The other day, a dear friend was telling me about a football manager game he plays. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the type. You buy and sell players; play simulated games throughout any number of in-game years; make improvements to your stadium; coach players; and basically, manage everything to do with running a football business.
I was told that in this particular up-to-date version, several ‘Brexit scenarios’ had been added, whereby the British vote to leave the European Union affected the game in a variety of ways. Player transfers from European countries become very difficult under the ‘harder’ scenarios, and a completely new tournament is added.
It got me thinking about the ingenuity of computer games. Even when I was in school I wondered why there weren’t more educational computer games. There were a few badly made ones that never caught on, mainly due to the fact that the art of storytelling had been completely overlooked.
I spent a lot of my youth playing games, but I would always look for a challenge, investing hours into games like Rings of Power for the Mega Drive. There was no real educational information within the game, but you couldn’t get very far without really putting your brain to the test. Aside from trying to solve scores of intricate riddles, you also had to learn to trade in order to feed yourself. It was one of those most difficult games ever made, with reportedly only 5 people ever completing it.
Looking back, I think I would have spent hours on any game with a good story, and subsequently swallowed up any information it gave me. I remember being able to name ever team in the Premier League at the age of 9 because of a game my brother played with me (and I absolutely hated football). I learned the colours magenta and cyan because they were team names in Perfect Dark. During university, I used the custom quiz function on the Playstation game Buzz to test myself before exams.
So why not make this the norm? Why not inject some solid education into this popular medium? If the creatures of H.P Lovecraft’s mind can worm their way into mainstream gaming, surely some chemistry and physics can be thrown in? Prime our youth to think scientifically and rationally. Physics engines (when they’re done well) are a good start.
Nowadays, more and more computer games seem to be made for short attention spans, with addictive competitiveness. What a waste. Instead, they could be easily tailored to encourage creativity, problem-solving skills, hand-eye coordination (to a certain extent), and even co-operation. However, the story really sells the game, it draws you in and makes you want to get to the end. It gives you a goal with a satisfying ending, a reason to overcome the problems along the way. I’d like to see a day where good quality games are subliminally littered with nuggets of quality education.
Luckily, I’m not alone in my thoughts. I came across this Ted Talk several years ago. Jane McGonigal makes a far better argument than I do. Have a watch, really interesting.