Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Learning Game

Video games have come a long way from their cliché driving enigmas of wasting time, energy and making the world an anti-social place. In fact, they've proven to be just the opposite however some are still divided between the paradigms of the thinkers and the doers, with video games being on the cerebral side of things while doing things in the real world counts as real reality. Thinkers versus the doers however it is important to remember that every do is the result of a thought. So it doesn't hurt to sharpen that ticker of ours in a virtual way and video games are perfect for the job, complementing other mediums like film, television and books. Though keep in mind, its always good to balance your lifestyle with a bit of physical activity and there are certainly many games that up for the job of helping you to get and keeping you fit.

Ubisoft's Just Dance 2018
Ubisoft Just Dance series comes to mind for that task. As more devices arrive that get us physically involved in the game world, the fitness level of gamers (both mentally and physically) will likely be positively affected everywhere. Not to mention the merits of physiotherapy for those who are differently abled. Currently existing devices on consoles such as Microsoft's Kinect and Nintendo's Wii series of consoles do much in this way to get players active. Perhaps as recognition technology and computer power advances, our webcams will play a much bigger role in terms of interactivity and as input devices for physical gaming.

Perhaps in the near future, we'll see virtual reality become an avenue for virtual instruction as the technology spreads and is more affordable to a wider audience. For now and for years though we've had video games and they certainly have never been slouches as teachers. When using video games as an instructional tool do remember to keep in mind that you might have to fact check every once in a while. With that said, here's a list of some of the best video games that come to mind when it comes to learning knowledge, a physical skill or practical applications of what you've learned by playing.

This ongoing article will be available from the Articles section of this site and will in all hopes continue to grow.

The majority of games in this list are those with which I've personally had experience or those that come highly recommended.

Sid Meier's Civilization or Steam

Sid Meier's Civilization VI
This has to be the grand daddy of all games in which you can learn a bit about history and actually change its course. In playing Sid Meier's Civilization you'll learn about the interconnectedness and interdependence of humanity's knowledge and progress as well as politics, diplomacy, strategy, civic management and goal setting.

The game pits players as the leaders of their own Civilization (from a selection of different Civilizations) who must acquire land and the resources upon them, while developing their knowledge to produce and support their ever growing population.

The game ends when the first Civilization develops the technology to build and launch a Space Craft to the nearest neighbouring star Alpha Centauri. Meanwhile you'll be competing against a host of other players, possibly both human and computer controlled AI opponents with whom you may choose to form alliances or wage war.

You're also able to forge treaties that allow your civilizations to work together for your mutual benefit. Keep in mind that this is a turn based strategy game and might not be for all players. If you enjoyed board games like Chess, Checkers, Risk or Axis and Allies, then you'll likely enjoy Civilization. The game also eases players into the role of leader with advisors who tutor you along the way.

What you'll learn

  • History galore with inspiring quotes by the people who made it possible
  • Interdependence of complex systems (think of Jame's Burke's Connections on energy drinks)
  • Macro management on a civilization wide scale
  • Diplomacy and the art of the deal
  • Sociological concepts
  • Strategic concepts
  • Borders may limit the movement of people but they don't limit the movement of ideas
  • A lot of stuff happened in a considerably short period of time in Earth's multi-billion year history
  • Worldliness is next to Cleanliness (which apparently is next to Godliness)

Similar games include: Supreme Ruler Ultimate, Europa Universalis IV, Oriental Empires

Sim City on EA Origin

Another one of the first simulations and the grand daddy of city simulations is Maxis Sim City. It has come a long way since the old days both simulation wise and graphically. In Sim City, you are the Mayor of a City that you create from the ground up, meaning the water, sewage and drainage pipes that keep your city sanitary to the hydro lines that keep your city powered. You're also in charge of laying down the roads that allow your citizens (Sims) to navigate the city. Once you've got some roads down, then your task is to zone different parts of the city for development by builders. You can select from industrial zoning which provides work for many of your sims. Commercial zoning gives them places to shop or offices from which to work. Finally you have residential zoning which of course allows builders to build homes and communities for your Sims to live. As your city grows, you'll have to set the tax rate, build hospitals, fire stations, police stations and other services and utilities to accommodate this growth. Excellent for anyone who wants to understand what goes into running and managing a city.

What you'll learn

  • Civic planning: manage the layout of your own city
  • Zoning: lay down the ground work for how your city expands in terms of residential areas, industrial areas and commercial areas
  • Financial planning: lay down the budget (including taxes) for an entire city
  • Essential services: manage the city's essential services and work force
  • Solving real world problems (pollution, traffic, crime) with your city's resources

Similar games include: Cities: Skylines, Cities In Motion 2, Cities XXL, Settlers Online

Kerbal Space Program on Steam

Kerbal is relatively new on the block and is perhaps one of the best space sims to come along in a long time.

Kerbal presents an alternate reality with a planet similar to our own called Kerbin that is inhabited by Kerbals, cute looking bug eyed characters that resemble the designs of Matt Groenig.

