Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What Have You Learned?

Everything I know about sailing, I learned from Pirates!

All right, first off: another apology. It has escaped none of my regular readers' notices that I have not posted in 12 days. I was on another of my interminable business trips, this time to the Pacific Northwest. It was a bad time to be taking a break. My blog had its best day ever on Wednesday, August 4, when I had 1,357 visits. This seems to coincide with user Knife_Ninja posting a link in the "gaming" subreddit. As much as I appreciate it, I would suggest regular readers check out the much-underused CRPG subreddit. I really like the comments I get here, but you can't beat Reddit's ability to thread and vote on the comments. Speaking of comments, I have something like 60 over the past 10 days, but I will try to respond to them.

Anyway, I need to get back into Moebius. In the meantime, since my last open-ended question seems to have generated so much discussion, let me try another one: what have you learned, if anything, from CRPGs?

I am partly influenced to ask this question because of a quote in Matt Barton's Dungeons & Desktops (2008), which I wrote about in June. Although I have generally liked this book very much, and relied on it several times, I was moved to uproarious laughter by an early passage:

CRPGs are not only the most fun and addictive type of computer game, but possibly the best learning tool ever designed. They are truly grand adventures with real rewards for dedicated players (p. 3).

It would be one thing if this was just hyperbole (honestly: the best learning tool ever designed?), but far from simple exaggeration, I have to regard this statement as an out-and-out falsehood. I see CRPGs as rewarding in the same way that heroin is rewarding: you feel good while you're doing it. After you've done it, you can't help but think you'd have been better off spending your time and money on something else--and yet, you know you'll be doing it again. Lots. Yes, there is a dark side to the title of my blog.

The second-best learning tool ever designed.

But let's assume for a minute that there is some kernel of truth to Barton's statement. Except for a brief pop psychology reference in the same paragraph, he doesn't really bother to back it up, but I'll proceed on the assumption that he's seeing something that I'm not. What skills have you learned, what talents have you developed, from playing CRPGs?

I've already written about how Ultima IV's virtue system developed my own early pathways into moral thinking, so I'll give CRPGs that. Beyond that, I've racked my brain and I can only think of a few others:

  • I have a basic sense of medieval weaponry and armor. I can walk through the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester and remark to my companion, "that's not a mace; that's a morning star." I know what a coif, greaves, and gauntlets are.
  • My knowledge of monsters in classical mythology has been fleshed out. Of course, I have no idea which monsters come from which mythologies.
  • I can use with confidence a number of terms I might otherwise be uncertain about: charisma, constitution, paladin, bard, necromancer, reagent.
  • I have a sense of the most efficient pathway to find my way through a maze, whether corridors or streets (note: this doesn't come up that often).

I shall escape your hellish subdivision!

That's honestly all I could come up with. When you contrast this with all the things that CRPGs get wrong (e.g., you can't carry six suits of armor at once; sword thrusts almost invariably kill you in real life; you don't actually get stronger and more powerful as you get older), it almost seems like a wash.

I do have to hand it to Pirates!, though. Thanks to that game, and it's excellent manual, I have a general sense of the political situation in the Caribbean from 1560 to 1680, my knowledge of Caribbean geography is encyclopedic, I can identify a sloop from a galleon, and I know how to tack a ship (conceptually, anyway). Too bad it's not a CRPG.

So enlighten me. Make me feel better about my endless slog though CRPGs: what have you learned from these games?


  1. the language. surely a great boost for any non-anglo-american kid.
    for i too now know greaves, gauntlets & all the other lost-in-a-foreign-country-survival-kit words... like ominous, redeem, vanquish and tidings.

    but yeah, if it weren't for rpgs (and books, which, frankly, at certain age mostly served to complement the games ;), learning english would've been much more complicated. and painful.

  2. I think you may underestimate what CRPGs have taught you. Sure, you don't learn any directly applicable skills, but CRPGs require a degree of critical thinking, strategic insight, and basic intelligence to really appreciate. I feel that CRPGs have really shaped my ability to take in a book or movie and enjoy it, but still be able to go back and pick it apart for meaning when I need to.

    And lets not forget the value of having a good sense of the real vs. unreal! Even as a kid I had an ability to disguish between real life and pretend that none of my more television-orienteed peers displayed. I think I owe that to a combination of exposure to CRPGs (and gaming in general) and parents who were paitent about teaching me.

