The Oregon Trail Articles RSS Feed | The Oregon Trail RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network How Emulators Are Keeping Classic Games Relevant in a New Generation Mon, 17 Apr 2017 09:00:01 -0400 ThatGamersAsylum

I went to college for video game design. During our last semester, we were split off into teams and tasked with making a student game based off of pitches we had submitted the month before. The instructors selected the 10 or so best pitches and let each group choose which game we were going to work on.

The game my group chose to work on was most accurately described as X-COM meets Oregon Trail. The problem was, the younger members of our team -- myself included -- hadn’t ever played Oregon Trail. Thankfully, we were able to find an emulated version of the game on

In terms of video games, emulators are used to play games, usually older ones, on a system other than what they were made to run on. In short, the emulator re-creates the digital environment of the original OS so that it can then run software that was created for that OS.

At their worst, emulators are inextricably linked to piracy. But at their best, they are one of the strongest tools available to aid the preservation of video game history.

Emulators Preserve the Past

A Golden Future with All the Games from Our Past

Preservation becomes ever more pressing as old video game cartridges continue to age and degrade, eventually leading to corruption of the data held within.

This talk, while admittedly a little dry, is very eye opening
and helped inform my thoughts on this topic. 

But saving games becomes an ever more daunting task every day. Not only are old games slowly degrading, but new games are being released faster than historians can document them. Games are also becoming increasingly more reliant upon networks to be able to function. Just think about the MMOs that are shut down every year. These games can never be played again unless people are able to reverse engineer servers, as some have done in order to run vanilla WoW.

Some historians don’t believe that all games can be saved. They argue that our priority should be to record the existence of games and their content. What were their mechanics? How did they play? What were their stories about? After all, video footage is much easier to capture and store than video game data. And we already know how to store it for the future, with film historians having been doing it for years.

In this way, Let’s Plays are a big part of video game history. Recorded footage of people playing games sets up both their historical context and what the games consisted of.

This is our history folks. Soak it in. 

However, they only represent a particular viewpoint. Let’s Plays inherently skew the way a game was/is viewed or played by the nature of their construction -- trying to play things that cause interesting, funny things to happen, for example. Text adventures might be fun, too, but PewDiePie’s channel doesn’t play them very often, now does it?

As anyone knows, footage of a fun game is a crappy second best to playing it. And games can look a lot different in motion than in reality. Just recently while writing an article about animations I touched upon several games that looked much smoother in action than they felt in reality, like Final Fantasy 15.

That’s why it’s great news that the data from these games can be extracted and stored to preserve the game. The use of an emulator can make it playable. That almost makes it sound easy, doesn't it? Thankfully, we have copyright lawyers to get in the way!

Piracy -- The Hurdle Standing in Emulation's Way

The Existential Threat

It’s no secret that many video game companies view emulators as an existential threat to the video game industry. Even if they use them for backwards compatibility, which is technically legally their prerogative. Or, in Nintendo's case, used a hacked ROM off of the internet and sold it back to you .. ahem, anyway ... 

Despite this hypocrisy, piracy is a real problem. And emulators of modern consoles can wreak havoc on the video games industry if left unchecked. Even just recently, ROMs of Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valencia were made available from a leak within Nintendo. This has happened with multiple big profile Nintendo releases, such as Pokemon Sun and Moon.

While Sun & Moon sold well and it is hard to ascertain exactly how much this leak hurt sales, it is safe to say it is not a good thing. Few of us want the video games industry to become like the music industry or the anime industry where piracy is the expectation, not the exception.

The problem, however, is not emulating newer games so much as older ones -- the ones whose preservation is most pressing. Despite many companies having no plans to either use their old consoles or old properties in the future, they still have not been forthcoming about assisting museums or universities in preservation efforts.

Just recently, the long-canceled Primal Rage 2 was saved via emulation. 

Even if a company were to give the green light, the law would seemingly leave preservationists vulnerable to future legal action. In the case that preservationists weren’t vulnerable, they’d still need to have lawyers work out detailed plans as to what they could and could not do to prevent the company’s wrath.

What many want is a legal exemption that protects those seeking to preserve video games. Video games present a particular edge case because they degrade so fast, meaning that they have long since degraded once the game is no longer protected by copyright law.

