The Teachings of Fiction: What Games Have Taught Me

When I’m not hiring and killing prostitutes, jacking and crashing cars, or ruthlessly gunning down helpless, disabled civilians due to a feckless overexposure to violent video games, I like to kick back, relax, and play some video games. It’s the perfect way to unwind.

But amidst these barbarian broadcasts urging all players to repeatedly stab everyone they meet in the face or heart, video games transmit an altogether different message. Saturating the minds of gamers with the most potent and dangerous weaponry known to man – knowledge.

Throughout my life I’m perpetually enlightened by a medium considered by many to be corrosive to the mind. There are studies relating gaming to the improvement of cognitive abilities, hand-eye co-ordination, logic, memory and multi-tasking. But in addition to these less tangible attributes, video games spray out facts like an edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica thrown in a petrol powered wood-chipper.

The earliest single fact I remember absorbing from a video game penetrated my mind at age 8. A fact that has rattled away in the depths of my memory ever since. Descending in a lift, embroiled in codec communications with Naomi Hunter, Solid Snake was on his merry way to save the world from the threat of nuclear armageddon.

This particular conversation revealed much in regards to plot. However the fact itself was largely irrelevant. It was simply a comment, 20 words or less. It taught me this:

The country know today as the Republic of Zimbabwe was previously the Republic of Rhodesia.

Did you know that? Did you know that when you were 8? No. You didn’t. Nor did anyone else in my class. Not even Mrs. Brown. It’s one of the many things I have Metal Gear Solid to thank for.

Since then I’ve assimilated information on every topic from foreign language and historical warfare to mythological characters and car transmission.

Despite for the most part melting my brain into a fetid soup of hate and confusion, Assassin’s Creed has imparted me with knowledge of Italian history.

Assassin’s Creed 2 informed me of the Bonfire of the Vanities. While it wouldn’t be my chosen Mastermind subject, I’m aware of the basics. Caused in part my followers of Girolamo Savonarola, objects that could potentially lead one to sin were publicly burned. The most infamous of such fires took place in Florence in 1497. Art, clothing, literature and musical instruments were all ignited for the good of the people.

Thank God for the intangible, invulnerable, incombustible blog post, eh?

AC has also educated me on Italian architecture, Roman baths and Rodrigo Borgia. Ubisoft didn’t have to include the vast amounts of historical information that they did. But in doing so they added an extra layer of detail to an already marvellous game. Educing millions in the process.

Not only am I a clear connoisseur of Italian culture, I’m also fluent in the language. For I can fluently pronounce the Italiano equivalent of; fuck and rest in peace – cazzo and requiescat in pace, respectively. Both phrases that would prove useful if I’m ever to find myself being pursued by Italian mafioso.

From the Romans to the Greeks. The God of War series has acquainted me with the guys, gals and Gods of Ancient Greece; Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Athena, Cronos, Daedalus, Hades, Hephaestus, Hera, Hercules, Hermes, Icarus, Poseidon and Zeus. Those of whom I haven’t penetrated with a blade, I have with a penis.

If it were not for Kratos’ charming shenanigans my knowledge of Greek mythology would be limited to what I learned from Xena: Warrior Princess. Which wasn’t much, other than that I’d like to bang Xena Warrior Princess.

                                                                Thanks to video games I know more guns than I do people. A testament to both my anti-social tendencies and immaculate memory. Again it was Solid Snake that first introduced me to the FAMAS and PSG-1, both of which are now fan favourites in the Call of Duty franchise.

Guns aren’t the only harbinger of death in video games. There are also opportunities to get medieval on an unfortunately antagonist’s ass. Assassin’s Creed, Demon’s Souls and World of Warcraft have taught me much about melee weaponry. Informing me of the differences between a cutlass and a claymore, a falchion and a flamberge and a sabre and a schiavona.

While my wanderlust is yet to be physically fulfilled, video games have allowed me to virtually travel to various global locations. Improving my geographical understanding of the world. Alaska, Iwo Jima, Miami, Okinawa, New York, Rhodes, I could even navigate the nine circles of Hell. Which is useful, because that’s where I’m going.

