Monday, May 5, 2008

Do Video Games Make You Stupid?

In my last blog, I discussed the role of games, video and board, in my youth. I like to think that they actually helped me develop a sense of intellectual curiosity and a love of learning. The list of video games I mentioned in my earlier post are a bit dated and I'm not sure they're even available. But there are a crop of new games available that I think represent the best of the "intelligent games" that inspire me. Here's a brief, but hardly comprehensive, list:

Bioshock: On the surface, this game might appear to be a typical first-person-shooter game. Probe a bit beneath the surface, however, and you get an entirely different perception. It turns out that the plot of the game is a rather detailed and complex critique of Ayn Rand's "objectivist" philosophy outlined in Atlas Shrugged.

Europa Universalis III is an historical simulation that covers the Early Modern period in world history (roughly from Columbus to the American Revolution). You can select any country during this time period and engage in a pretty sophisticated simulation of the politics, religious, economic, and military institutions. It requires some fairly complex decision-making skills and does a pretty good job of getting the "feel" of Early Modern Europe down. I played one game as Poland. During the course of the game, I inherited the throne of Hungary through a dynastic marriage and became embroiled in a protracted war with the Ottoman Empire as a result.

Civilization IV is a long-standing favorite that many teachers have used in their classrooms. Like Europa Universalis III, this game simulates world history. It involves a fairly complex model that requires the player to understand comparative political, religious, economic, technological, and militrary systems. It's a bit more approachable than Europa. I've used this game in my 8th grade class the past two years and had some really positive results. Kids were, for example, reading Sun Tzu, the Buddha, and even some Aristotle in order to get a leg up on the game. The important thing here is that none of those students HAD to read these authors. They did so on their own initiative.

The Movies is a game that recreates the history of Hollywood cinema from its origins to the present day. The player is cast in the role of a movie studio producer. One must oversee multiple aspects of the process and be aware of the business side of the industry. One must be aware of market conditions and historical social trends (like WWII and the counterculture). The player can also try their hand at putting together their own movies.

No comments: