This was something that I previously posted on a site called “Hubpages”, under the name “Three video games that prove you can learn from playing” or something of the like. I’ve since cancelled my hubpages account, because I was on it to make money (and was not doing much of that) and not out of desire for pure enjoyment and a chance to say whatever I want and feel liberated, which is what I’m here for. Still, I figured I’d repost it here, because I think there’s something worth reading about it.
Video games have, for some time, been almost universally considered to be a waste of time. The image of the “typical gamer” calls up – to the minds of those inexperienced in the world of gaming, and who must therefore rely on stereotypes – an unfortunate image, different for a male or a female. The typical male gamer is of an overweight persuasion and quite likely lives in the basement with his parents. The typical female gamer is an extreme, but just as insulting opposite – a scantily clad woman who seems to serve more as a masturbatory aid to the man that imagines her, rather than actually being interested in video games. There is a third characterization, which I have often heard from adults looking down at teenagers – the operative word here is ‘immature’. (Again, these are the stereotypes that I have commonly heard.)
However, the truth of the matter is that all of us need to spend some time on leisure, and all of us crave entertainment. Entertainment is as much a part of our culture as anything else: we spend countless dollars on sports, and well-crafted, intelligent television shows (the stupider shows, the ones meant to portray ‘reality’, come at a much cheaper cost). Just like other forms of entertainment, video games seek to improve; they have evolved from the simplistic product that was being sold only years ago. It is a quickly growing industry, and strives, for the most part, for a better, more intelligent product.
I am not here to ignore the use of violence in gaming (which is a point that is often brought up in the condemnation of gaming) – it’s alive and well. Nor am I here to argue whether or not violence is a good thing in measured amounts and certain circumstances (I would be here forever – but for those who want to know, I’d argue for the violence.) All that I wish to prove here is that, by playing multiple games over the past few years, I have found some that easily prove that there is redeeming value, for anyone, in the gaming industry.
The “Uncharted” Series
Background: Uncharted is a series, developed by Naughty Dog and exclusively produced for the Playstation 3, which begun in 2007 with the release “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune”. The game went on to great acclaim, selling more than one million copies in ten weeks, and was subsequently given the addition of a sequel, “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves”, in 2009 and a third entry, “Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception” which came out in 2011. The game is praised for its high production values and cinematic feel, and each game has won several “Game of the Year” awards. A feature film has recently been announced.
Plot: The game follows treasure hunter and supposed descendant of Sir Francis Drake (Drake didn’t have any kids, but Nathan insists that ‘history can be wrong sometimes’), Nathan Drake. To explain the plot from there would be to explain the history of a lot of treasure associated with past figures such as Francis Drake, so I’ll sum it up: Drake hunts for lost treasure alongside his mentor, aging ladies’ man Victor Sullivan, and they are always under fire from a group of people who want to reach the target treasure first. Simple enough, yes?
What’s to be learned: There’s no question that this game has a lot of room to teach. Important historical figures such as Sir Francis Drake and Marco Polo are the motivation for much of the action: it’s their treasure that we’re setting out to find. Because of this, a lot of places are also visited. Here’s a short list: El Dorado, the Amazon, Istanbul, Shangri-La, Borneo, Nepal, the Himalayas, Colombia, Yemen. The history isn’t glossed over, either. The cinematic scenes that occur to get the story across often focus on Drake and his partner, or another character, extrapolating on history which actually took place. Much can be learned about the routes that Sir Francis Drake took during his explorations, as well as about the man himself. There’s also a little side-game (in each of the three titles) that involves finding artifacts all throughout the main game. History aside, the game also teaches through the use of puzzles, which of course, it requires skill in logical thinking to finish. I’ve often found myself quite stuck on how to get those puzzles finished, even with the clues (that often come from Sir Francis Drake’s ‘personal journal’).
Uncharted is a title that manages to successfully integrate history with a thrilling, action packed experience. Not to mention the fact that it’s just a very charming game – all of the characters are fully formed (personality-wise, meaning that none of them are stock creations) and there are a lot of witty bits of humor that I just love. I can, and have, played these games over and over, and I think that they do a good job of fostering an interest in history.
The “Assassin’s Creed” Series
Background: Assassin’s Creed came out with its first title in 2007, and since then four more games have been added to the main line, with a number of supporting titles joining the ranks as well. The games are published by Ubisoft, with the main games coming out of Ubisoft Montreal. The franchise has reached overwhelming success; the first and second games have both sold 8 million copies to date. A 3D motion picture has been discussed.
