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Tangential Learning (Newsletter)

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A conversation with an old friend brought up a recent memory of educational video games. Whoa, hang on there folks, don't lynch me yet, this article is gonna be good, I swear! Frankly, I can't say it as well as James Portnow and Daniel Floyd did in their hillarious animated lecture on Tangential Learning, which you can view here:

 

 

Now for those of you who are not yet convinced to watch that short video, I'll summarize. The idea is simple: If we wanted to work to learn we'd read a text book. Instead we can learn a lot by focusing on subjects we are interested in; in this case videogames. If a videogame has facts and information placed in the game we will learn it quickly and efficiently. My favorite example is Civilization, which has provided me a huge quantity of knowlege about ancient structures and leaders via its civilopedia. Like all information you do have to be careful that you distinguish what is truth and what is fiction, but come on: We all know that the Egyptions conquered France following the construction of the Hoover Dam in Thebes, giving them the spare energy to drop paratroopers behind enemy lines. Seriously, prior to that game I didn't know what Angkor Wat was and couldn't name the 7 wonders of the world. Most people get that one wrong actually, the 7 wonders are: Pyramid of Giza, Hanging Gardens, Statue of Zeus, Temple of Artemis, Mausoleum of Maussollos, Collossas of Rhodes, and Lighthouse of Alexandria.

 

But I digress: The point is simple. We should always be pressuring game companies to go a little further than just providing entertainment and focusing on them adding accurate facts and data to their world. By doing this we'll not only end up with a better game (Truth is stranger than fiction they say), but a better experience as well.

 

Can you name a few games where you've experienced tangential learning? Have an opinion on tangential learning? Discuss!

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I might be showing my age with this, but how many people remember the original Oregon Trail game?

 

In my elementary school days, Oregon Trail was loaded onto a honkin'-big computer thing on cart that was wheeled from classroom to classroom. Each class got one week out of the month with it. It had educational games: math, science, language arts, etc. If you got through all of the games, you got to play either Oregon Trail or this other game whose name I cannot remember, but it was something with a dwarf and a mine, I think....gosh, it's been a long time!

 

Ah, the brilliant glowing green text of the monochrome monitor shines like a beacon in my memory.

 

I can't recall the exact tidbits that I learned from playing Oregon Trail, however the one thing that stands out in my mind is that I always - ALWAYS - wound up dying of dysentry. Or maybe it was cholera.

 

It was funny that this topic came up in the newsletter, as I've been playing around with RPG Maker for a while, trying to come up with my own tangential learning style game. Unfortunately, while I am a brilliant writer and a not-so-inherently-bad programmer, I absolutely suck at graphic design. If I were to ever actually sit down and do this game, it would probably consist of a stick figure walking around a white screen with witty dialogue and informative side-notes.

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Eh, don't see the point.

 

I don't play games to learn. I play games to kill everything on screen and get the gold at the end :evil:

 

Sides, some games such as Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, Omikron, Skies of Arcadia, Grandia 2, evolution, etc. are games that have absolutely no connection to anything earth/our world related. Sticking anything earth related breaks their canon world.

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Well back in the dark ages, my kids and others would play ANYTHING just to use this "new" thing, the personal computer. Even games where you had to choose the best word out of four choices to get the correct answer.

 

And "adventure" ... it's cave system was a part of an actual cave system.

 

So now we can tell when we are being "educated" and try to avoid it in recreational games!

 

But my grandson learned a lot about real battles playing age of empires.

 

I think I might like an adventure game based on real geography!

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Ahh...Oregon Trail. I remember always dying of starvation, because I bought a spare wagon wheel instead of extra food. :D

 

 

I don't think my knowledge of mythology from around the world would be where it is today, had I not played any Final Fantasy games.

Most of the places, monsters, weapons, items, etc. all get their names from Greek, Norse, Native American, South American, Japanese, and Southeast Asian (now that I think of it, pretty much everywhere in the world) mythology.

There have been many times where I would get on the computer and research a name or concept I was just introduced to during a Final Fantasy session. After hundreds of hours of gameplay, it's nice to know I got something out of it. ;)

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Great topic!

 

I was totally going to mention Oregon Trail too. In fact, within the last few years I actually bought that game to play with some younger cousins to help them understand the route our great grandparents actually traveled up the Rogue River. Aaah, good times.

 

Strategy games like Victoria have tangential learning elements, although I have to admit I personally don't always have the attention span for games that are more strategy than story.

 

And economic simulators like Gazillionaire teach something, although not history. A lot of games have elements of that kind of money-management thing, although not all do a very good job of forcing realistic cause-and-effect choices.

 

I was in hopes that Spore would do more to teach about evolution, but sadly, it is pretty completely disconnected from any real zoology that I can think of. My view, that is to the detriment of the game, which got old a lot faster than I expected.

 

A lot of casual games -- hidden object, time management -- seem to be trying to infuse their games with some environmental lessons as well as other themes like money management and running a business. Also they do teach something about geography, I guess, with their various exotic settings. Of course, some (like those in collaboration with National Geographic) are closer to reality than others.

 

I learned a lot (accurate or otherwise I am not sure) about a certain slice of geography from Pirates. A lot of those games where you sail around and trade and fight and so on provide a lot of incidental learning of that nature. Ditto games like Tradewinds Caravans, which pulls in some real geography and even a dollop of modified history to the Tradewinds series, in a fun way.

 

I actually like it when elements of learning creep in naturally, although I wouldn't want to burden the designers of fantasy games like, say, Aveyond with pressure to infuse their games with lessons. But Oregon Trail was fun! I'd love to play an updated version of that! And it is a riot when you know a random fact in real life because you have learned it from a game.

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Books provide tangential learning, much more so than games. But games have lots of history and mythology as well, as game writers try to avoid running out of ideas. My current book is jam-packed with mythology, together with a good deal of history and geography, much of which I already knew from previous books. One of the main characters in it recognised a war hammer from World of Warcraft. :)

 

One of the Seven Wonders is the Taj Mahal.

 

This is a fun topic and the point is well taken as I have been noticing the truth of it ever since I was a child. There was nothing like re-reading the classic fairytales as a teen to learn something about the earth's history and cultures as well.

 

And then there is Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In a class of its own. :)

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I believe the 7 wonders have changed. There are the Seven Wonders of the World, and the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

 

... hmmm, it seems there are several versions of these lists ...

 

Going through my games list, I don't have any that could be called tangential learning games. They're all purely for relaxation - though quick thinking, quick reflexes and strategy are necessary for a lot of them.

 

On the other side of the fence, I have a game I'd dearly like to make, but I want it to be very factual. I'm surprised at the amount of research necessary to get things straight, and how tempting it is to cut corners and just ditch reality and go for fantasy instead. So someone who's been able to make a game filled with the honest truth, and make it fun, has done something pretty amazing in my books.

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I think the tangential learning in games can be good for younger kids. Oregon trail was a blast and it was neat to see some of the decisions settlers would have to make. There was a math game used for younger kids on the first apple computers that helped with those skills.

 

For more recent games some time management games and the age of Mythology have helped my cousin be inspired to lean history and Greek myths.

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Oregon Trail...wow, that brings back some memories from elementary school. It was a fun game but the only thing I really remember was the hunting and continually dying from dysentry or some other thing. I also remember the Amazon Trail where you could take pictures of the flora and fauna and it would give you facts about them but I was more interested in the fishing.

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