    A couple more things I can toss out off the top of my head:
    * Paitence and an ability to accept less than perfect outcomes and just deal.
    * The ability to approach problems in a logical and systematic way
    * A sense of justice and general belief that good is better than evil
    * A desire to be a hero, even in the little ways.
    * A general thirst for knowledge, as I find myself researching and applying bits of history and mythology in unexpected ways.

  3. Virtues, from Ultima IV. :D

  4. I think the inclination to wonder -- as I often do -- about the applicability and utility of one's experience with games to 'real life' is something of a mistaken enterprise, stemming perhaps from the same contrary impulses that side the games as art debate. That worry is the result of gaming's infancy as a medium and the overwhelming perception by gamers and non-gamers alike that it *is* simply a diversion -- even if a fun diversion -- more akin, as you say, to heroin than to literature or film. The latter, typically, require less justification -- the nagging feeling of 'I could be doing something more productive with my time' doesn't haunt you when you sit down to read Moby Dick, for instance (well, maybe it does).

    While games may not have challenged the greats of other respective media and beaten them at their own game -- I tend to think that attempting that kind of comparison is foolish for two reasons: 1. gaming is in its infancy: we are witnessing only the first steps of something great, I think -- and look at what *has* been accomplished so far. 2. As I understand it, the artistic value of games are not in the depth of their story lines, moral efficacy, applied pedagogy, what have you, but in their totally unique mechanism of interaction with the player and the whole system of multiple-texts that co-exist within a single product.

    This is the most important aspect, I feel is so often overlooked. The art of games (and thus their current perceived inferiority or failure) is not in their ability to teach us history, myth, etc, but in their raw and powerful means of involving us in their worlds in so profound a way. That's why I think the fairy-tale/D&D archetype worlds of RPGS (western and eastern) are so captivating -- and why, to a degree, they don't get old. (Not to say, of course, that unlike any other medium, games somehow has a profusion of excellent product -- only a few are the best).

    That said -- I find I cannot say what precisely games have taught me, but I feel this may be because they have impacted me on a deeper level. (Please freely interchange CRPG wherever I've written game, by the way!) Experiencing the Infinity Engine games I consider to have have contributed foundationally, fundamentally to who I am, in almost every possible way (or perhaps the reverse, that something of myself saw its mirror in the experience of that universe). And I don't think it's possible to avoid noting that fantasy has something to do with it -- but I don't think either that this can be dismissed. It taps something elemental in us, I think -- considering that it forms but the latest manifestation of our most venerable storytelling tradition -- and that sort of connection (from The Odyssey to Ultima) I view as inherently legitimate and justifying. (Cont'd below...)

  5. .

    Playing CRPGS is about more than fun or learning, to me -- and while I wouldn't go so far as Barton to suggest their mastery of pedagogy (though I think there is definitely something to that [have you ever read www.thebrainygamer.com?]) -- the combination of ancient roots, a profundity of personal involvement in text -- the power of the medium and the pull of fantasy are the lure -- strong and worthwhile ones, not to be written off as mere distraction.

    Imagine that the same was once said of Shakespeare -- even if games now are only the equivalent of his distant morality play antecedents. Or, to the great leveler -- as Wilde says "All art is quite useless."

    More than anything, though, it was the beauty of those Infinity Engine games that took hold of me. It made life seem deeper, richer, more full of possibility, hyperbolic and comical as it might be.

    Save the world itself, which we often have the misfortune of neglecting or being denied -- in a post-modern world, that is -- nothing compares, for me, to the beauty of the wind howling through the Vale of Shadows in Icewind Dale, as burgeoning heroes' boots tromp through snow and ice long untouched. CRPGS, supreme among games, are about the awakening of mortal, post-modern man's fantasy.

    (Sorry about the length of this; my sincere thanks if you've taken the time to read it. Loving the blog by the way!)

  6. I agree that Matt Barton's statement is hyperbolic, but CRPGs have had more value for me than pure entertainment.

    There are two kinds of learning, in my mind- the acquisition of knowledge, and the development of personal traits. While I've learned a lot of useful knowledge from games, the utility of that knowledge in life has done more to enrich me (like knowing about mythological monsters, and weapons, etc) than to assist me in any practical way. I'd never claim that learning to distinguish claymores and longswords is useful, but I enjoy developing that knowledge, so I don't consider it wasted mental energy.

