Amazing research findings about video games (with a twist): They actually CAN teach you history!

Master Chief Story

OK, so here’s a short battle report amongst the fights for Reach in Halo Reach (who would’ve guessed!), which I and my wife casually started playing again after quite some time.

An urge came to write about narratives and the general understanding of a (game) universe. I have played through all the Halos (except the Wars) several times. I love the world, the general concept and the story. Still reading this official Xbox magazine Master Chief special issue that came home with me from EB Games, I finally have to admit it: I never had any clue when most of the things happen in the Halo world, and what the hell for am I running around all sorts of galaxies blowing up aliens and activating all sorts of massive relays and bombs and whatnots by “pressing X”.

After skimming through the magazine, which in my eyes does a pretty decent job in presenting the Halo universe and putting everything on a timeline, I got an “aha!” moment. Now I understand many things about the subtleties of the narrative, and get the general picture what actually takes place throughout the Halo timeline. Yeah I know, it’s an important revelation, but so what?

At least for me, this never kind of dawned on me during the game play. I’m always so deeply occupied with doing the missions, staying alive, getting those supercool head shots and trying not to flip the darn M12 Light Reconnaissance Vehicle aka Warthog all the time – my wife hates when this happens as she’s the person operating the cannon. Notable is that she does not always enjoy my driving neither in the virtual or the real world.

After reading some of the stuff in the magazine, I also realized how things took place in relation to other events (for example events in Halo: Combat Evolved in relation to Reach). Still, during playing or while ‘in the game’, these things were quite far from my radar. So, at the same time one could question the importance of story, but without story, the whole Halo universe most likely would not feel as Immersive (I try to get away from that word, but let it slip this time) and captivating. It would not be coherent nor interesting.

So from this very deep autoethnographical account we can derive some definite conclusions: video games are excellent medium for learning! Yay! Stop all ed journals from posting anything about this matter anymore. 🙂 It would be interesting to experiment on a wider scale in the future how such video game + reading material such books or in-game text support learning history also in formal learning settings (or if there’s something that ruins this), and what sort of a role personal characteristics might play.

I don’t often enjoy the discussions about the educational value of games, especially when it often goes to the “either or” stance of if games are better than reading (“because nobody reads anymore!!!”). And then there’s the people saying “books will be replaced by blaa blaa [your favorite future prediction here]”. Book is a technological concept that gathers text that communicates something. A book is not important in itself, but what it as a construct affords. Papyrus left the building already a while ago, and we don’t write on boards of clay boards anymore – although I sometimes feel blackboard gets quite close to this antiquity. Still I do not think text and writing somehow vanishes from the picture. Format of books might change, but communication stays – or I might be totally wrong, and in the future we communicate only through Minecraft-style sounds and odd avatar gestures that have become the new norm.

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2 thoughts on “Amazing research findings about video games (with a twist): They actually CAN teach you history!

  1. Even though I want to see the world changing to the minecraft sounds and gestures just for the fun of seeing it once, I believe in the need for all technologies – assuming that papyrus is one as well. We cannot (and if I would pray this would be one thing top on my list) remove one technology because we believe for the moment that there is something better. We did this mistake too often in the past . Or at least I consider it a mistake as there are still classrooms not being flooded by ipads. I hated the moment when they decided to remove blackboards (the thing that can be used with chalk) and hated even more when they thought that whiteboards can be replaced with on-screen writing. Are games better? Yes. In some cases. Is a book better? Definitely on the beach as it is sand-resistant. HMD? Sure, if I plan not to use it while walking around. Marko, you are so right that the story, the narrative, the storyteller is a key in good education, providing entertainment in a way that the learner gets a context but is able to make decisions. Dungeon and dragons was and is a perfect example. History? Definitely. Social environments? Look at the surrounding in GTA. Skills? Ever tried to drive a Formula 1 car around the track without the electronic helper? It takes a long time to do it. Teamwork? In the good way (Hanna is driven around while shooting enemies) and the bad way (Marko failing her again).

    Games are a perfect solution for education if done well. So is a whiteboard marker or a good discussion over a cold drink.

  2. And while saying this: Marko, we need to investigate if people in the field of gamification actually know something of games from their own experience (and what games) or if it is just from hearing about it. After talking to many people about it over the last 2 weeks, I am starting to worry about this a lot.

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