just enjoy playing the game.
However, every time I play Total War: Shogun, at some point I end up looking at the map of Japan and comparing the names of the prefectures.
After playing Kingdom Come: Deliverance, I ended up going on a virtual trip to Rataje, and even planning a trip to the area to go see the places myself.
Back when I was young, I bought a game called AeroBiz. I still have a poster that came with the game on the wall.
AeroBiz is a game about building a successful airline company.
For years after playing the game, I knew all sort of information about various airplane models and even got a basic idea about how companies and the stock market works.
So how can we learn from games?
Whether you’re someone who wants to make a game that teaches something, or someone who wants to use games to learn more, these are the main points:
Focus on gameplay – The best educational games aren’t labeled as educational games. They’re just great games because they have great gameplay.
Choose an actual setting – Any game that’s set in a historical setting or is about an existing industry can help people learn and get interested about that. A game where mostly everything is fictional is only going to teach the player about that fictional world.
If it’s fiction, use real life as inspiration – You can still make fiction, but it’s important to loan words, concepts and systems from real life. There may be no orcs in real life, but World of Warcraft still gives insight to many real life concepts like blacksmithing and tailoring.
Don’t be afraid to simplify – A game’s first purpose is to be a good game. Regardless of what setting or industry you’ve chosen, it’s usually a bad thing if the game tries to mimic its details too much. Look at games like Stardew Valley or Total War: Shogun 2 and how they make sure you’re enjoying what you’re doing instead of fretting on a million extra details.