Our History -- Perhaps Saved by Emulation

When All is Said & Done

As a young medium, video games don’t have a ton of history. Almost all of it is directly in our pasts. While game design itself can be traced back through centuries worth of games -- from chess to soccer -- video games only stretch back to the 70s. For all intents and purposes, even the eldest members of the medium still exist as playable fossils. An oral history could keep up with much of what there is to know.

But with this fleeting youth comes the realization that said fossils are almost dust. And that video games themselves have perhaps the shortest period between release and extinction that any medium has ever seen. Historians have reached the point where procrastination would result in permanent loss of history.

Back in college, I played Oregon Trail on my MacBook while screen-sharing it with my teammates over Skype. One friend kept getting lost and another kept getting bitten by snakes. It was the best type of damned mess. Over the course of a couple hours, we were able to relive what so many kids had lived through decades earlier; that is playing the game, not the actual journey that the game represents. This, I believe, is why video game preservation -- specifically through emulation -- is so important.

I’m not sure we humans have ever done great with tools that pose both great promise for us and great danger to us. The world has almost forgone nuclear energy because we are afraid of nuclear fallout. Likewise, emulators could safeguard our past, but they could also hurt our future.


Header Image Obtained from massmatt. Edited.

Oregon Trail gets to give a new generation dysentery, but in a table-top format Mon, 01 Aug 2016 08:51:28 -0400 Justin Michael

Growing up in the early 90s, my elementary school had a pretty great library. Aside from the books, of which there were many, in the back of the library were a couple of Apple II stations setup with some educational software and some games -- one of the most frustrating games being The Oregon Trail. I can’t tell you how many times I came so close to reaching Oregon only to lose everything to that dangerous trail -- likely the same fate that met many a traveler in real life.

While it’s not likely that many of you have an Apple II just sitting somewhere in your house collecting dust, there is a new multiplayer alternative that should be hitting the shelves of your local Target tomorrow, August 1 for the reasonable price of $15.

Now not only you, but your friends and family can suffer the hardships of the trail as you make your way towards Oregon to the promise of a new life and a possible taste of nostalgia. If you want to see some of the game mechanics, make sure to watch the video above to see what you can expect from the masterminds over at Pressman Toys.  

PAX East 2016 Panel: Indie Developer Stoic Studios gave an in depth look at all things Banner Saga Sat, 23 Apr 2016 17:24:36 -0400 Cresta Starr

Indie developer Stoic gave fans an in depth look at The Banner Saga 2 at PAX East 2016.  In addition to discussing all things Banner Saga, Fans got to see the exclusive reveal of "The Banner Saga - In Memoriam" a trailer by Cartoonist Kris Straub.

The Banner Saga is an epic tale about humans and a viking warrior race called the Varyl. In this story-driven game players must make hard decisions on and off the battlefield. Every choice the player makes changes the story around them. So it's up to the player to make the decisions count. The Banner Saga 2 picks up right where The Banner Saga leaves off. A more detailed look into The Banner Saga and the Skinny on The Banner Saga 2 can be found right here on Game Skinny.


Moderated by Jesse Cox, the panel consisted mostly of people from the Stoic team -- with the exception of Grammy Nominated composer Austin Wintory. The Stoic team included:

  • John Watson (Technical Director)
  • Arnie Jorgensen (Art Director)
  • Matt Rhoades (Technical Designer)
  • Drew McGee (Writer)

One of the main questions asked by the community was how The Banner Saga come to be? The team at Stoic wanted to create a mix of Oregon Trail and King of Dragons Pass kind of game. They moved the theme from British to Norse mythology to be told over 3 parts. Despite utilizing a brighter color pallet, they wanted to tell a dark, adult, player driven story. 

Stoic also talked in-depth about the art style of The Banner Saga. They wanted to emulate a rotoscoped look so that all the movements look more fluid. They also said that the art style was influenced by the Disney movie Sleeping Beauty. That same art style could be seen in their exclusive short that they showcased here at PAX East 2016. Titled "In Memoriam," it was an homage to all the characters that died during The Banner Saga. But to lighten the mood, the video short was done in a more comedic manner.

Check it out below:

For Stoic, multiplayer was another hot topic from the community as well. With no real plans to bring co-op or multiplayer to The Banner Saga and The Banner Saga 2, Stoic did hint at maybe adding it to the game The Banner Saga Factions. If multiplayer is your flare, there is also a board game for The Banner Saga available at their booth here at PAX East.

