Games as a Portal to Deep Learning

Even now in my late 30s I regularly play games on my Xbox and relish it. Most dismiss it as a silly distraction. But Gamers know just how good, immersive and addictive these new age games are. But even fewer realize how educational video games can be.

Yes. EDUCATIONAL. And not in the vague weasel-politician-word sense but in the real sense the word implies.

Allow me this anecdote to elaborate.

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In early 2014 gaming website, Gamespot, released the list of the best XBOX 360 Games reviewed the previous year.

Much to my delight one of the games on that list was part of a series I have thoroughly enjoyed – ASSASSINS CREED. So I promptly purchased the game :

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is a historical fiction action-adventure open world stealth video game. Players have praised its massive open world gameplay, numerous side-quests, beautiful graphics and very cool naval combat. The story is set in the early 18th century Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy, and follows notorious pirate Edward Kenway. Unlike previous games, gameplay elements focus more on ship-based exploration in the open world map, while also retaining the series’ third-person land-based exploration, melee combat, and stealth system. The game spans across the Caribbean with the three main cities of Havana, Nassau and Kingston along with numerous islands, sunken ships, and forts. For the first time in the series, naval exploration became a major part of an Assassin’s Creed game, where Edward Kenway captains the Jackdaw, a ship he captures from a Spanish fleet.

I am about 50% into the game and totally absolutely love it. Piracy is so much fun!

There is a sequence about midway into the game story when I found myself swimming to a British ship to kill a bad guy on-board and it was almost sunset in the game. The ship was HUGE and there is a moment, when the light caught the ship as I was swimming to it, capturing it’s full massive frame. For a deliciously brief second or two I understood the shock and awe the new world people must have experienced when they saw these ships off their cost in the 15th century. Like I REALLY got it. It was the most immersive experience I have ever had playing a game and I have been playing them for 15+ years.

Something else I noticed when playing was that the Spanish ships always attacked British ships and vice versa. I got used to seeing these sea battles all the time and remember these are Game A.I controlled which means someone while designing the game programmed this into the game. And I wondered Why…? .

So I looked it up. Turns out in history The Spanish and The British have a LONG history of sparring on the high seas.

Went to GoodReads.com and researched that bit. A book ‘Empire of the Deep: The Rise and Fall of the British Navy’ has some solid reviews and seemed best poised to answer my question. So I hit the buy button. 56 chapters and 720 pages of naval history awaited me. Niceee! As now I write this blog I just hit chapter 13 : The famous 1588 Battle between the Spanish Armada and British Navy. Its gripping stuff.

The only problem is visualization. The author paints a picture with words of all the ships of the era but it is a bit difficult to visualize correctly. I don’t know the difference between a Caravel, A Galley and a Brig. Makes full immersion difficult. Very luckily, while browsing a BHF charity book-store I stumbled into this Hardcover Gem : ‘Empire of the Seas: How the Navy Forged the Modern World‘ by Brian Lavery. Like a Playboy magazine, I didn’t buy it for the content but for the PICTURES. Gorgeous sketches of naval history from the Medieval ages onwards.

The xbox game also got me interested in SHIP BUILDING as an activity since you find yourself constantly using your loot in the game to buy ship upgrades and I wanted to understand that a bit more. And Discovery Channel came to the rescue. The were selling this DVD documentary on ship building : “The World’s Biggest Ship: Building the Triple-E” – The 2 Disc documentary gives you an idea of how the Danish and South Koreans built the world’s most massive ships. And as luck would have it, an hour away from my flat is the best place in Earth to fully quench my thirst for understanding this naval history : The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London is the leading maritime museum of the United Kingdom and may be the largest museum of its kind in the world. IN THE WORLD! Living in London is coincidentally convenient! I am going there soon, after I finish the book, the game and the documentary.

All this, everything you read above, started from one question in the middle of a game : ‘Why are those two ships in the distance sparring?’

So when someone you know starts really getting into gaming don’t just dismiss it as a silly distraction. It could be a portal to so much more.

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