Over the semester break I spent many hours wrapped up in the world of Sid Meir’s Pirates for the PSP. The game puts the player in the role of young man in the 1600 who turns to piracy to rescue his family from an evil baron. The player can choose to align with the English, French, Dutch, or Spanish at the start of the game, but after that the world is wide open. Like any good game, Pirates drew me into it’s world and made me want to clear the seas of other pirates, claim ports for my nation, and win the heart of a governor’s daughter. While playing though, I’m learning through procedural literacy. I’m learning about a variety of ships and sailing requirements during that timeframe. I’m learning about the simplified political dynamics of the exploration and settlement of the “new world.” While the game is male centric (no female pirates and an overemphasis on bar maids) it is an engaging and thought provoking experience.
Thanks to Sid Mier’s and Civilization, I’ve played educational video games for the last 15 years. One of my high school history teachers was using video games to teach with the first Civilization. As a freshmen and sophomore in high school, I didn’t see the value in using it to teach. Friends at school talked about how great the class was because all you did was play the game. And that was and still is my concern with games that teach… the need for reflection and discussion. While my friends were excited to just play the game, the teacher did incorporate discussions about strategy, tactics, technology, and civilization building into class. Combing the game with discussion and historical lectures and readings created a much deeper understanding than just traditional textbook based teaching.
Not only was the game useful within the classroom, it also created enough investment and excitement that students went to the library during study halls and lunch hours to keep playing. The game was an experience that grew outside of class. And this is still a strength and a goal of educational games today – players that keep playing & learning long after the class period is over. As a testament to my learning (or loneliness) there were many Saturday nights during high school that I spent playing and replaying historical maps and writing new histories with Civilization.
I returned to the Civilization series in 2003 while I was student teaching. I spent many long nights preparing lesson plans and playing Civilization II. I was the one now teaching freshmen in high school about world history. But I missed the opportunity to learn from my own experiences. Playing Civilization created a deeper meaning for me in high school, but I didn’t bring that into my student teaching. While I was playing and creating histories at night on my computer, I didn’t bring the game into the classroom. Looking back on it now, I wish I had.
The procedural literacy that students build through games is important for making a subject feel more alive and developing a deeper understanding. While I brought other technologies (laptops and palm pilots) into the classroom I didn’t bring video games. I played things conservatively and stuck with the status quo. I missed my chance in a high school classroom, but I’m working to create those opportunities within college classrooms. I hope that the continued discussion, research, and experiments will encourage others to take advantage of opportunities to enhance our students learning and understanding through games.
Thank you Sid Meirs’ for creating games that helped me learn and encouraged me to explore. Video games create a deeper understanding through procedural literacy… as long as we as educators are willing to apply them.
Images of Sid Mier's Pirates from Gamespot
Images of Civilization from Wikipedia
Images of Cilvilzation II from Gamespot