    CRPGs prompted me to go beyond the information presented in the game, and look into things on my own- usually, for instance, I actually can trace the mythological origins of a traditional monster. So in that sense, CRPGs helped me keep from losing the motivation to learn- a motivation that otherwise might have been scoured from me.

    Learning and developing personal characteristics is quite another matter, though. Here CRPGS have brought real benefits to me.

    I've primarily benefited by learning persistence, strategy, and problem solving.

    Consider a challenging fight- say, Sarevok, from BG1. I found Sarevok to be tremendously difficult to overcome. But I was enjoying the game, and was invested in completing it- rather than giving up in frustration, I kept trying, over and over, until I won.

    Persistence is an invaluable trait, and one that can be trained by playing games like CRPGs. When your goal is in sight, keep trying until you get it- don't stop at the first complication. In real life, things almost never work out on the first try, and if you give up after that first shot, you won't achieve much.

    In the end, if I had just kept slogging away at Sarevok, using the same approach every time, I'd still be at it now. Each failure became a probe, to test for weaknesses. Each attempt became the trial of a new strategy- new spells, new tactics. I had to think critically about the problem, had to approach it from different angles. Every CRPG combat, especially in the old turn based ones where you have time to think, is an abstracted decision-making training system that teaches you to evaluate risk, rewards, to weigh alternatives- with all those spell slots, weapons, and inventory items, there are many, many alternatives- and to attack from new angles. This trains the mind to think in ways that benefit all other aspects of life, professional and otherwise.

    I often feel tempted to overstate the benefits my hobbies have had for me, because most of my family members don't 'get' why I enjoy this hobby. When justifying my hobby, it's on the defensive. But I don't think I've overstated these benefits. CRPGs may not, in truth, be the best learning tool ever created, but they have had a positive impact on me.

    However, in the end, I don't play CRPGs with the intent to train my persistence and problem solving, I do it because I enjoy them very much.

    (Fortunately, my wife does get it. Even though she is not as consumed by CRPGs as I am, she loves them too- the greatest moment of her CRPG career was when she enhanced her Morrowind Khajiit assassin to the point that she could escape guards by vaulting clear over the city wall. She also plays in my paper and pencil D&D group. I married well.)

    1. I love your comment!
      It resonates with my inner feelings by 99%.
      Congratulations on your spouse, by the way :-)

  7. I also wholeheartedly second Fieldmouse's comments on the value and power of CRPGs, aside from any other learning benefit.

  8. I learnt about inventory management, which is great when you have a small car, wife, two baby boys, dog and more luggage to pack than will fit in the car.

  9. Well, some interesting responses. I agree that the question itself is a bit flawed. One does not play CRPGs primarily to "learn" from them. Perhaps I should have asked more broadly, what have you gotten out of CRPGs?

    There's no "right" answer, and it's entirely possible that CRPGs have enriched some of your lives in ways they have not enriched mine, and vice versa. I have trouble buying some of the more abstract benefits, such as persistence and problem-solving, but I hope it's true that they have helped you in this way.

    I guess the question for me becomes: do the benefits they offer outweigh the time involved to obtain them? Think of the 50 hours I spent on Might & Magic. In that time, I could have watched 25 films, read Shakespeare's entire catalog, written four or five chapters of a book, gotten a fraction closer to piano mastery, listened to hundreds of jazz recordings, learned the preterit tense in Spanish...I could go on and on.

    Then again, even if CRPGs are simply mindless entertainment (I'm not saying they are, just even if they were), we need to make room for such things in our lives. No one spends 24 hours a day doing things that are continually enriching. I justify my time with CRPGs by noting that I don't watch TV, I don't have time-consuming hobbies like model trains, and I don't follow any sports. With those omissions, I dare say the time I waste on frivolities is about on par with everyone else.

    1. I guess I'm just a junkie wasting my life, but I'm fine with that. I pushed gaming aside in my life for decades, for mostly good reasons. I am immensely grateful to be able to devote most of my free time to it now. I have zero feeling that I ought to be doing something more productive or edifying. People feel urgency to do that stuff because one has only so much time on earth. Well, I feel that way about games. I've only got so much time, so why blow it on other things when I could be gaming. Perhaps this attitude makes me morally deficient. Again, fine by me.