Courtesy of EA and Visceral Games‘ Dante’s Inferno, I’ve been introduced to the works of Dante Alighieri. The Divine Comedy had long been something I had known of, but not truly known. Had it not been for this game I may never have read this epic poem. Now I can confidently recite the nine circles of Hell, and the sinners that inhabit them. An example of yet another cultural text introduced to me by the most rapidly evolving creative medium in human history.

The legitimate facts I’ve absorbed over the years are infinite. To list them all would be to type 27% of the contents of my mind. Neither of us have the time for that. I’ve learned about car transmission courtesy of Gran Turismo. I’ve learned about historical battles thanks to Age of Empires. I’ve learned about the wars of the world thanks to Call of Duty and Medal of Honor.

Facts you say. That’s all well and good. But unless you’re a frequenter of general knowledge quiz shows it’s not much use. Well fine. But aside from facts, video games have also distributed practical advice that has aided me in life. Here are the most important life lessons a man can learn:

Never under any circumstances approach a flaming red barrel.

Never trust your best friend, especially if his forename and surname rhyme. I’m looking at you Lance.

And for the love of God…

Always take heed of caution signs.

What about you? What unequivocal knowledge have you gained from the ungodly hours you poured into Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust?

MacTingz

Article first published as The Teachings of Fiction: What Games Have Taught Me on Technorati.

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9 thoughts on “The Teachings of Fiction: What Games Have Taught Me

  1. I’ve been wanting to write this exact post for a long time, but never really found an appropriate way to articulate it. So thanks, because not only are you fighting gaming’s corner in the perpetual boxing match between itself and the BBC, but you’re mimicing my own thoughts at the same time, and that’s a winning combination if I ever saw one.

    My head is filled with so many facts about such a ridiculously broad range of topics that sometimes I find myself questioning how I know such elaborate things. Of course, the answer is always the same: videogames taught me.

    Tiger Woods PGA Tour taught me the rules of golf. I know so much about military equipment and tactics I could write Tom Clancy’s bestsellers for him. I know every detail about EMP technology. I know the exact gear ratios and tires to use on the Nurburgring. I, too, even read Dante’s Inferno, simply because I played Dante’s Inferno. (Also, let me know when you finish that game. I’ll bet my cat that your opinions mirror mine).

    The other day, I was making coffee and knocked the spoon off the worktop. As it tumbled towards the floor, my hand shot out, quick as a flash, and caught it in a perfect position to continue spooning sugar into my mug. I’m giving videogames credit for that as well.

    Peace.

  2. Hahaha. That comment thoroughly amused me. I like to attribute random skills to gaming too, spoon juggling is definitely one of them.

    This post was something I started many months ago. I had trouble articulating it myself, but once I got into rhythm I managed to work out. Hopefully it ended up OK. I’m still proud of the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe thing. Lord knows why that struck a chord with my infant self. It’s such a nothing thing to know. The amount of things I’ve been taught by the Assassin’s Creed games truly is exceptional too. Reams of information about every tower, bath, bridge and boardwalk. There’s many more things I wanted to include. Playing the annual FIFA game is usually what informs me of the latest obscure transfers in football. The EMP is a great one. You rarely hear it mentioned outside the realms of gaming, which is strange because I reckon the majority of gamers could knock up an EMP gun in their shed with little more than a Fairy washing-up- liquid bottle, some tape, toilet roll tubes and a 9v battery.

    As for Dante’s Inferno; in all honestly I found the game slightly underrated. Sure it was a grind at times. It was repetitive, the level design could’ve been better and the difficulty levels weren’t as extreme as they should’ve been. But for me, the concept alone was a massive selling point. I’m a sucker for literature anyway but trekking through hell, fighting Death, the Devil and encountering all your old friends along the way is brilliant interactive game idea. Opting to absolve or punish infamous biblical figures was an awesome touch too. I was always going to get the game. Having heard about the concepts and knowing it was being handled by some of the God of War crew, it was never going to be a terrible. I have to conclude that I enjoyed it. Despite some of its flaws. It was epic to play at times, the combat was fun and engaging and it had a fantastic score. I think I enjoyed it more than I did Darksiders, despite it getting far greater reviews and probably being a slightly better game in general.

  3. Yeah, just as I thought — almost identical to my take on the game. I mentioned in one of my blog posts (I forget which) that although it wasn’t outstanding mechanically, in terms of audio/visual design it was pretty exceptional. Each ring of Hell is full of really clever little touches that help to create a phenomenal sense of place; it truly creates appalling images, and in a game about eternal damnation, that’s exactly what it should do. The chicks with giant vagina-tentacles were a nice touch too.

