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Gaming and the Quest for Knowledge

June 21st, 2005 by Troy Goodfellow · No Comments · Uncategorized

Does this sound like you?

One test of how well you connect with a game like this is how much it makes you want to read background material.”

When I read this line in Bruce Geryk’s review of recent submarine games (Computer Games Magazine, July 2005, pg 65), I smiled at the apt phrase and moved on. His reviews are usually full of gems like this. His review of Gary Grigsby’s World at War in the same issue, for example, likens it to a “handful of clumsy dice.” But the truth of the book quote was only hammered into me this afternoon.

The same friend who had all those problems with Pirates a while ago is now playing Rome: Total War based on my recommendation. This time he borrowed my copy for testing before buying his own. (A wise move, even though he eventually got Pirates working.) He is now in the middle of reading a novelization of the rise of Caesar and is asking me for recommendations on other books to read about the period. This was the second time in the day that I was pressed for recommendations on Roman history to read but the only time that I could trace the renewed interest to a game.

He is loving Rome, obviously, but he is moving beyond just the game to want to know more about the society, the politics and the war. I mentioned in passing that the dictator Sulla died of natural causes in retirement and he asked the perceptive question of whether or not Caesar would have eventually retired.

Now I am thinking back to all the games I’ve played that have led me to read more about the period. I know that Europa Universalis got me interested in the Thirty Year’s War, as well as conquistadors, and my hours with Sid Meier’s Gettysburg were followed by binging on books about the American Civil War.

Since I devour strategy games at a pretty good pace, you can probably guess that I already have an interest in history – especially military and political history. (Nothing against social history. But my tastes have always been pretty conservative even if my politics aren’t.) But not every game send me to the library. Shogun did not inspire an interest in Tokugawan Japan and Age of Kings certainly didn’t make me interested in castles and knights.

Sometimes, as Geryk says, a game just strikes the right note and you want to learn more. It has happened to me outside of the strategy arena. Though I’ve always been a baseball fan, I remember Oldtime Baseball inspiring my love of baseball history. I just had to know who all these dead guys were. And that was just a stats pack for Tony LaRussa Baseball when it came down to it. I connected with Oldtime Baseball, though, in a way that I have with few action sports titles since.

As a strategy consumer, I am going to suggest that developers of historical strategy games include a recommended reading list to go with their games. That would save me bugging my friends for recommendations on Operation Barbarossa.


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