Lastly, Fans wanted to know how much time was spent researching all the Norse mythology needed for The Banner Saga and The Banner Saga 2. Stoic stated that they kept the feel and themes of Norse mythology, but did not copy it verbatim. Since the ins and outs of the game kept changing as development continued, it was easy for them to use books as a reference for the culture, but not the actual storyline. It's why there are no helmets with horns for the "Viking-esque" Varyl. It also allowed the music to change and flow with the story and not be constrained by Norse guidelines.

Without a doubt, Stoic is very invested in The Banner Saga's story and its community. If you want to keep up with all things Stoic has in store, be sure to follow them and The Banner Saga on Twitter and on their website.

The least inspiring and most outrageous video game quotes Thu, 10 Mar 2016 11:20:07 -0500 Ty Arthur


That wraps up our analysis of the least inspiring quotes that video games have to offer. Let us know which one you thought was the best and which ones we missed that should have been included! For a look at the opposite side of the coin, don't forget to take a gander at our roundup of the most inspiring quotes in all of gaming.



“Soon, pitiful worms! Soon I will rule, and your lives will have their doneness setting turned to... darkest!”


“Have you ever tried to indulge an all-consuming urge to kill when you don't have opposable thumbs? Or hands? Or anything other than a bread slot? You'd have a lot of pent-up anger too!


-- The Toaster from Fallout: New Vegas expansion Old World Blues


This may be the one and only game featuring a genocidal toaster who is genuinely unhappy to learn the world was already destroyed in a nuclear Armageddon before he could get around to annihilating all life.


“We broke it. Yes, we were naughty. Completely naughty. So, so very sorry. But just between you and us, it felt quite good.”


“We get it, its a slacker thing. What next? Video store clerk? Screenwriter? Whatever it is, we are so not paying for it. Poor, poor, Us, stuck with a L-O-S-E-R like you!”


-- King Of All Cosmos, Katamari Damacy


The King Of All Cosmos destroys the whole universe and nobody says anything, but if The Prince makes one little mistake the string of berating comments arrives. He's really not a very good dad.


“How low can you get? I love it! All right, I'll help you. Nothing to lose but my life.”


-- Setzer, Final Fantasy VI


Way to put it all in perspective Setzer. His philosophy here after being swindled and convinced to fight a world spanning empire is what I like to call "optimistic nihilism."


Nobody's d*ck's that long. Not even Long Dick Johnson, and he had a f*cking long d*ck. Thus, the name."


-- Cass, Fallout: New Vegas


Even surprassing "your face looks like my butt," there is some truly bizarre dialog in the Fallout series when characters try to explain concepts in ways the Courier or Vault Dweller can understand.


“I'm afraid that if you were to remove that... I would be naked.”


-- Fall From Grace, Planescape: Torment


When's the last time a succubus gave you a gentle reminder about how clothes work? I'm sure you all heard this little voice acted gem in a totally innocent way when you were trying to give Grace's bodice to another character in need of some armor, right?


“Sh*t, the hell you so calm about? You bustin' up my rhythm."


-- Barret Wallace, Final Fantasy VII


You always had a way with words Barret, and you have the honor of being the very first video game character I ever saw use a curse word on my television screen. Congratulations!


“Hey Kinzie, you wanna f*ck?”


-- The Boss, Saints Row 4


Geeze, Boss, buy a girl a drink first? The Boss doesn't waste any time on romance in this iteration of the series. Guess that's what happens when the earth has been destroyed and you're becoming the new Neo messiah in the Matrix. In Boss's defense though, the line totally works, although Kinzie does punch him first.


“The last time a big naked dude said he could help me, it did not end well.”


-- Pierce Washington, upon meeting naked Oleg, Saints Row The Third 


Pierce is a continuing source of comic relief in the series, but there's a darkness to his need to be funny. Pierce has SEEN THINGS.


“You'd find that lady luck was actually a hooker, and you were fresh out of cash.”


-- Max Payne


Before wowing us with his quote about needing passion for life to be worth living, our tortured detective was also spinning some low grade noir analogies.


“Please note that we have added a consequence for failure. Any contact with the chamber floor will result in an 'unsatisfactory' mark on your official testing record, followed by death. Good luck!”


“Well done. Here are the test results: You are a horrible person. I'm serious, that's what it says: 'A horrible person.' We weren't even testing for that. Don't let that horrible-person thing discourage you. It's just a data point. If it makes you feel any better, science has now validated your birth mother's decision to abandon you on a doorstep.”