Kerbals have just developed to the point that they are looking to explore their solar system and are on the brink of developing their own Space Program and that is where you come in. As the player you'll be in charge of researching, designing and building a variety of space craft, acquiring Science (the currency of knowledge and progress in the game) with the goal of landing Kerbals on the Mun (their version of the Moon).

The construction of space craft is intuitive and versatile allowing the player to explore many possible designs from a variety of different parts that they must unlock by purchasing them with the Science they've earned by experimentation. The program really shines in its accurate physics modeling of space flight along with real world challenges that real astronauts must deal with in every mission.

Everything from the fuel consumed during launch and the reduction in the space craft's weight as fuel is consumed to the torque and gimbal mechanisms are factored in making every launch realistic. Consider also that the engineering challenges are that you must get your Kerbals back to safety regardless of whether your mission is a success or not as you do have a finite crew from which to draw. Some people might be turned off by the cutesy graphics of this game but suffice it to say that this game is played by everyone from ten year old rocketry geniuses to real Astrophysics Engineers.
If that isn't an endorsement I don't know what is.

The game is open ended so it doesn't end when you reach the Mun. You can keep on going and develop missions to any of the other planets in the Kerbin Solar System. You can even develop a Space Station Program and any number of other goals. Its really up to you giving this one tremendous re-playability. It also sports one of the most dedicated modding communities this side of Skyrim.

What you'll learn

  • Kerbals much like Earthlings, are pretty spirited and resilient
  • Physics: You'll learn intuitively and graphically about the principles of rocketry and astrophysics
  • Numbers: If you love numbers, you can actually get at them and calculate many of the game's systems on a calculator much like the Apollo Astronauts did on paper using calculus, but you don't have to. Remember that the task is to get the Kerbal's safely to the Mun.
  • Modular Systems: everything in Kerbal is modular and thinking in these terms will help you plan and manage your missions efficiently not to mention that you'll be able to handle much more than you would otherwise
  • Financial Planning and Budget Management: You're running a space agency and one of the tasks is to balance the budget maximizing your income for the greatest return of science
  • Design: You'll be designing and testing aircraft and spacecraft in perhaps one of the greatest design and test sandboxes ever made
  • Always carry a towel with you

Similar games include: Simple Planes, Take On Mars, Space Engineers

Flight Simulator X

Microsoft has been making flight simulators for years. The first in their Flight Simulator series hit software shelves in 1979 with crude graphics and accurate flight dynamics allowing players to fly Cessnas, Lear Jets and the Sopwith Camel (a WWI biplane). Ten versions later and Flight Simulator allows you to fly to and from just about any airport in the world, with real world weather and flight traffic conditions that are current to the second selecting from a wide variety of planes included in one of the best flight simulators out there. In Flight Simulator X, you'll be flying fast flying jets like the F-18 to commercial jet liners such as the Airbus 320 or even a selection of Bell Helicopters. It lets you log hours just as you would for your real world flights.

What you'll learn

  • Preflight Check: Check your aircrafts instrumentation and systems to make sure their functioning correctly. Essential practice and habit in the real world of flight
  • Flight planning and navigation: Although you can just get in a fly, you can plan your flights using real world beacons or visual flight reckoning as navigation markers
  • Flight dynamics: You'll be learning about the flight dynamics and control systems of a variety of different aircraft in including single prop, multiple prop, rotary wing (helicopters) and jet aircraft
  • Weather systems: Weather plays a big role in this simulation and you can learn how to deal with a variety of different weather systems in flight
  • Landings: You can either use the ILS (Instrument Landing System) or visual reckoning to land your aircraft
  • Flight log: You'll also keep a flight log just like real pilots do and in some flight course these hours can count towards your accreditation in some circumstances

Similar games include: Take On Helicopters, X-Plane 11, Strike Fighters 2, Combat Air Patrol 2.

American Truck Simulator and Euro Truck Simulator 2

Nearly every child at one time experiences that dream of driving a big rig truck down the highway and blowing the airhorn for their fans and passersby. These games actually offer you a lot more. They allow you to build and run your own trucking empire from the first truck and driver which of course would be you. Not only will you be learning skills such as how to drive a tractor but you'll also learn how to hook up to trailors, how to navigate and back into docks of varying difficulty but that's just part of it. These simulators also keep you on your tows in terms of the business of managing your trucking company.
That means landing the jobs, managing the space in your trailer and the order in which they're loaded means that you'll be delivering in the reverse order (just like a First-In Last-Out queue in computer science). How about the price of fuel and how it affects your bottom line because the longer the haul and heavier the load, the more the fuel you'll use. What about truck and cargo insurance? So all of these factors play into your efficient management skills all while driving a big rig and blowing your airhorn for kids as you pass them, admiring from passing cars. The skills you'll acquire will help you in many ways in the real world and likely give you a bit more respect for the job that truckers undertake.

These games also boast cosmetics that allow you to tailor your trucks so you can represent your country during the olympics or just about any other event.

