By Isaac Espinosa
Recently, Ubisoft and the Games for Change organization presented a “Keys to Learn” event in New York City. During these wonderful hours, I was able to learn about how gaming has been – and continues to be used – as a platform to teach people about education and even social justice. And I am happy to be able to share this experience with any oncoming readers.
Ubisoft had three games available to play during their event, which included the Discover Tour of Ancient Greece, Rabbids Coding, and Project Oikos. All of these games were particularly fascinating in their own regard. Rabbids Coding was simple and easy to pick up software that was made in order to teach children how to properly code in a way that isn’t complicated. It does this by using coding blocks that the player can drag to a start button, and have the Rabbids execute whatever action the code tells them to do. As the game teaches you the basics, it introduces more interesting blocks and puzzles that create this rewarding sense of progression. Not only that, but the game is even free, so anyone that wants to learn the basics of coding can pick it up and play whenever they like.
Discover Tour: Ancient Greece, is an add-on to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, in which the player can take a tour of all of Greece. The game caters to the historic side of Assassin’s Creed, and makes sure to go into every detail – even on important (and less important) monument. Some examples include Zeus’s Palace, or even the beginning of the Olympic Games. While it isn’t free, this game will allow an in depth look at Greece and much of its history and folklore.
However, the game that I feel was the most interesting was their prototype of Project Oikos. In Project Oikos, two players must play as four different species in order to properly maintain the ecosystem of this lone little pond. These species include birds, fishes, worms, and even water lilies. Each has its own food requirements and special needs, like how water lilies need to take in sunlight to maintain their constantly dropping HP, or the worms needing to eat bacteria to keep the water clean while also needing to stay away from fish. This game is able to properly convey some more scientific topics such as maintaining ecosystems and the food chain. But it doesn’t do so in a heavy handed way.
In addition to play, there was a panel where the games were put into perspective and panelists demonstrated the impact of using video games as a potent form of education and social justice. Games for Change chairman Asi Burak spoke about how certain games have been made for the purpose of trying to create a peaceful message. One such example that was mentioned is a game called PeaceMaker. Created by ImpactGames, PeaceMaker puts you in the middle of a conflict between Israel and Palestine. The game’s purpose was to not only portray how both sides were equally suffering because of the conflict. It was also supposed to encourage players to look for a peaceful solution, rather than simply going to war. By reacting to certain events, along with making treaties with other countries, the goal of peace becomes contrasts with how war and violence are typically the first choice in real life. This message of peace came a personal shock to me, as I had no idea that games were created for such a purpose, and how impactful the playing of such a game can be on a young person’s view on the world.
In terms of education, engagement was one of the main points of discussion. In the early 2000’s, gaming mixed with education was typically scoffed at, and today, game addiction is even classified as a mental disorder. However, over the years, this idea of using games to help with learning has been become more popular, and careful engagement is one of the reasons why. A game with social justice aspect allows children to be engaged and encourages them to learn about certain important subjects, like Assassin’s Creed’s thoughtful, interactive look at Greek history. Certain aspects of games encourage development of skills, using reward systems or grading systems as a way to measure progression.
Overall, I was impressed by the presentation. It may be more difficult to engage young people with games for education at first, but the ultimate result of learning many new points of view in new ways can be really potent. That’s partially because what you learn during an interactive game may be more easily remembered that what you learn from a book.
Isaac Espinosa is a New York Videogame Critics Circle Intern. He’s the Founder of the Lehman College Videogame Critics Circle.