  10. as for those "abstract benefits" (persistence and problem-solving), these're notoriously abundant in strategic games.

    there were numerous times irl when i realised a problem/obstacle that'd been bugging me didn't need to bug me forever and could be easily circumvented or even eliminated by a relatively simple shift in attitude (tactics ;).

    like when you find yourself in the middle of a starcraft mission, failing for the tenth time to acquire that artifact with yet another silly wave of 10 expensive protoss colossi. :)
    you scratch your head and think "hell man, musta bin doin it all wrong" and you then go and warp in a neat dark templar commando supported by an air unit or two. and there you go, like knife through butter.
    or to know, when to move on and expand, take another mineral field, start up a new colony, when to stop micromanaging and adapt to a larger scope. but that's other games already.

    then you always have chess... ;)

    (but i'm sure many of these scenarios do appear in good rpgs too, though mostly not in such a 'distilled' form)

  11. CRPG Addict said:
    "I guess the question for me becomes: do the benefits they offer outweigh the time involved to obtain them? Think of the 50 hours I spent on Might & Magic. In that time, I could have watched 25 films, read Shakespeare's entire catalog, written four or five chapters of a book, gotten a fraction closer to piano mastery, listened to hundreds of jazz recordings, learned the preterit tense in Spanish..."

    I guess what it really boils down to is that I don't see how any of these activities as more enriching than playing a game. In the end, it is all the same.

  12. The statement that playing CRPGs is on par with what everyone else does with their free time is very true and very applicable to this topic.

    The average person watchs some 40-odd hours of television a week, most of that is just random sitcoms and reality TV that has no value whatsoever. I think you could probably make a reasonable argument that playing a CRPG is at the very least more engaging to your brain than watching TV. However, on the grand scale of "things I could do that might enrich my life", playing games is still pretty low.

    In the end, however, it boils down to what your personal theshold for work and learning is. You also have to ask yourself what good learning a new skill or trade will do in the grand scheme of things. I could read the collected works of Shakespear, or try to pick up a new language, or try to learn a musical instrument, but what benefit would I really get out of doing any of those things versus any other thing?

    I know from personal experience (10 years of higher education) that education in general doesn't necessarily get you anywhere. And often in life, things like who you know and how you look can carry you farther than what you know anyway... Life is far too fickle and varied to place some sort of tangible weight on what you choose to do with it. I think it's also pretty true that where you end up in life is based on a great deal of luck and your basic, born-with personality and genetics, and has very little to do with what you actually did.

    But then, I am a fairly cynical person. I will admit that some of the more successful people you will see in life are people who work hard for it every day, and carry with them an attitude that they can do whatever they set their mind to.

    I've gotten too far off topic though, and I apologize.

  13. "You also have to ask yourself what good learning a new skill or trade will do in the grand scheme of things. I could read the collected works of Shakespear, or try to pick up a new language, or try to learn a musical instrument, but what benefit would I really get out of doing any of those things versus any other thing?"

    Well, I will say that girls tend to be more impressed with all of those things than they are with one's CRPG mastery.

    1. Ah, now we're getting to the real motivation for all that edification. Lucky for me that I'm old and unattractive so I don't have to worry about women anymore.

  14. yeah :)), but once you're not exactly on the hunt... interesting point of view there anyway, leviathan.

  15. You may be interested to hear Matt Barton's further explanation of his claim that RPGs are excellent learning tools- he's started a podcast (so far only one episode) but at about eight minutes in, he says that he did not adequately defend his point and gives some clarification of what he meant.


    It's about 8 minutes in, but the gist of it is that CRPGs train one to try new strategies and refine one's approach to problems, which will result in better solutions. While I still find his claim extravagant, I also agree with the benefits he claims.

  16. Oh, dear. I listened for a while. It still strikes me as so much wishful thinking. I'll believe it when there's peer-reviewed research on it.

    I'm willing to allow that CRPGs deliver some modicum of problem-solving skill or non-linear thinking ability, but not nearly as well as a lot of other things you could be doing instead.

    I spent most of yesterday playing "Rings of Zilfin." I had fun, and I got a couple of blog postings out of it, but there's simply no way you're going to convince me that my life wouldn't be measurably better if I had spent that day on my PhD dissertation, practicing the piano, hiking, or investing in one of a hundred work-related projects.

