Many people, especially with the way current events are going, view video games as frivolous entertainment and aggression accelerators. However, many video games can actually be skill builders, engaging and educational in unexpected ways. Help me help you improve the image of video games by promoting games that are mentally stimulating and refreshingly free of violence, unless you count the times you’ll punch the wall when you can’t beat whatever level you’re stuck on. Consider it a study in video games based on common school subjects, so the student or parent can convince the opposite party that video games will make you a better pupil.
Sid Meier’s Civilization series, which debuted in 1991, is a game that merges historical events and figures with a fresh amount of fictional splash in the gameplay. Although the mechanics have changed in the five iterations of the game, it’s a strategy game that has the player choose a starting civilization (Romans, Mongols, Aztecs and more), build it to the point of necessary expansion, and exercise diplomacy and potential warfare with real historical figures from Plato to Joseph Stalin. Different versions have different historical time frames but players can live through prehistoric times, the Bronze Age, the industrial revolution, and to the speculated future world. Players have to make scientific and technological discoveries (from discovery of flight to nuclear fission) in order to advance their societies and decide to use it for economic reasons, military warfare or maybe both. The series is long running and well-reviewed, and your kids won’t realize it’s a better alternative from what they’ve been doing like when I was three and my mom had me eat breaded zucchini after telling me it was chicken.
It’s probably more fun than scholarly, but Spore, designed by gaming guru Will Wright, is the theories of Charles Darwin transformed into a colorful, cartoony delight. The surprisingly addictive game follows the life space of a species from a lowly single celled organism to intergalactic travel, all starting with the player naming and designing their very own species. Players can choose to be an herbivore, carnivore or omnivore and slowly advance out of the water and gain the ability to walk. This is called the “Creature stage” and is a hilarious lesson in evolution and physiology. You want your creature to be a clan of neon purple carnivores with eight eyes? Go for it. Players quickly learn the funny option, like putting an extra set of legs on your head, often hinders your creature from advancing and surviving. You move on to the tribal, civilization, and space stage as the game advances, getting a bit similar to the feel of Civilization towards the end. You won’t leave the game being able to explain the evolutionary advantages of different mollusks on the west coast of North America, but you’ll get some basic knowledge of the theory.
Branded as mental exercises you can conveniently do once a day, Brain Age is a collection of math, memory and brain-bending games. Doing a quick test at the start of the game determines your “Brain Age,” a friendly, but slightly embarrassing, way for the game to show you that you’re not as quick as you once thought you were with multiplication tables. Brain Age will then give you a daily regimen of exercises to do, like timed multiplication, reading, and Head Count, a dastardly game of memory in which the player must deduce how many stick figures are left in a house after they frantically enter and exit. If you commit to it, Brain Age certainly appears to dust the mental cob webs off the more you do it. It may shame you into playing it after you can’t answer what 9×12 is.
It’s important to mention that I’ve selected these three games because they’ve all been out for a bit (affordable) and are family friendly. So encourage your whole extended clan together and give these a try. Are there any games you deem as educational that could be added to the list?