What you'll learn

  • Trucks may cost like a Ferrari but they sure don't handle like one <thanks David for that one ;-)>
  • Protective Driving: Drive in such a way to make up for everyone else's mistakes on the road, after all you've got a big load and are the heaviest vehicle on the road
  • Pin to Pin: Truckers might make hooking up a trailer to a pin look easy, but its not. It takes a bit of practice but its easier than backing a trailer into a tight spot
  • Backing up a trailer: You learn how to back up your trailer through a variety of navigation obstacles and get your load safely to its delivery point
  • Management and Planning: You'll learn how to run your business and expand even buying more trucks and hiring more drivers
  • Economics: You'll certainly learn a bit about the economics of goods after all, it costs money to get them to their destination and that factors in to the final price the consumer must pay for any product. Transportation is a big part of the economy

Arma 3 on Steam

Arma (currently in version 3) is a complete tactical military simulator down to the combat infanteer level. It does involve military combat and a variety of real world equipment to facilitate the accomplishment of each mission, not to mention an infrastructure and advanced AI but it is not limited to combat alone. Where this simulation really shines is in the ability of the player to command and plan the tactics of a team and the effective use of their equipment. The equipment too is accurately modeled from the various land vehicles such as the Humvee, personnel carriers and main battle tanks to an array of helicopters and jet aircraft as well. In fact, you could almost regard this as an accurate everything simulator in terms of much that happens on the battlefield. Many of the missions as well don't always involve combat and quite often are geared to peace keeping missions where the player must use their tactical forces to protect the local indigenous population from attack by a clandestine force. In this essence it certainly reminds us of the important role that the Soldier plays in peacekeeping, acting both as protectors and diplomats. Overall this simulator is an effective learning tool for management of human power and resources.

What you'll learn:

  • Personnel Management: You'll learn how to manage the activities of a number of other people essentially to the accomplishment of your mission
  • Tactics: You'll learn the best tactics to employ for a variety of different situations, not all of which are related to combat
  • Equipment: You'll be dealing with a lot of different equipment and it all has its place on the battlefield
  • Teamwork: You are part of something much bigger than yourself alone though you are an important part of that whole. Work together to overcome any obstacle
  • Sentience is important: Having real-time knowledge of what is going on in different areas of the battlefield is key to success
  • Suppression versus Assault: Keeping your opponent's head down is far better than outright killing them and makes for a better world after any conflict
  • License to thrill: You'll have a pretty good idea of what's involved in operating many different kinds of vehicles employed by the armed forces

ShenZhen I/O on Steam

This game allows you to design circuits and their corresponding firmware drawing from a pool of real world electronics components and gadgetry like micro-controllers, memory and boolean logic gates. It also sports its own assembly language (for writing the actual firmware and hardware level coding). During this game you'll be learning real world skills that can be later applied to Computer Programming and Computer and Electronics Engineering. This is certainly recommended to any young students who are interested in electronics and software programming or to those who'd like to further their skills in these areas.

What you'll learn:

  • With a few simple parts and some logic gates, you can make some really neat stuff
  • Programming: You'll learn how to write low level code that combines with the functioning of your electronic components to create a gadget
  • Components: You'll learn about a variety of real world electronic components and how they are used to make real world devices
  • Problem solving: The campaigns involve accomplishing a predefined set of goals to produce products using the components and your programming skills to achieve these solutions
  • Creativity: As an electronics sandbox you can create gadgets to your hearts desire using all of the parts and your newly acquired skills all of which will have some merit in the real world

L.A. Noir on Steam (Mature and Graphic Material. View discretion advised.)

Rockstar Games have taken a bold step in this title bringing end users into the world of crime dramas and murder mysteries. The artistic direction of the game presents a noir style that is reminiscent of films like Hollywood Confidential and classic The Maltese Falcon. It allows players to step into the shoes of a Police Officer solving each case in turn and progressing through the incredible storyline in the open world of 1930s Hollywood. One of its greatest features are the facial animation system, which allows players to evaluate the responses of those they question during investigation. In this sense and how each case is investigated by players using real investigative techniques. In all this game is a intense thrill to play as much as it is a learning experience though it is certainly recommended for mature players.

What you'll learn:

  • People make some pretty funny faces when they're trying to hide something - the facial animation system in this game is incredible and designed so that players can use actual face reading techniques during their investigation
  • Crime scene: You'll learn to examine a crime scene and how to interpret a variety of evidence found
  • Forensics: The science of forensics helps you to solve many of these cases - pay attention and you'll learn something
  • Building a case: The number one priority once a suspect has been determined in all likelihood to be the perpetrator of a crime is for Police and the District Attorney to build a strong case using all of the tools at their disposal
  • Police officers have lives too that they must contend with even during the stress of their duty
  • Your partner: Each of the partners you'll have will prove key to solving these crimes whether you get along with them, agree with them or not - some of the best moments from this game are in the character dynamics and dialogue between the protagonist and the partner officer

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