For Honor’s recent release has gamers by the thousands decapitating, gutting and otherwise murdering medieval era warriors. Every match allows the player to choose between their brand of merciless killers: Samurai, Viking, or Knight, with four unique hero types, in each faction. The innovative combat system creates tense battles in where there can only be one victor. One champion to repeatedly, obnoxiously spam their emotes to resemble pelvic thrusting, after a victory; asserting dominance over their enemy’s corpse. It was the receiving end of one of these animalistic displays that I began to wonder: how much can we learn about the real world from video games, like the history of the Samurai or Viking?
In the eye of the public, learning outside of the classroom is more important to development than, traditional learning. According to Rasmussen Reports, 81% of Americans believe the same. Life experiences and self-investigation is trusted more than our educational system. As a result, rather than rely solely on the public education system, people then study what they’d like to learn about independently since schools can only teach so much. That being said, it is possible that their curiosity can be sated or sparked by entertainment such as television, books, and even Video Games.
It has already been proven that Video Games have cognitive benefits, particularly panning around problem-solving and spatial reasoning, there is even a website known as luminosity.com that contains several flash games focused on improving cognitive attributes. However, video games latent educational potential is not limited to cognitive function. It adds to the player’s knowledge base if the developers treat the source material correctly. In For Honor’s single player mode, there are a number of observable features, that after a button press, the game’s antagonist Apollyon will tell the player about the object. This usually has to do with the in-game lore, but a few of these details give insight into the actual warrior cultures, where the game drew its inspiration. Each culture has a rich lifetime, and each influenced the planet’s history immensely. While overall the point of the game isn’t to provide every minute detail about the cultures, some historical context is provided within the story, in order to help the player understand.
Players will naturally learn as they engage with the game, unconsciously processing and storing the information given to them, leaving potential room or a dystopia to utilize them as a propaganda machine one day. This certainly isn’t limited to For Honor. In my own youth, I was addicted to the Creative Assembly’s Total War series. The grand strategy game provides several paragraphs worth of information about each faction, typically set in medieval, or ancient Europe. The paragraphs are optional to read but the information is clearly displayed, for anyone who wants to know more about their faction. During the game, historical events would take place and as the king, you would have to decide how to respond. I would read the dossiers and study the map of Europe in-game, preparing for my next conquest, and during my playthroughs I would be learning more about geography and history, boosting me above most my peers at that age, in these subjects.
The intellectual growth offered to players isn’t exclusive to these categories either. Perhaps one of the most uncommonly addressed aspects of video games may be their literary merit. Literature defines itself as “Written works, particularly those of artistic merit”. A great deal of dialogue concerning storytelling is injected into games to give them an artistic steroid. The Grand Theft Auto V script, when finished was a gigantic 3,500 pages worth of words. These pages contain every quest, every piece of characterization and every witty punchline players love the game for. Several YouTubers analyzed Grand Theft Auto 5 for its critique of American culture. The NPC’s will ring out comments about their new nose jobs, radio hosts thoughts flow without a filter disguising their egotism, and the game’s news organization is Weasel News, liking the modern media to a sniveling cowardly creature. The character Trevor was even created to represent how a gamer plays GTA and mocks us for our obsession with computerized violence. Satire is widely considered a form of literary criticism and GTA’s 3,500 pages of dialogue, doesn’t let the gamer have a break from it for a single line. The game is achieving one of the primary goals of literature teaching people about themselves, it just so happens to be in a snarky way.
Video game culture’s marriage with literature doesn’t stop there, as games are capable of telling a deeply human story, by taking us along the character’s emotional journey. The Last of Us takes the gamer through the American apocalyptic wasteland as the game’s protagonist Joel and Ellie go through dynamic character arcs. At the risk of not wanting to spoil anything the characters flip their emotional states. Joel at the beginning of the game is hardened and cynical, but through his reluctant journey, he grows fond of the girls he’s supposed to protect and ends up viewing the world more hopefully than he did before. Ellie, on the other hand, starts out buoyant, but the toll traveling the road facing the darkest aspects of humanity robs her of her youthful joy. These are intimate character themes, throughout the game that because of talented writing, reflect real humans. It is because we are able to see these characters’ change and get into conflicts with each other and the environment in a way that makes sense according to the plot and character. It creates an enduring experience, and as a result laces itself as a hallmark of storytelling art.
Games can, and have acted as other art mediums. They critique pop culture, show us sides of humanity we hadn’t before considered, and introduced us to wells of historical knowledge. As the new medium evolves, it’s integrating lessons from more traditional fields of art, taking influences from literature and cinema to tell stories. As the new and old blend, they are creating a new formula to convey ideas of all stripes. Now this isn’t to say that playing Mass Effect will give you a Master’s level understanding of Physics, but many games provide a door, whether it be through a codex or dialogue, into further study of the real-world inspiration for these games, and as a result help make the gaming population smarter, without them even knowing it.