    I think that originally a trilogy was planned (the next games taking the logical steps of Purgatorio and Paradiso, naturally) but EA probably blew it with the marketing campaign. Still, I’d love to see those games made.

    • I’m really hoping for the sequels too. Mostly because they truly will be a surprise to me. Though I hadn’t read The Divine Comedy prior to Dante’s Inferno, I knew roughly what to expect from Hell. I’m a Christian after all, haha. But more than that, I’ve seen far too many movies…

      I’d be interested in what would happen in Purgatorio and Paradiso, in what the game designers could do. Surely they couldn’t make them as grotesque as Hell. The games would only improve too. The basic ingredients and the majority of the game is great, if they polished up some stuff it could be exceptional. They did spend a lot on that campaign though. A hell of a lot. In all fairness though, that Superbowl ad was one of the greatest game trailers I’ve ever seen. Roll on the sequels….

  4. While I enjoy video games I don’t play them anymore, except at the video arcade (pinball and Street Fighter II being personal favorites). Of course there’s information to be learned from video games and there’s even and Jane McGonigal is developing games that’ll hopefully save the world. Here’s a link:

    I also believe video games are garbage too, regardless of how fun they are. Every technology changes the way we think and interact with the corporeal world. Neil Postman’s book Technopoly offers a great explanation of how people interact with technology and how it changes us. I’d also point to Martin Heidegger’s essay The Question Concerning Technology, even though he was a Nazi sympathizer.
    Good post; very funny. =)

  5. Dear Mac,

    Say! It’s been too long, pal. I hate not having time to read; it’s a terrible fact of life sometimes, and the pain of it grieves me.

    Fine post — again — and of course I’m not surprised or I would not have spent my precious, dwindling reading time on it. Your writing makes me happy, gives me faith in the future of literacy. Were you living in Long Beach near me, you’d have a career in journalism cut out for you.

    On your topic, though, I’m constantly commenting to people that I’ve learned remarkable amounts from video gaming. It’s not too surprising, I suppose, considering how much one must read to complete many of the complex titles developed for adults and adolescents. It would take an hour for me to merely outline the categories of info I’ve gleaned from my hobby, but mentioning the Civilization franchise should be enough for anyone who’s played it. Civ is like an entire course in world history, sociology, economics, cultural anthropology (and probably much more) every time it is played.

    I need to stop now, because I don’t have the time to continue, but I wanted to agree whole-heartedly before going about my business.

    Cheers, Mac. You’re great at this shit.

    Yours Truly,

    -Both

    • Both, too long indeed. I don’t know what the hell you’re doing but it must be important if you’re not tending to the hanging garden of acuity that is In a Real World… Whenever you get a spare millisecond in your hectic schedule you should definitely spend it here, if not to read my shit then simply to stare at static. It’s hypnotic, therapeutic and beneficial in a variety of ways. Just like gaming. Though there’s less research to suggest such.

      I look forward to reading whatever the hell you have to say once you get around to saying it. Thanks for the kind words. I dare say I’ll roll up in Long Beach one day, I expect a job when I get there.

      Mac.

  6. I laughed a lot reading this article, not just because it’s excellently-written (which it certainly is) but because it’s so, so true. The media have used videogames as a scapegoat for the entirety of their existence, and it’s a shame that a lot of parents are swayed by this and don’t see the educational potential of games. If I were to document everything videogames have taught me in the 20 years I’ve been playing, I could fill an entire bookshelf comprised only of tomes equal in dimensions to Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The best part is, a large amount of the knowledge I have gleaned from this medium lies buried in my subconscious, ready to be used in any situation that requires a smart-arse. It’s a wonderful thing.

    • It’s true. Although I think, and certainly hope that gaming is becoming more widely accepted throughout mainstream media, there are still many, many sources that simply can’t accept the beneficial qualities of the medium.

      Other sources simply outlaw games as completely evil. Such as this hilarious example I discovered just the other night courtesy of Charlie Brooker. You may have seen it. But if not see the final 4 minutes of this for the wonder of Killer Net.

      Thanks for reading John.

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