    I'm not knocking the value of things that feel good in the moment. We all indulge in plenty of them (although none quite as time-consuming as CPRGs). I'm not going to give up CRPGs any more than I'm going to give up vodka gimlets, filets mignon, or re-reading "The Song of Ice and Fire" once a year until George R. R. Martin finally publishes a new book. I just don't try to convince myself that any of these things are honestly enriching my life in the long-term.

  17. Fair enough- but regardless of how the argument holds up, it's certainly interesting to see how Barton clarified his claims.

    It definitely would be interesting to see some real research on the impact of gaming on the development of mental skills and disciplines- Barton does not cite any. Probably there has not been any. I am sure such research would find that CRPGs are not devoid of benefit, though of course you are right that they are hardly the best way to develop new skills and attributes. And the benefits they confer probably are slight- I just don't think they are absent.

    They are also rather more fun than other, more effective methods. Enjoyment is a benefit.

    I'm very interested to hear about your experiences with the next few games, by the way. You're about to hit a few more that I remember well.

  18. "I just don't try to convince myself that any of these things are honestly enriching my life in the long-term."

    Does anything? In my opinion, only when we decide it does. We call something enriching so that we feel good about doing it.

    Art, sex, love, friendship: none of these will make your life any better unless you make up your mind that your life is better because of them.

    Objectively speaking, there is no long term enrichment if you consider any term longer than 80 years or so (unless we see significant advances in life extension in that time or subscribe to theories or reincarnation etc).

  19. Oh, it's probably no use prolonging this, but I'll take another stab at it. While I understand what Anonymous is saying above...I don't quite buy it. Sure, we're all going to die some day, and I don't suppose at that point it matters so much how we spent our lives, but assuming we all want to get some satisfaction out of life, it seems to me we need to prioritize how we spend our time and energy. There are maybe four levels to consider, in order of desirability:

    1. THINGS THAT FEEL GOOD AT THE TIME BUT ULTIMATELY HURT US. Heroin, crime, marital infidelity, etc.

    2. THINGS THAT FEEL GOOD AT THE TIME BUT PROVIDE NO LASTING BENEFIT. Most television, mindless web surfing, laying around on your couch.

    3. THINGS THAT WE ENJOY AND HAVE A "VALUE ADDED" BENEFIT. If we watch a good movie, we have something interesting to talk about with other people, understand cultural references, etc. Taking dancing lessons allows us to enjoy ourselves more at clubs. Travel provides nice memories, souvenirs, conversations with others, etc.

    4. THINGS THAT PROVIDE A CONTINUOUS BENEFIT. Things like exercise, getting enough sleep, education, accumulating experiences are like raising your ability scores in CRPGS: they affect everything you do in life, usually for the better.

    The secret to life is probably not to channel everything into 3 and 4 but to maintain a healthy balance between 2, 3, and 4. One might suggest that the amount of time I spend on CRPGs precludes a healthy balance. On the other hand, I do plenty of stuff in the areas of 3 and 4 anyway, so maybe I worry over nothing.

    1. 3. THINGS THAT WE ENJOY AND HAVE A "VALUE ADDED" BENEFIT. If we watch a good movie, we have something interesting to talk about with other people, understand cultural references, etc.

      You obviously have lots of interesting things to talk about, or else nobody would be reading your blog. I think, at a minimum, you've raised your CRPGing to this level.

      Also, I can say with confidence that my own gaming through the years (at least a third of which has been RPGs) has done me more good in critical thinking, mental math, information processing (significantly improved reading speed and comprehension, analyzing lists of numbers, etc.) than... let's just say enough college to have multiple degrees, not to mention being significantly cheaper. And being more fun has got to be at least an added bonus.

  20. I may be a little late in coming to this, but here goes.

    In general, CRPGs don't really try to "teach" anything, but there is one thing they expect of players; Patience.

    Back in the day, the player was expected to make their own maps of dungeons, game worlds, etc. This was such "en vogue" thinking at the time that some of the early CRPGs, like the Wizardry games, would include graph paper in the game box. How nice of them.

    By the time I reached my teenage years and was getting into CRPGs, I avoided CRPGs that went strictly with this line of thinking. To me, drawing one's own maps by hand was a chore. I personally found it kind of insulting that a game developer would expect such things when other games had in-game maps. :P But, that's early-teen thinking for you. Back in that day, a gamer 3-4 years older might've considered me impatient or something.

