Teaching history with video games
Mike Antonucci, 05:28 PM in Gaming, Mike Antonucci
There's a lot of hype about teaching history with video games -- particularly World War II games.
And I've slowly reached the conclusion that there's some credibility to the notion.
I've been spending a lot of time with "Call of Duty 2: Big Red One,'' which honors the famed 1st Infantry Division. The Fighting 1st, also known as the Big Red One, saw extraordinary action during WW II.
The game (for PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube) made my 2005 top-10 list for reasons unrelated to historical significance. And there's no doubt in my mind that its selling points are related entirely to its entertainment value, not its educational bonuses.
But I can't just dismiss the historical factor.
I don't think you can play the game without absorbing SOMETHING in the way of WW II history, and besides, people under 25 don't seem to know much about anything that happened before 1980. In other words, it's not like the core gaming audience already knows this stuff
At a minimum, you become highly conscious of the war's scope, as the opening missions unfold across Northern Africa instead of starting in Italy or on the beaches of Normandy. Is that enough to get a gamer interested in the full history of the real Fighting 1st or to Google a mini-biography of German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel? I'm dubious. But there's still a residue of information left behind in gamer brains.
If you're a parent, consider this: If your child emerged from playing a trendy war video game with an awareness that a famed U.S. infantry division fought its way from North Africa to Sicily, was in the vanguard of the D-Day invasion and then battled across Europe, wouldn't you consider that a plus?
Why did the game make my top-10 list? What I probably liked best was the balance between moments of frenzied combat -- forcing me to make urgent assessments about the location and tactics of the enemy -- and the game's ability to keep moving you along. You get a sense of being at risk and under pressure without being so confused that you can't progress from one mission to the next.
Dean, of course, raved about the "Call of Duty 2'' that was developed for the Xbox 360 and PCs as his game-of-the-year selection. But that sets the bar a little high for people who want to share his fun, especially given how challenging it has been for the average consumer to even acquire a 360 machine.