This the final part of a three part special, here on Room 633-K, where I write about how video games and the topic of “History” have had an effect on me over the years. If you would like to see part one of three you can do so here, and you view part two here.
I must sound extremely vague by using the phrase “Western History”. One can successfully argue that “Western History” covers over two thousand years of history over two continents. Despite studying history for many years, including higher education levels, the educational system of Great Britain, the country of my birth and residence, has only taught me certain elements of Western History. In particular I learned about the two World Wars and certain “famous” elements of British History, in particular the “Battle of Hastings”, the “Tudors” and the “Victorians”. However the educational system of Great Britain removes large and significant portions of both British History and Western History. However because of video games I learned more about Western History than what the educational national curriculum wanted me to learn.
For some reason I’ve always been a fan of battles in history. Maybe it’s because I played so many video games about historical wars and battles as a child, or perhaps it’s a subconscious lust for battle. Because of my love of battles I have been particularly fond of the “Historical Battles” feature available in some “Real Time Strategy games”, such as the “Total War” series. A “Historical Battle” is a battle the player can play against the AI, but is accurate in the sense, the units under both your control and the enemies control, are meant to be historically accurate to the real battle, along with the terrain and conditions of the battle. An example of this historical accuracy is the “Battle of Hastings” (circa 1066) from “Medieval: Total War II”, where the Saxon army contains only foot soldiers, because they did not utilize cavalry or ranged units in the battle. These historical battles often feature a brief text introduction detailing the background and lead-up to the battle. Then a narrated video would introduce the battle proper. I loved the narrated build-up to these battles. The animation featuring models from the game engine was pretty good, and the narrators always had great voices. Sometimes I enjoyed the narration more than the actual battle!
The player often played on the side who had a disadvantage in the battle, which challenged the players to overcome the odds to win. Some battles even had the player fighting as the historical losers of the battle not just the winners of the battles, to make the game more challenging. Yet despite my admittedly poor performances in-game which often saw me suffer humiliating defeats to the computer, I often found myself asking questions; “Why did the general use this formation?”, “Why did both armies choose to engage on this battlefield?”. After playing a battle I often scoured the Internet researching the battles that were featured in these historical battles, the factions involved, the leaders of these armies and the background to the battles. But what the history buff in me loved about these historical battles the most, was the vast variety of the historical scenarios available. Through various games I have learned about wars and battles of various nations of Europe and the Americas, that I would never have learned about.
Another way that I feel I have learned history is a little bit odd. Watching the changes that occur between different campaign starts. I am referring to certain games such as the “Paradox Interactive” grand strategy games which allow players to choose the year/month/day to start your game. By going through every year you see on a terrain map based on faction territory how the world changed before your eyes. You can see nations rise and fall, how certain nations gain large amounts of territory, then lose that territory a short time later. I especially love going through time on games which feature hundreds of years of the map changing based on what happened historically. In particular I was intrigued in who was responsible for why a nation was declining so rapidly or why was there a war between nations over territory? I felt the need to read up on the events and research the people that led to events happening.
I consider myself rather lucky that video games helped me learn certain parts of Western History, which I also had to learn at secondary school. The Liberal Reforms of Great Britain in the early 1900’s was a topic I had to learn, and the Paradox Interactive grand strategy, “Victoria 2” certainty helped me. Victoria 2 featured a gameplay mechanic that was avaliable only for western and westernized nations in the late 19th century and early 20th century, that citizens of western/westernized nations start to desire social changes. Whether it be social reforms such as granting women the right to vote, creating financial aid for the needy or political reforms such as calls to turn an absolute monarchy into a constitutional monarchy.
These reforms would be affected by factors such as literacy of the populace, newspapers and their political leanings, and random events such as a philanthropist funding a report to show how poorly the lower social-economical populace lived. If social awareness of an issue was high enough, the player would have to deal with the issue, or deal with a very vocal and angry portion of the population. What I loved in particular was how this game mechanic mirrored what I was learning at the time for GCSE. There could be a social issue that receives support from almost every class and creed of society, and you are pressured by all sectors of society to create reforms, mirroring Great Britain’s real life issue with poverty in the late 19th century. However you could also have social issues that were support by a vocal minority, whose passion of their cause could lead to protest and violence, similar to the women’s suffrage movement that occurred in Great Britain during the early 20th century
Maybe because I was a huge reader as a child, but games that allowed for extreme immersion really helped me learn history. By immersing me in the events I was partaking in, I felt such an interest in the events that I needed to learn about said events, so I could experience as much realism as possible. The WWII Flight Simulator “IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946” is one of my favorite history games because, it immerses me to such a degree,about WWII’s military campaigns.
I have always felt immersed in the “Dynamic Pilot Career” which allowed you to start at any military air campaign, with any WWII faction. But what made this mode special was the dynamic campaign-esque elements, which would have players sortie on missions based on how well they did. If you failed to provide enough support for your bombers and the bombers failed to help the ground assault which was occurring at the same time, you could be sure the enemy would launch a counterattack. It really felt like you were a pilot who would get only hours of rest, before jumping back into the cockpit to sortie out again. When the campaign ended with your victory you weren’t just given a “Well Done” screen, you instead began the next chronological campaign, you were given no rest, just deployed to the next theater of war, like a real WWII pilot. My knowledge of WWII’s chronology of air warfare and the campaigns they supported, stemmed from me playing this game with every faction and experiencing the war first hand (figuratively speaking).
What I love most about video games teaching me western history is learning things that the educational system never taught me. It amazed me how I before video games I had never learned about Alexander the Great and his empire, or Queen Anne who is arguably the first monarch of the United Kingdom. I should also point out its not even European History that I learned because without video games such as “Ultimate General: Gettysburg”, I would never have learned about the American Civil War circa 1861-1865, or how “Empire: Total War” for all its technical flaws showed me the early hotbed of relations between the various western colonists and the Native American clans on the east coast of North America. While I might not be as openly passionate in comparison to the eras of Oriental History I mentioned in my previous post, I still enjoyed learning about the various eras and important people of the past. Sure I can’t name every battle or name every important figure, unlike the boast I made in the previous post, but I still know a lot more than simply what the national curriculum wanted me to learn. It helped me learn more easily and made me enthusiastic for the subject. Along with Oriental History it helped me fall in love with history that led me to pursuing the subject further, which would one day lead me to creating a three piece special on my own blog about history.
Thanks for reading this three piece special about video games and history. If by chance you haven’t read the previous two posts, you can view them here:
Do you think I’m giving too much credit to video games for learning Western History, or do you agree with me? I’m interested to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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