    I obviously wasn't alone or automaps wouldn't be the staple of today's time. Don't let anyone tell you that impatient players who expect instant gratification are a sign of today's times. Impatient game players have been around well before even my generation. It's just that we've only recently gotten smart enough to see what's going on. The only things that have really changed are the tools of the trade, so to speak.

    Today, I see players whine about getting killed in an easy game like Morrowind because they didn't bother to try and work on character skills. Hence, so many modern CRPGs have this debatable thing called level scaling. I shake my head at such things, but I am at least wise enough to see what's going on. The cycle is just continuing itself. I still refuse to sit down and draw my own maps of some game. :P Ironic? Perhaps.

    If anything CRPGs have taught me, it's that people and game markets actually don't change as fast as what 99% of people think. As ironic as it sounds, sometimes it seems like the world is wise, it's just people that are stupid.

    I see people in their early 20s going nuts over games that were "the thing" back when I was like 14-15 years old. I see people from a generation way after me making tons of "playthrough" videos on games that an "expert" might say they shouldn't be interested in, like old NES games. Yet, YouTube has more such videos than one might imagine. Yet, game makers struggle endlessly with what they percieve as an ever-changing market.

    As icing on the cake, here's some triva which might even help make the point;

    What existed first?
    1. Darth Vader
    2. Saturday Night Fever (yep, the disco movie)
    3. An online multiplayer CRPG

  21. I gotta question your logic in your last response, Addict. In "category 3" you say, "If we watch a good movie, we have something interesting to talk about with other people, understand cultural references, etc." Later, you say, "on the other hand, I do plenty of stuff in areas 3 and 4 anyway..." So I'm assuming you don't include CRPGs in either of those categories.

    Firstly - you mentioned earlier that you got 60 comments in one day regarding this blog. Seems to me you must have something pretty interesting to talk about with other people right here.

    I don't know if you would remove these games from inclusion in what you consider "cultural references", but speaking as someone in the film industry, I can tell you that video games have surpassed film in audience and revenue both - pretty much by any metric, really. For better or worse, video games are the center of cultural reference for the foreseeable future.

    And bottomline, I have to agree with what Ethan said above. The value of any activity is subjective. You've mentioned learning the piano several times and if that's something you have a passion for, or something you see as a potential window for gain (e.g. you intend to start a band with piano as your instrument of choice) then, of course, spending time learning to play the piano is of value. If not... why do you deem the pursuit any more worthy than what you're doing here? What base application does the skill of piano playing have in your life?

  22. 1. Tossing raw meat at a wild animal may tame it. = Tossing beef jerky at a stray dog may cause it to follow you panting and wagging its tail instead of barking and biting you.

    2. High charisma and appearance attributes may get you a lot of gold pieces, and get you into places more easily, but often doesn't really matter in the end.

    3. Most fights occur (or at least get serious) at very close range. Longarms are very difficult to use at very close range. Furthermore, most shots that are fired in combat miss their target, even when they're close. Never think of any weapon as a magic guarantee of victory.

    4. Even in a world with nukes, a club is a timeless weapon that can still bash someone as well as it could 200,000 years ago.

    5. Sometimes you need a wizard, sometimes you need a warrior. You might not know which you are going to need in advance. Best to have both with you. Teamwork rules.

    6. If you practice a skill, even though you don't need it now, it'll be really handy when you do need it.

    I won't bother to go on about the quantity of books that I've read based on something from a game, or how I chose to study history, statistics, economics, and psychology while other people chose to watch football and drama shows. Why mention concepts of ethics or morals, religion and philosophy, or governmental structure, while others choose game shows and reality TV?

    Maybe I could've learned the preterit tense in Spanish. Chances are that instead I would've learned which celebrity won some award.

    Not to be snotty, but I think that games affect the way people see the world, and how serious they are about it. Games put you in the story, making the story, being the story. Most people seem to just watch the story and talk about it.

  23. A little off genre, but Age of Empires (I know it's a RTS not a CRPG) had a fantastic write up and history on every one of the many different "Cultures" you could play, it was historically accurate and well researched. I am a bit of a history buff, and I can honestly say I learned a lot about the early civilizations such as the "Hittite" and "Minoans" from that game.

  24. I agree--simulation and strategy games teach you an awful lot. CRPGs are probably somewhere in the middle. Action games probably teach the least.

