By Sagar S Aug. 08, 2016
I’d never have heard about the Crusades, if it hadn’t been for Assassin’s Creed. Video games can teach us so much more than the drab, narrow view of history we are fed at school.
Have you ever wanted to be a sportsperson, but can’t muster the will to actually get out of your underground bunker? Or do you think you have what it takes to push your body to the limit, but not be that guy who wears tight tank tops and carries electrolyte replenishment around in a plastic bottle? If your answer is yes, there is hope for you.
The United States is currently playing host to your kind of athlete. This week, thousands of young adults (mostly male) will spectate, and participate in, the finals of the Dota 2 International at an arena in Seattle. Eighteen teams of five members each will compete to win a prize pool of nearly $20 million, which is about $19.8 million more than an Indian Olympic gold medallist can hope to make.
Before you pass this off as just one of those dumbass millennial obsessions, you should probably know that Defence of the Ancients is not an easy game, especially at the professional level. It requires a player to be quick with mathematical calculations as well as possess an insane degree of hand-eye coordination, all the while coming up with a complex strategy. Which is why when players excel, they make some serious dough. Last year, a Pakistani boy named Sumail Hassan, who played for the team Evil Geniuses got a proper taste of e-sport stardom, when he made over a million dollars. He was 16. This year’s winners are likely to make up to four million each.
The success of this game (the 2014 tournament was watched by over 20 million people) makes me wonder: If gaming has reached the point where it’s lucrative enough to be a career option, why do we still think of it as something that’s reserved for lonely, overweight, lazy people?
Science has provided enough evidence of the benefits of playing games like Dota – benefits that clearly outweigh copying your classmate’s assignment five minutes before it’s time to give it in, or being able to throw a javelin really far. It’s said to help overcome dyslexia, aid problem-solving, memory retention, and, contrary to your mom’s admonishments, even improve vision.
For me, the game turned a period in history, riddled with negative descriptions (written by Sunni opponents) and orientalist tropes, on its head.
Meanwhile, all I learnt during our “games period” in school was how to make fun of the person who had collected the most children in a game of “Life”. By contrast, I learnt a whole lot more playing video games – knowledge that is invaluable when I go out on a date or vanquish colleagues during an argument.
The one game that was installed on the one computer in my school, Amazon Trail, is the reason most of my classmates even know what a Hoatzin is, how scary a frog can actually be, and why no one should ever eat an electric eel. It also taught us that we should not cross the Amazon without professional help, lest we get sucked into a whirlpool. It was our introduction to the Inca civilisation; the fact that it once blossomed in the rainforests of South America and that half its populace suffered from a violently dangerous disease. Unfortunately, my school soon realised that a “video game” had been installed on our “educational computer” (MS Office only, please) and they replaced that class with another Math class – an affirmation of their pledge to breed as many squares as possible.
Amazon Trail is just one of many games that don’t feel the need to draw a line between education and entertainment. Some of the most spectacular games of our times with hours of addictive game-play, mine trivia from history and mythology to ensure that the average 12-year-old playing God of War not only manages to hit square and triangle at the same time, but also knows that he’s doing it to kill a Harpy, a dinosaur-like winged creature with a woman’s face from Greek myth.
I hold that video games teach us so much more than the drab, narrow view of history we are fed at school. Most of what we’re taught either revolves around our struggle for Independence or the Vedic era and its pious men. All that we learn about international history is the two world wars and all the boring treaties signed after.
I’d never have heard, or cared, about the Crusades, if it hadn’t been for Assassin’s Creed. The game follows the story of an assassin during the Third Crusade, when King Richard the Lionheart decided he would massacre everyone in his path. It taught me about Nizaris, a minor Shiite sect of assassins who rose against this foreign invasion, and eventually became a significant political player around the Middle East at the time. All my history teacher did was make me want to learn more about what Linkin Park was up to.
For me, the game turned a period in history, riddled with negative descriptions (written by Sunni opponents) and orientalist tropes, on its head. That is some post-graduate-level of insight to get while stabbing your way to glory. Further instalments of the game went on to explore the Italian Renaissance, the Ottoman Empire, the American Revolution, and the Golden Age of Piracy in the Caribbean. This was after school hours, of course. During my history lessons, I was learning how to draw a perfect moustache on Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
So how about instead of devoting time to teaching us how to write in cursive and march around a field in unison (left-right, left-right, death), schools allowed students to play a video game of their choice? It’s more likely to get done than homework anyway.
Sagar has lived in Mumbai for most of his life. You can often find him complaining about potholes and local trains when he isn't out having a mediocre time.