-- GLaDOS, Portal and Portal 2


For being an all-seeing AI with total control over your environment, GLaDOS sure is passive aggressive.


“You have died of dysentery” 


-- The Oregon Trail


It doesn't get much more succinct that than, does it? What kid who grew up in the late '80s or early '90s didn't get a screen like this a couple of dozen times in computer lab?


“Suck the tears off my d*ck, you ugly mud f*ckers!”


-- General Sarrano, Bulletstorm


I know there's somebody out there who desperately wants this profound quote inscribed on their tombstone. This character from the ridiculous Bulletstorm is a foul-mouthed drill sergeant that would put R. Lee Ermey to shame, and this is actually one of his less offensive quotes. He always knows exactly what to say to let people really know how he's feeling.


“Real bad asses eat chocolate chip cookies. Wait a minute... those aren't chocolate chip cookies... those...are...RAISINS. Why do bad things happen to good people?”




“That's right. Twin sisters, man. Hhhahhhhhh. Take 'em. Take 'em take 'em take 'em take 'em”


-- Tiny Tina, Borderlands 2


Tina Tina accomplishes the impossible – she is both more psychotic and more entertaining to listen to than Vaas from Far Cry 3. She also makes me genuinely terrified of 13 year old girls. She alternates between disturbing sexuality towards stuffed animals and an intense lust to blow up trains and bandits. There's too many good ones to pick, so just listen to all of them together below!



“Some trees flourish, others die. Some cattle grow strong, others are taken by wolves. Some men are born rich enough and dumb enough to enjoy their lives. Ain't nothing fair”


-- John Marston, Red Dead Redemption


Talk about a downer! It's like all those "you are in control of your own destiny" quotes from our most-inspiring article, but taken down the bleakest path possible. Maybe John's a nihilist... or just a realist.


“You know what? Your face looks like my butt.”


-- The Vault Dweller, Fallout 3


There are a horde of hilarious dialog options to be found in the Fallout series if you try all the different perks and varying stat builds (give either Fallout 3 or Fallout New Vegas a try with no points in intelligence and see what happens). This one, only available with the Child At Heart perk, fell a little flat.


After taking a look at some of the most inspiring and unexpectedly thought-provoking quotes across gaming, we'd be remiss if we didn't head the opposite direction. There's plenty of major downers in any given storyline to offset those uplifting moments.


Should it be any surprise that there's some truly cringe-worthy text and hilariously offensive quotes to be found in the zany, outlandish world of gaming? What's interesting is that in quite a few cases, the least inspiring quotes and the most inspiring quotes actually come from the same games.


After trudging through a deluge of horrifying (and OK, frequently quite amusing) lines of dialog, we've found all the best of the worst on display in the following slides. Have fun in the filth, and don't forget to fill out the poll at the end to let us know your favorite!

DOS Games Now Playable Through Social Media Embed, Here's How Thu, 30 Apr 2015 05:24:50 -0400 Pierre Fouquet

In the not so distant past of 2015, when robot and man become one, a blast from the past emerged in the form of DOS games playable in your browser... ok I will stop the dramatics.

You can now get any of the DOS games hosted on embedded into a Tweet, that's pretty sweet!

Legally, we are still unsure about where this stands. With offering almost 2400 DOS games for free, is it against copyright to embed a game in a Tweet to boost your brand? There have not been any legal cases surrounding this DOS collection; is a well-recognized and respected non-profit.

One thing is for sure: many gamers have missed out on some of the best classic PC games due to be being either too young or playing on console. Some of the greats have been missed, from Wolfenstein 3D to Prince of Persia, Oregon Trail to Donkey Kong, Street Fighter to SimCity... now to just find some more free time...

Of course, if Twitter isn't your jam, you can also embed a game directly into a post, like so: 

How to Choose Games For Your Homeschooled Child Mon, 27 Apr 2015 04:16:08 -0400 Jessa Rittenhouse

Here on GameSkinny, you find a lot of game guides - some that tell you how to get through the hardest bosses or how to unlock great new costumes or move sets, others that help you to choose what games to buy when you've got a certain objective or limitation, like a small budget or little time. This guide falls more into that latter category - it will help you to select games for your homeschooled child to play that will fulfill your intended learning outcomes and won't bore them to tears.

A mistake a lot of people make when they try to meld games and learning is that they go directly for the "educational" games. These aren't necessarily bad, but when the "learning" is directly in a child's face, it sometimes feels too much like a lesson for the actual learning to take hold. This guide will give you a few ideas on making learning a more subversive activity - and fun for you and your child.