    1. What it does not teach, it trains...

    2. Or it gets you a job piloting drones to kill Pashtuns who may or may not have anything to do with the Taliban.

  25. I don't know how much I've learned from CRPGs, but a significant amount of my Canadian geography comes from Cross Country Canada, an old game my elementary school kept on its computers- I'm the only one I know who finished the game with it set to 9 cargos and got the bonus cargo. I even had to order a cargo from Churchhill since it could only be reached by train...

  26. That sounds suspiciously like an educational game.

  27. It might have been, I just remember it as the game we played when the teachers were not looking. I think it would have worked just as well if you had made a Civilization mod using a map of Canada and blocked random maps though. Or used Canada as the worldmap in a CRPG.

    1. I actually played a crpg all about John Cabot that taught me all about him when I was in school, it was an educational game but was just like the real thing, except I don't think the Matthew was really attacked by a giant squid.

  28. That's actually not a bad idea. If you used real countries as worldmaps for CRPGs, players might learn a thing or do.

    There's a lot you could do with this idea: reagents that are actual elements, plots and NPCs drawn from famous works of literature, puzzles that require trigonometry...

    1. That sounds like what "Vampire: The Masquerade- Bloodlines" did.

    2. I remember Mystical Ninja Goemon (which was something of a hybrid of Zelda-esque action RPG and 3D platformer) on the N64 used a couple of the major Japanese islands as the world map, with districts, major cities, general geography and a number of places of interest in the right place. I can still remember a fair bit of it from that.

      One NPC even explicitly says you can learn about Japan while playing...

  29. Pokemon games use Japan as their worldmaps:


    1. Speaking of that, Persona has a plethora of summons that are based on real world mythologies. The amount of research they went through must be astounding. Also, Digital Devil Saga is deeply rooted in Hindu Mysticism.

      Heck, I learnt loads of stuff (that I can't apply but could impress them New Age ladies) with my knowledge on Svadisthana Chakra.

  30. I was thinking that Deterministic Finite Automata (DFAs) would make for a fun logic game.

  31. |{P}|sez:
    Worchester, that town's wiiiiiicked gangsta braugh. You shud hed ova ta Marlborough. They got some wicked pizza in there "downtown".

    Learnin' things in a game? I don't even learn things from books, braugh...

  32. .....
    I have no idea how to respond to that.

  33. Yeah, I've been getting a few odd ones lately. However, I can confirm that Worcester is, in fact, "wiiiicked gangsta." Braugh.

  34. Yo! Sorry about the language. I try to communicate in the "local flair" as much as possible when on the WAN. Personally, I'm originally from Texas, so I say "dude" more than "braugh" and "totally" more than "wicked". It's kind of a Cali dialect with another accent and you say "Yup" a bunch.

    Anyway, I'm living in Illinois currently and near Bloomington, which I found out was once home of GDI, makers of the "Space 1889" role-playing game.

    It's more of a war game, but read this from the intro to the manual:
    "The Essence of Space: 1889 is a melding of science fiction with the colonial adveturism of the Victorian Era."

    That just sounds wiiiicked dope to me, as far as a plot goes. "Alien Livingston, I persume, braugh?"

    Anyway, check out this RPG from Gary Gygax (co-creator of D&D), check out the cover art, it's HILLarious:

  35. Man, I've glanced through Cyborg Commando and I have no idea what he was thinking. I mean, sure, Gygax was never great at writing rules, but wow. I guess everybody writes at least one turkey.

  36. The Ardennes Offensive was an interesting concept with a terrible AI, but it included write-ups of the history of World War II that were extremely well-written and interesting accounts. I learned a lot about the war. More importantly, that game is where I first learned that I DIDN'T hate history, as I thought I did, but rather that I didn't enjoy the way it had been taught to me in the past. This is another example of a non-CRPG, of course, but there are other, less striking examples from all kinds of CRPGs. I can't count the number of times some aspect of a CRPG has intrigued me enough to go find out more about the subject in real life.

    I consider the benefits of CRPGs to be on par with the benefits of reading genre novels. Some are trash and worthless. Others are philosophically broadening, opening your mind to possibilities. Some few actually teach you something concrete and useful in modern life, but that's definitely an exception. The primary benefits, IMNSHO, are philosophical, be it mind-expansion (do we have the right to treat rocks as fuel even though they could be aliens?), or simple relaxation (which is NOT valueless!).

