Making Curriculum Pop

Games you wouldn't think had the potential for educational value Part 1

This is probably going to be the first in a series of blog posts that I'm going to do on this site to share my ideas with you all. In the time I've spent exploring this site, I really enjoyed looking at all the different ideas and video games to use in teaching and I'm very tempted to check them  out myself (if I had the chance do so along with the copious amount of school work I have to do). However, I haven't seen to many ideas on including more mainstream video games, such as Legend of Zelda and so forth. I can only assume the reason for this is because classes today wouldn't even consider letting some of these games in the classroom, I can't obviously say I blame them either. However, from my own experiance as a video game player and a student who has learned a lot from both school and the games I played, I feel that it is important to look at some of these mainstream games and see what potential they have for teaching in their stories, mechanics and so forth. I encourage all of you to contribute ideas and suggestions to these posts, criticism is also welcome. 

The first game that I plan to discuss may be a bit more on the controversial side due to its title, but I've long had the desire to discuss it with others. It is the Assassin's Creed Series developed by Ubisoft. I'll admit, when this game first came out in 2007, I avoided it due to the title. The idea of playing as an assassin that killed people just did not appeal to me and it still doesn't. However, after meeting a friend in college who had given the game a chance and really enjoyed it, insisted that I give it a chance. When I did, I was ashamed that I had dismissed before, since killing was only a part of the game (its even explored in the game whether or not these actions are the right thing to do). 

To give you guys a basic background of the story's premise. In the not to distant future, a man named Desmond Miles is kidnapped by a group called Abstergo Industries, a multination corporation that has facilitated the development of human technology. In a hidden facility, Desmond is used as a test subject for Abstergo's latest invention, The Animus. In this machine, Desmond is linked to his ancestors from various periods in time through his genetic code. Desmond must  live through these memories to satisfy his captors since they believe a particular memory is the key to finding a treasure of great importance. 

As the name implies, Desmond's ancestors belong to an order of assassin's who have spent centuries fighting a secret war with a group called the templars, an group that desires to establish total control over the people of the world in an attempt to create "peace". Playing as Desmond's various ancestors, it is the job of the player to gather information on their templar targets and eliminate them without being seen. All the while uncovering the truth behind the artifacts that the templars are after and what their significance is. 

Since this is an ongoing story, I encourage you to all look into it yourselves if you get the chance, but so much has happened it makes it really hard to summarize it. However, this story and its complexity is key to makes this game so special. 

For one thing, while the game is about killing, it is focused on looking into and removing people that are doing more harm than good. Yet even the Assassin's themselves know what they are doing is considered a crime and don't hold themselves up as heroes. The first ancestor we see, Altair of the Holy Land during the Crusades, discovers that there really isn't much that seperates the Assassin's Order and the Templars save for their beliefs on how society should be run, through control or the free will to choose their own destiny. This is a conversation that would be really neat to discuss in a classroom since there are a lot of books, regarding history or even sci-fi novels such as Fahrenheit 451 which deal with idea of control vs free will. 

Secondly, since this game is based on jumping into different periods of history, the player gets to explore lots of different venues and sneak peak of these famous cities. For example, in the first game, some of the cities the main character must travel too are the city of Jerusalem, Acre and Damascus, observing the rift between the two sides of the current war. In the second game, which takes place during the Italian Renaissance visits places such as Florence, Venice   providing depictions of actual historical landmarks and their significance to the time period. Almost like a tour of the cities without actually having to go. 

Once aspect of the gameplay that was actually introduced in the second game was the proof of how history oriented this game is. There are a series of puzzles located at various historical landmarks which solving provides more information on the central artifacts. However in order to solve these puzzles, you have to recognize and link together certain paintings from the time period with similar motifs, putting together pictures through a rotation circle, and scanning images of historic events for the "Pieces of Eden" (The central artifacts of the game). These puzzles are very thought provoking and very fun to solve. I even found myself recognizing a tone of these pictures from history books that I had seen in High school. As such, I would imagine it would be neat to use that as a method to memorizing  these pictures and their importance to the time period. 

Lastly, the creed of the Assassin Order is also something that is very thought provoking. While you learn in the games that the three major rules of the order is to not kill innocent people, hide in plain site and to not bring harm to the order itself, only one phrase dictates the Assassin's philosophy. "Nothing is true, everything is permitted." At first, I was confused about what this meant but it was later explained in the most recent installment of the series

"To say nothing is true, it is to realize that the foundations of society are fragile, and that we must be the shepherds of our own civilization. To say that everything is permitted, is to understand that we are the architects of our own actions and that we must live with their consequences, whether glorious or tragic" - Ezio Auditore (Desmond's ancestor from the Italian Renaissance). This was a very profound idea to have emerged from a video game story and something that deserves more attention if you ask me. For those of you who are history teachers, even if you can not show clips of this game outright, I would suggest you at least acknowledge it. I hope you liked reading this blog and I hope it gives you a broader horizon on what games can bring to the people that play them ( I know me and my friends have spent hours of speculation on the ties with the historic events and the mysteries that surround the pieces of eden).

Please leave comments, and I hope to post the next one once finals week is over. See you then!

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Comment by Rachael Ward on December 29, 2011 at 11:03pm

Even if you don't have the time to play the game, I would highly recommend looking up video's of it on Youtube. You can check out the various puzzles I mentioned also, like this one for example, http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=iv&src_vid=xImdqlt2wa0&... (sorry for the long URL).

Comment by Susan Stephenson, the Book Chook on December 29, 2011 at 3:06pm

Rachel, I'm sorry it's taken me so long to catch up with this post, because I found it very interesting. I don't know the game Assassin's Creed, am not really a "gamer" but I believe games CAN be great tools for learning, like so much that kids enjoy or are passionate about. I particularly like the sound of the puzzles you mention, and the link with famous artefacts. Hope to read more of your insights! 

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