Establish Your Desired Learning Outcomes

For any of you out there that already homeschool, you probably do so with certain guidelines dictated by your national, state, or local government. Most often, these simply cover the core subjects - and these can be covered in some pretty surprising ways by games that were never created to be learning tools in the first place. But are these the only things you want your child to learn? It's a good idea to decide in advance when choosing games for educational purposes just what it is you want your child to learn - especially when those goals go above and beyond the obvious core subjects.

This iconic educational star is certainly a great place to start, but with a little imagination, almost any game can really help your learning journey take off.

Keep an Open Mind

If you're looking beyond Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, then you've already taken a step in the right direction, but try taking it a few steps further. There's no need to limit genre or medium; everything from board games to PC to console titles can have some hidden gems of unexpected and useful knowledge. You just have to look carefully.

For example, many have attempted to teach their children about money with the classic board game Monopoly; while this is a great start for younger kids and a game that is great to play with families, playing with fake money doesn't always have quite the same impact as the real thing. If your child receives an allowance and plays a game that allows microtransactions, use that opportunity to teach them about budgeting. This can also be helpful if they play tradeable card games like Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, or Magic: the Gathering (each of which have a digital version of the card game available online, as well).

Remember That Learning Can Happen Anywhere

Be open to the learning taking place elsewhere, too. Maybe the game they're playing isn't completely historically accurate, but it inspires them to dig further into a topic (such as with the Assassin's Creed  series, where the stories take place in various historical eras, or the Cooking Mama cooking simulation games, which may get your child interested in cooking - which can lead to learning everything from weights, measures and temperature to baking science).

If this popular cooking simulator gets your kid hungry to play around in the kitchen, remember he can learn a lot more there than how to follow a recipe.

Do MMOs conjure images in your head of angry 12-year-olds screaming obscenities over a headset? Try giving them a closer look. Remember the part about microtransactions teaching money-management skills? It doesn't end there. If you've ever played an MMO yourself and participated in dungeon crawls or raids, you know that these activities require a certain amount of cooperation and coordination with your fellow players, be they part of an established guild or just a random PUG (pickup group). These are valuable social skills that can be learned early - and if your child already loves playing MMOs, consider that they may be getting these valuable skills without feeling like they're learning at all. If you are concerned for the maturity level and language about a given MMO, keep in mind that there are MMOs made specifically for children - games like Wizard101 or Runescape are great places to start.

Speaking of concerns about games...

Playtest, Playtest, Playtest

If you want to know more about a game, there's no better way than to play it yourself before you give it to your child. Don't want to spend the money on a game until you know for certain it's what you want? Borrow it from a friend if you're able, or rent it from a video store or a service like Gamefly. If the game is on Steam, take advantage of free-to-play weekends or see if you can Steam Share it with a friend or family member who owns it. As a last resort, if you can't play it ahead of time, try watching playthrough videos on YouTube to give you a feel for the game.

This isn't limited to video games, either - local game shops often have a small library of board and card games you can playtest for free. Not only does this give you a chance to try games before you buy them, but it exposes your child to a larger and more diverse gaming community, giving them opportunities to make friends and try entirely new things - a positive experience for the entire family.

Find out what she's so excited about - watch her, play with her, and talk to her about the games she loves.

Watch Your Child Play Games - and Have Conversations With Them

Still stumped as to what games to choose? Watch your child play the games they already love. By watching them play, you'll pick up on the skills they're already learning, get a feel for the types of games they like, and be better-equipped to find new games they may enjoy.

Don't be afraid to strike up a conversation with your child about the games they play - by allowing them to talk to you about what interests them most in these games, you both can come to recognize things they've learned that neither of you ever expected, and it can lead to an even deeper, richer gaming and learning experience.

The family that games together, learns together - so get playing!

Play More Games - Alone and With Your Family

The best way to find games that are good for your child (and by extension, for your entire family) is to play games often enough to recognize that you (yes, you, the parent!) can learn from all kinds of games. As any dedicated gamer knows, playing games alone is a very different animal from playing games together with others - don't shy away from either experience, as they both have things to teach.

If you're reading this, you've already decided that there are more ways to teach your child than through books and worksheets and dull, droning lectures - you know that learning can be fun, and that it sticks with us best when we enjoy it. Hopefully, this guide has given you what you need to turn what you've always thought of as a leisure activity into one of the best educational experiences your child has ever had.