  37. Not that I imagine "Anonymous Braugh" will be likely to see this, but I find it funny that he now lives near my hometown (Normal, not Bloomington, but, same thing). And that is GDW, not GDI, and they also made Traveller, which of course became the MegaTraveller CRPG series. Not to mention Twilight: 2000, which became its own game in some ways very reminiscent of MegaTraveller but not nearly as seemingly fun.

  38. "I shall escape your hellish subdivision!"

    I spit out my coffee on this one. Gold. Pure gold!

  39. I've learned what entropy is from Planescape: Torment :)

  40. I'm surprised I didn't join in this discussion earlier.

    For me, I've learned:
    1) Basic Norse Mythology (Oubliette).
    2) Basic Greek Mythology (D&D).
    3) Basic cartography (Might & Magic).
    4) Basic critical thinking (Wasteland).
    5) Crisis management (Wizardry).
    6) Simple resource allocation (All).
    7) Basic Probability & Statistics (All).
    8) Pop-culture (Wasteland).
    9) Risk-taking (All).
    10) Karma (Ultima).
    11) How to expand my imagination (All).
    12) Simple Lock-picking with paper-clip (Keef The Thief).
    13) Common sense (All).
    14) Empathy (Might & Magic).

    And many more. The only times I ever regretted playing an RPG was when the quality (terrible plot and/or bugs) was totally crap. There is no better way to learn something new than when you're having fun at the same time.

  41. Didn't CRPGs help you improve your map-making skills to an extent? I could imagine that a relatively young CRPG player might also learn some vocabulary from the medium.

    I think that this can be an interesting topic, though. In response to your knowledge of mythology being increased, there's a series (called Shin Megami Tensei) that is kind of based around this. You get to recruit figures from various religions and mythologies, which the games offer relatively detailed descriptions of. (The first two games analyse the fundamentals of Christianity in a well-executed manner). I think the Fallout games could also be a good contender for this to an extent.

    Anyway, a list:
    -Terranigma (and Uncharted Waters: New Horizon, to an extent taught me about the general geography of the world, new places I had ont heard of (like "Mu", which was apparently a real historical place), the Three Laws of Robotics and various historical figures, such as Edison and Columbus (although I could have sworn the guy behind bulbs was called Eddy since that was his in-game name due to space limitations).
    -I do not know if it counts as learning something, but they have increased my ability to solve puzzles somewhat.
    -Times on a clock are used to refer north/south/west/east on a ship (12 o' clock = north, for example) since the ship is constantly moving (or at least I think it is. There was an RPG that did this since it took place on a huge ship, but I can't reccal if it's a real-life thing).
    -This is more games in generals rather than simply CRPGs, but they also sparked my desire to create sprites/pixel graphics and music.
    -My skills with algorithms and flow-charts were also made better with CRPGs.

    You could argue about whether some of those are useful, though. For example, how would I benefit from knowing more characters from mythology or that Edison invented the light bulb when it wouldn't affect my life in any significant way (or how would knowing the history of the Carribean from Pirates be useful to you)?

    I think I lost myself and forgot what my original point was. Whoops.

  42. I agree with many of the comments posted on this interesting subject. It is surprising the things you can learn from playing computer games not just CRPGs. One I would like to add which may resonate with some readers of a certain age (I'm 47) is that the primary reason I can type fast can be traced all the way back to when I was a young teenager playing infocom's text adventures on my C64! (I played a lot of them). When colleagues at work ask 'where on earth did you learn to type so fast?' I always get a pang of nostalgia when I tell them the answer..

  43. I would argue that the premise that "CRPGs are the greatest learning tool ever" in that book was ahead of its time (probably unbeknownst to the author, though). Namely, if it's not necessarily applied to the various Ultimas, Wizardrys, Elder Scrolls etc., but rather to the general idea of gamification. It's a different discussion, but the maybe most important element of CRPGs is the development of your own character, accumulating wealth and power, seeing them grow and grow. And that part is an incredibly motivational element - you could pair it with any kind of content and make powerful education out of it. There's a difference between reading a history book and playing This War Of Mine, for instance. (Again, I'm not sure that the author was actually going for this direction, but I haven't seen it brought up in the entire discussion.)


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