Keeping up the theme about improvements to education in the near future, I am shifting my focus to video games in education. Most in particular, the use of video games in the teaching of history. The problem with teaching history is the focus by its educators to “remember” history. The focus of teaching history should be on “understanding” history. Students are not engaged by history when they have to remember a series of names and dates. The cliche statement by students is, “What is so important about all of these dead people?” This is an excellent question. Modern history education has two responses to this based on the teacher’s approach. The first is to answer the question, “Person X did this.”, or “Because it will be on the test.” While the first is a better response, it does not help the student understand the subject. History needs to be taken from a more interactive approach.
The best case is providing students with a way that will not only teach the subject matter to them, but provide them with an interest and understanding of why people did what they did. To place themselves in the situation of the individual that they are studying. Video games are the best way to do this. Books allow students to read about their subject, movies allow them to see their subject, but video games allow them to interact with or be their subject. For any subject of history there are a million different titles to choose from. Interactive games such as Paradox Interactive’s history series of Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis IV, Victoria II, and Hearts of Iron III (soon to be IV), allow the player to experience history from day to day across nearly a thousand years of post Roman world history leading up to the cold war.
Getting a class of students to play these games together, will allow them to experience the individuals and overall canvas of historical events. While the game’s nature allows for players to create new characters besides historically accurate ones, the world the characters are in would not change. This immersion allows for students to experience not only the figures from history, but the world they inhabited and changed. What video games excel at doing is introducing the player to a world. In the case of students, a game like Verdun by M2H and Blackmill Games can introduce a student to the world of the western front through its gritty, dirty, helpless atmosphere. The students take control of a single soldier and either have to defend or take a trench from their opponent. This experience would be infinitely better than reading about the western front in a history textbook. Having the background of what they experienced through playing the game, students could more easily learn about figures and events in history now that their have their own experiences to associate that information with.