Good evening, children. The Duke is back. And regardless of whether or not it is presently evening where you are, I’m sticking with that intro. Deal with it. Today we’re here to discuss video games as a learning tool.
No, I’m not talking about educational games. None of that teaching typing shit or Mario’s Time Machine. And yes, I owned a copy of that on SNES as a kid. Travelling through time answering history questions. All so you could get to that surfing mini game before being subjected to another quiz. BAH. Not the topic of discussion here. Video games teach you in…Other ways. Depending on the subject. So let’s just dive in and talk about the different things that video games have taught me over the years.
Spelling is IMPORTANT.
You know why kids can’t spell worth a crap these days? Because they never had text-based games to deal with. I’d like to see an average fifteen year old sit down and try their hand at some of those games now, see how far their internet shorthand and lack of spelling gets them before they are horribly devoured by a grue or some other beast. When I was in high school, I was really big into MUDs. No, not water and dirt. That was elementary school. MUDs, or “multi user dungeon/dimension/another word that starts with d that I can never remember” are on-line text-based games. And I’ve played quite a few of them over the years. In fact, it was for my very first MUD (a Lord of the Rings based game called Mordor) that I had to come up with a name, which ended up being Kataron. Anyways, at this point I had already had spelling and grammar drilled into my brain, but it still didn’t tolerate any shit. If I spelled one of my abilities wrong in the middle of a fight, uh oh. That Hobbit’s gonna eat my face off. Ha, just kidding. It’s a Hobbit. I used to head down to Gladden Fields and wipe out one of their little Hobbit villages just for fun even at much later levels. That’s how I do.
I got my first real dose of history when I picked up Age of Empires, which was released in 1997 (and most definitely the sequel from 1999). I was hooked pretty quick, and found myself much more interested in the story-based campaigns of the games than the randomly generated matches with computer opponents. Sure, I could crush another civilization into the ground, but without the story, who cares? I wanted to be Hannibal, crossing the alps, I wanted to be William Wallace kicking some ass, I wanted to be Genghis Khan assembling his barbarian hordes. It was history, but it wasn’t BORING history like Mario’s Time Machine. Fuck your time machine, Mario. You never took me to the greatest battles of history, you never let me soak in the blood of my enemies. You just asked me questions and expected me to care enough to not just guess all the answers. You’re an awful teacher, Mario. Age of Empires, though…I mean, it wasn’t ENTIRELY accurate. There were no super-fast sports cars that came down from the heavens to destroy my foes when I got bored with a mission and just wanted to cheat to make it end faster. Unless there were, and the cars wiped out all the historians that would have documented such things. I suppose we’ll never know now. Until we invent time travel. Holy crap maybe those death-cars were time machines. AWESOME.
To preface this, I’m not a math guy. All those numbers just give me a headache, I have to take it in slow doses or I get distracted and start thinking about boobs, or bears, or bears with boobs, and whether or not they would feel the need to cover them up with bikinis. Bearkinis. I was always better with words than with numbers. Numbers are boring, impersonal. Words are just seeping meaning and wisdom. But that changes somewhat when the numbers actually mean something. I don’t give two shits what time a random train in a word problem is going to arrive at wherever or how much space is in a triangle. Screw that triangle. But when those numbers are on DPS (Damage Per Second) meters, or those numbers are my critical strike rating or my agility or how many bullets I had remaining, then those numbers meant a little more to me. Back in the early days of Wrath of the Lich King in World of Warcraft, I was a huntard. Wasn’t specced properly, my gear sucked, and I didn’t really care. I was dragged along because I was there and I was the max level. It wasn’t until I was informed that I could be THE hunter of the guild that I got my act together and put research into this stuff. Looking into the best specs, the best equipment, the best rotations, the best gems and enchantments. That’s math I can get behind…At least somewhat. I quickly got awesome, and stayed awesome. True story. And it’s all thanks to math. Well, somewhat thanks to math. Granted, I left most of the number-crunching to those who knew what they were doing, but I knew enough at least to UNDERSTAND the majority of said number-crunching. And hey, that’s all I really need.
