Many people seem to think history is boring and profess it to be their least favourite subject in school. And yet popular culture is obsessed with historical content! Game of Thrones, Vikings, and The Crown are just a few of the historically themed TV’s shows that have gained enormous popularity in recent years.

So if people are actually incredibly interested in history, what gives? Why do people think it is boring? Perhaps it isn’t history itself that is boring, only the way some people have been taught it.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go back in time to show our students amazing history adventures? (Think Ms. Frizzle and the magic school bus). While that may not be possible, we can have an amazing look into the past using technology.

(image from ubisoft store:

We can use historical media as a way of learning about history. Specifically, we can use historical video games to teach students about history in an interactive (and effective) way! For example, check out this video about the Educational Value of Assassin’s Creed.

For a long time, the Assassin’s Creed series has been about building immersive and accurate historical worlds. The only problem is, they are just a bit violent (to say the least). However, as part of one of their newest game releases Assassins Creed Origins, they have also released their Discovery Tours. These tours give players a chance to walk the streets of ancient Egypt, explore Alexandria and the pyramids, and learn about wildlife and geography. The Discovery feature offers 75 tours guided by historians and Egyptologists.

For students, experiencing the ancient world in this interactive way can be more interesting and effective than just reading a textbook or watching a documentary about what they are studying. You don’t even need to be a teacher or student to appreciate this feature, think of it like an interactive history documentary.

Assassins Creed is not the only game series that can be educational either, this is just one of many amazing options for history education. Strategy games like Age of Empires and Civilization allow players to act out alternate histories.

You may be thinking, “what is the value in learning about an alternate history? Students need to understand historical facts”.

What is important about the role of historical games is the level of choice. When watching a film, students are passive receivers of content.  However, when playing a game students have an active role to play in history. A focus on choice and consequence is an important element of teaching and understanding history, so historical games can be a valuable teaching tool even if they aren’t completely historically accurate. Video games can help us and our students understand why historical events unfolded the way they did by supposing alternate options for what could have happened.

Effective games for learning allow players to experience, virtually, the influence of historical systems on their choices, and allow players to explore and experience the outcomes of those choices in a virtual world. One can play with the past, trying different strategies and observing the different outcomes that followed. This has shown to be true in one university course “Playing With the Past” which uses historical strategy games to teach world history.

You can read blogs written by students who participated in this course here.

How do I implement this?

A frequent concern of teachers who want to implement STEM learning in their classroom is that they aren’t sure how to connect to the curriculum. Implementing STEM learning does not need to look like an 8-week intensive coding bootcamp, STEM tools can be used to supplement some of the awesome lessons you may already be teaching! This is completely true when considering adding video games as a learning tool for your class.

No longer do we need to rely only on reading textbooks or on teachers transmitting their knowledge to their students. Technology can be a powerful tool for student discovery.

Video games have the power to immerse students in far away worlds and allow them to think critically about cause and consequence, think about why historical events unfolded the way they did, and even think about possible alternative outcomes. All of these are critical for historical thinking processes.

When implementing this in your class, remember that not every kid is a gamer. Not all students enjoy playing video games, but they can still be a valuable learning tool. Introduce this as a valuable learning tool for your class, not something only for the gamers (even if the gamers will certainly enjoy this!). The teacher also needs to be an active facilitator and taking note of teachable moments. A video game is not going to teach a class, it requires an awesome teacher to make everything come together! So don’t worry if historical games aren’t completely historically accurate, use these inaccuracies to spark class discussion and analysis.

Bottom line, the more fun learning is, the more students will want to engage in it. Incorporating video games into your history class isn’t just for fun (even though it absolutely will be fun) but it will also be beneficial for student learning. With the power of video games, Ancient worlds no longer need to be limited to the pages of a textbook. And who knows, maybe you’ll inspire a young historian to pursue a career making more amazing historical video games!