Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How Informative Are Video Games?

This year I'm teaching seventh-grade Social Studies, which covers early American history. Today I asked the kids what they knew about Colonial Boston and the Revolutionary War. Surprisingly, a few of them knew a lot.

One boy who rarely participates raised his hand and spouted out information about the Old North Church and the Redcoats. One of his friends followed suit, describing Boston Harbor and the Sons of Liberty. I asked them how they learned so much about this topic. "Assassin's Creed," one of them answered.

Of course. Video games. And here I was thinking my students might watch the History Channel or something.

It makes sense, though. Video games are such a huge part of kids' lives now that they don't even say "video games" anymore. They simply call it "playing games." They don't feel a need to differentiate video games from other games, of which they may or may not be aware. What the hell is Checkers? I play GTA 5.

I wasn't much of a gamer when I was a kid, but I did learn a few lessons from the arcade. Here are 10 of the most informative nuggets I picked up from video games. In no particular order:

1. Lesson: Be wary of midgets.
Game: Golden Eye for Nintendo 64
Odd Job was so difficult to kill in a multi-player game, because every shot seemed to go over his head. He was basically the Eddie Gaedel of "Golden Eye." Tiny strike zone.

Gaedel was a real-life Odd Job.
2. Lesson: Italians named Mario and Luigi do more than own pizza shops.
Game: Super Mario Bros. for Nintendo
Two video games down, two mildly-offensive lessons learned. Seriously, though, Mario and Luigi are funnier stereotypes of Italians than the cast members of The Jersey Shore.

3. Lesson: Mike Tyson was really good at boxing.
Game: Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! for Nintendo
When he's not plumbing or rescuing Peach (or making pizza), Mario referees in this classic game. Just like in Tyson's actual early career, Iron Mike is almost unbeatable in Punch-Out!!

4. Lesson: Bo Jackson was really good at football.
Game: Tecmo Bowl for Nintendo
Another one from the Tell-Us-Something-We-Didn't-Already-Know Files. As good as Bo was in real life, though, he was absolutely unstoppable in Tecmo Bowl.

5. Lesson: Ghosts can be defeated.
Game: Pac Man and Ms. Pacman Arcade Games
This is the same lesson we learn in Ghostbusters, and it's important to remember during the Halloween season. It's just too bad that the Red Sox seem poised to again conquer the ghost of Babe Ruth.

6. Lesson: The punt is the most boring play in football.
Game: Every Madden game, ever
I wonder if NFL fans hated punting as much before the Madden franchise. Most people who have played the video game swear they would go for it on fourth down way more often than NFL coaches. The Lions have 4th-and-20? They should just throw it up for Megatron. That's what I'd do in Madden. It would definitely make the pro game more fun.

7. Lesson: It's way easier to kill an animal if you sneak up on it.
Game: Duck Hunter for Nintendo
I don't think I ever played a full game of Duck Hunter without pressing the gun up to the screen and opening fire. Humans have the gift of reason and ducks don't. Survival of the fittest.

8. Lesson: There's always a way to fit more.
Game: Tetris for Nintendo Game Boy
This lesson comes in handy when you're driving. I always find a way to fit all my cargo, whether it's people, luggage, or cases of beer. And squeezing into a tight parking spot by hitting the bumpers of the cars in front of and behind you is completely acceptable. Nothing like a perfect fit:

9. Lesson: The suburbs are less boring than they seem.
Game: Paperboy Arcade Game
As the Paperboy, you have to avoid cars and storm drains, typical mundane aspects of suburban life. But what about tornadoes, skelly drunks, and the Grim Reaper? Bet those aren't the first things that come to mind when you imagine the 'burbs.

10. Lesson: Southern California is basically one huge freeway.
Game: Cruis'n USA for Nintendo 64
The L.A. Freeway, which we used to call by its Spanish name "La Freeway," made me imagine a California filled with palm trees, sun, and highways. I wasn't wrong. Californians will talk about a place that's "close" to them, then get in the car for a 25-minute drive.

So what have we learned?
The Overall Lesson:
Video games can teach us many things. We haven't even discussed lessons like "Never trust a hot girl" and "Hedgehogs are really fast."

So next time you're about to park your lazy ass on the couch with a book, have some regard for your intelligence and pick up the gaming controller. You won't regret it.

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