Now, this is I guess something we were supposed to learn in school. But when we were put in groups in school, it would go one of two ways. If we were in a group with our friends, we would just hang out and not get anything done, but we’d have a good time. If we were in a group with strangers, the smartest person in the group would do the majority of the work and the rest of us would sit around awkwardly and occasional put in shitty input so we would feel like we were doing something. But hey, maybe that was just how it went for me. It was just school, it didn’t matter. But VIDEO GAMES, that’s where teamwork is really important. Whether we’re just chilling out and playing Soldier of Fortune on the SNES, then shit got serious. Any multiplayer games where you’re working together instead of competing against each other, you’d better get your shit together real quick, lest you end up a smoldering pile of death. I grasped the importance of this back on my first console, the Super Nintendo, playing games like the aforementioned Soldiers of Fortune, Pocky and Rocky, and TMNT: Turtles in Time. This continued as multiplayer games got bigger and shinier as systems went on. And raiding in World of Warcraft, that required a fair amount of teamwork. Or at least faith that the important people were competent enough not to die. Which, in my raids, could be quite difficult. Thankfully, being the hunter that I was, I always had a feign death ready. Let the fools die, I shall survive and teabag their corpses, thus proving my superiority. Of course, some of the other raiders realized that I was doing this, and often went out of their way to drag the boss over to me if he did any smashing moves that would kill me. Yeah, so maybe World of Warcraft isn’t QUITE the best example of teamwork.
Don’t be stupid.
This one seems pretty self-explanatory, but let’s talk about it anyway. I mean, we learn this through real life as well. But in video games, we tend to learn it -a lot-. Because we all do stupid things to see what would happen. Bad things. That’s what happens. In games, you learn quickly what you should and should not be doing. Especially when, in many video games, things will destroy you without any warning whatsoever. Spikes? Instant death. Water? Oh son you just drowned. Lava? Okay, that one’s obvious. Fall from a certain height? Dead. Land on a certain surface? Dead. There are a LOT of ways to hurt yourself or kill yourself. This has left me with a crippling fear of anything that looks like it could cause me bodily harm. While this may not help my social life or get me out of the house doing “interesting” things, it has kept me alive up until this point, so that’s all right. Because if I’ve learned ANYTHING from video games, it’s that everything is always trying to kill you forever.
I took an accounting course in high school. MAN was it boring. I ended up passing with a 51 because the teacher “never wanted to see me again”. Yeah, like I would have ended up taking the course again anyway…Balance sheets are not my idea of a good time. Not that they ever ended up balanced. This was not a good start into the world of business and economics. It wasn’t until I started getting really into World of Warcraft (yes, WoW again. This game taught me a lot. Shut up.) that I started learning the ins and outs of auction house trading. At the time, I wanted a rather expensive in-game motorcycle. Since I had little else to do, I would spend my days flying around Wintergrasp on my druid looking for herbs and ore. I started off selling it for whatever the market price happened to be at the time, but as I spent more and more time doing it, I started to notice trends in the prices. Certain items would have higher prices depending on the day of the week, and sometimes item supplies would dry up all of a sudden and prices would explode. So I started hoarding certain items until I knew I could get my money’s worth out of them. Frost lotus for last-minute raid supplies, titanium ore for weekend gamers who didn’t have the time to farm. It wasn’t long before I had my motorcycle. And it wasn’t long after that until my friends had motorcycles as well. All thanks to economics! Yay!
Games these days are just full of maps. And if you can’t read them, you’re liable to end up in a cave full of vampire bears. Which is awesome, if you’re looking for a cave full of vampire bears. Less awesome if you’re looking for the nearest town to rest and heal your wounds. This is something I MIGHT have learned in school if I had paid attention in geography class, but it was just so boring. It wasn’t like there were dragons or bandits lurking in hidden areas of the maps in geography class. Just…towns and cities and forests. I mean, there MIGHT be bandits in the forests, but this is Canada, so it’s unlikely. At any rate, I could never get myself to pay attention to maps unless adventure was on the line. And if you’ve ever been an old-school gamer in the days before the internet, chances are you’ve had a small collection of notes and hand-drawn video game maps at some point in your life.
So those are the things that I learned from video games that I should have learned from schools. Well, some of them. I also learned from video games that I should never trust anybody with evil-looking facial hair, and that there’s usually a way to cheat, but I can see how they would have kept those out of the school curriculum.
What about you guys? What did YOU learn from video games that school neglected to properly teach you?