Plot: The story is of a historical nature that begins with a framing device. I don’t want to give too much away to those who haven’t played, so I’ll be brief. A man, Desmond Miles, who is being held captive by a secret organization is forced to take part in the use of a device that allows him to be synchronized with his ancestors and learn what they learned, see their experiences. Through this method we come to the real story of the games, which is told through the playing of his ancestor(s).
What’s to be learned: Again, a lot about history. Desmond’s ancestors are assassins during the Crusades, and 15th century Italy mainly. (Though there is also a character from the American Revolution.) Whenever a new building is discovered (which is often, as the city is very expansive), the history of said building comes up in full, factual detail. A lot of historical figures are encountered, such as the Medici Family. One of Desmond’s ancestors, Ezio, the main playable character for the most part, spends a lot of time with Leonardo da Vinci, and employs the use of his devices, going so far as to use his actual flying machine(s). Leonardo’s workshop is a place that is often visited. Character profiles can be accessed as well, providing full background for Da Vinci and the other characters that were actual people. All of this use of real history aside, the game fosters a great interest in history by connecting it to the, for lack of better words, frigging cool life of a stylized assassin. It’s easy to draw gamers in with an assassin to play as their character, and behind that there’s nothing but substance. Leonardo da Vinci was one of my favorite characters in the games that I have played in the series, and if I wasn’t already pretty well informed about his history, I’d probably want to go out and learn it.
Whereas Uncharted fosters an interest in history, Assassin’s Creed not only does that, but it actually makes it come alive, to quote an old saying.
Background: Fallout 3 was published by Bethesda Softworks in 2008. It has earned several “Game of the Year” titles and experienced great acclaim, outselling the previous (and also popular) production by the same company, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The game was praised for its open ended game play and flexible character development/leveling system. (In other words, you can choose what skills are most useful to you, what you want your character to be good at.)
Plot: The game takes place in the year 2277, 200 years after the world was devastated by nuclear fallout as a result of international conflicts between the USA and China. You play as a young man or woman that has grown up in a ‘vault’ – which is basically a bomb shelter meant to hold about 1,000 people (though vault-tec, the company that produced them, used most of them for terrifying experiments. For example: 1 panther, and 1,000 humans, or 999 men and 1 woman.). One day, your father (voiced by Liam Neeson <3) escapes from the vault, which is said to have never been, and is never to be opened. You escape death by following your father out into the Wasteland.
What’s to be learned: The game takes place in the Washington DC area, which means that there’s a lot to be learned about the history of America. Some of the missions involve important parts of our history – for example, upon discovering a certain city, the character is commissioned to bring the Declaration of Independence from the National Archives so that they can complete a collection of famous works. Upon arriving at the Archives and making it through the elements of danger, the character encounters Button Gwinett, the second governor of Georgia. A dialogue about, of course, history ensues, with Gwinnet protectively claiming that he’ll never let the document or country fall into ‘red’ hands. In the end it is possible to convince him that you are Thomas Jefferson. There is also a series of missions involving the liberation of Slaves who worship Abraham Lincoln as a near God. This, of course, affords a lot of historical fun facts – it also integrates adventure with history (which, as you can tell by now, is something that I find very entertaining) as one tries to bring back treasures from the man himself, such as a recording of his voice or his hat.
Aside from that, I want to point out the merits of imagination, and how this game promotes that. Creativity goes hand in hand with imagination, and is an integral part of our lives – especially in the work force. I think that, because this game offers the player the chance to customize their player to such an extent, it affords them the chance to think as if they were in a post-apocalyptic world, the chance to really connect with their character. The ability to effectively put one-self into any situation is a pretty good definition of imagination in my book.
The fact that video games, in general, foster the development of imagination (not to mention hand eye coordination) is, in my book, enough of a reason to keep them around. However, as I’ve tried to prove here, video games are only getting better, using more complex elements to perfect their stories, like history. While there is always an exception to the rule, the ones that become very popular are usually highly story driven and realistic – in other words, they can add as much to intelligent thought as a good movie can. (They’re also the only kind I buy, since I look for a good story, and most of them end up taking Game of the Year titles.)
Now I’ll have somewhere to send someone if they ask me why I “waste my time” with gaming. I consider it an intellectual pursuit (and okay, I like to shoot stuff. It’s a healthy balance.).