Why Can’t I Play Games in School?

“Alright Susan, can you point out something that is wrong with this picture?”

“The Macedonian phalanx was typically sixteen ranks deep, whereas the game shows it as being only five ranks deep. In some cases, ranks were doubled. The composition of a deep phalanx was to provide more hitting power in close combat and to improve the morale of the soldiers.”

Not to besmirch my teachers, they worked with what they had, but I learned way more about history from video games than I did in school, right up until my second year of college. That should be really depressing, but it’s all too common in the current education world.

How many movies or television shows do we watch in school because they’re supposed to be educational? Hell, we watched Enemy at the Gates in my World History class and I can assure you it is not up to par for historical relevance. Why don’t we play some games? Granted, this is a tactic that would have to be very carefully employed – especially so at the lower grade levels – but I think there is a lot to be done. Imagine a scenario where a classroom full of students are all playing a game together. Ideally we would have specifically designed games for this, but even limited to current titles there are plenty of great examples. Poli-sci students studying 1960: The Making of the President. Sociology students could play Diplomacy. Art students could play Journey. Film students could play Metal Gear Solid (dohoho). History students could play any of the Paradox titles.

Better yet, let’s get games designed precisely for education purposes. Imagine a second scenario where a teacher tells his students the following: “Okay class, take a copy of this game home and have it completed by Friday. You’ll be playing as a lower-ranking officer in the Russian army during the Battle of Stalingrad. Most of you will fail, some of you might succeed. The important part is to learn something. Watch what happens around you and take notes. Why was the battle so difficult for the Russians? What advantages did the Russians have in their favor? What factors would’ve impacted morale the most? Be prepared to discuss these things in class on Friday.”

The History Channel went down this road a little bit with the Total War series, but they’ve also destroyed most of their history cred by way of this dude. Outside of that, I see little to no examples of anyone trying to bridge this gap. Education is in a sad state in America, yet we’ve got this amazing tool with unprecedented interaction ready and waiting to be harnessed. I think it’s about time the academic community wake up and reconsider – because what they’ve been trying for the past couple decades certainly hasn’t been working.

Shaun Watson

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