Homeschoolers Can Use Games as Educational Tools Sun, 12 Apr 2015 10:09:39 -0400 Jessa Rittenhouse

When people think of games and education, the first titles that come to mind are things like Math Blaster and Oregon Trail - the games they were allowed to play when given rare free time on a PC at school. These games certainly have their value as educational tools, but learning can happen all the time - even when that isn't the intended goal of the game. For that reason, games make amazing educational tools for homeschoolers - but even traditional students can stand to gain a lot from playing them.

Learning Happens Best When You Least Expect It

When was the last time you picked up a game for the first time and were instantly good at it? Like any other thing we do, gaming takes the development of skills - and those skills are surprisingly as useful off your PC or console as they are on it.

Different games develop different skills, so it helps to offer your children a variety of different games. Everything from MMOs and RPGs to open-world, sandbox games and FPS titles have something to teach your children - if you know to look for it.

Here are just some of the skills your child can get from playing games:


How many games have you ever played that had subtitles or written instructions? A child that may grow easily bored with the book he got from the library can still improve his reading when he's actively interested in the game he's playing - even when he claims he hates to read.


Though fanfiction is certainly a popular pastime for many gamers, it's certainly not the only way games ignite the creative spark in budding authors; there's even a game that encourages creative writing called Elegy for a Dead World. By having players respond to writing prompts to describe the features of three dead worlds that they encounter and giving them the ability to share stories and poetry with others, Elegy teaches children to value their own creative gifts.

Gaming encourages togetherness - with family and friends at home and around the world.


A common argument that every homeschooling parent has dealt with is "How do you deal with the problem of socialization? Doesn't homeschooling isolate your children?"

If you mention that you use games to teach, suddenly they think they've won. However, today's games are not, by and large, isolating. We play them with friends and family - both in our living rooms and across the world. Games (particularly MMOs) require teamwork and collaboration - and that's something much more easily accomplished when everyone's having fun than when pointless group work is assigned.

Money Management

These days, a lot of games have microtransactions - everything from mobile puzzlers to MMOs. These in-game market systems give students the opportunity to learn to budget for the items they want and need - not only by watching their in-game funds, but by taking care with their real-world spending, too - often so they can invest a portion of their allowance or paycheck into those games.

These are just a few of many skills a student can develop by playing games - and it happens without them actively trying, and without feeling like they're in school.

Social Studies

Some games, though they may not be the most historically accurate, inspire kids and adults alike to want to know more about the era they portray. A gamer that plays Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag may find themselves wanting to learn more about the golden era of piracy. Others, like Never Alone, take greater care with their subject matter and give the player insight into another culture. Using a game to get a kid interested in the topic first makes them much more receptive to learning about it later on. 

Some games, like Elegy for a Dead World, encourage players to be creative, and to share that creativity with others.

Games Are Better For You Than You Think

A common argument often produced by opponents of learning through gaming is that excessive gaming can lead to addiction. While video game addiction is a very real thing, playing a lot of games is not, in and of itself, a sign of addictive behavior. If your child reads excessively, are you going to be concerned that she is addicted to reading, or are you going to praise her intelligence and her love of learning? The fact that most would do the latter comes down to a cultural bias against digital entertainment - and as Tina Boster points out in a talk given at the 2012 Love to Learn Conference, it's a bias that was once held against too much reading.

So why is gaming so good for us? Because we actively, enjoyably engage with them, we learn and retain more, and without the need for any sort of standardized test. The game itself is our lesson and our test, because we cannot progress until we've accomplished the goals set out by the game. If we can beat the game, we've learned something from it - something different from each level of difficulty we've mastered.

Games also teach us to persevere in our goals - for few things are quite as satisfying as achieving that next level, which often requires a lot of patience and dedication.

The next time you think that your child - be they a homeschooler or traditional student - is playing too many games, pause for a moment and consider what they might be getting out of it. You may just be persuaded to pick up a controller and join them - because a brain at any age can always use a workout.

Top 5 Historically Great History Games Sun, 20 Jul 2014 14:48:57 -0400 Alex D'Alessandro

History, especially in the video game format, has a funny way of conflating itself with war and the most atrocious moments in human history. While war and history aren’t mutually exclusive, there hasn’t been a long time where humans aren’t trying to kill one another. Because of this apparent lack of compassion for each other and the “idea” that history is behind and not ahead, most of the best historical games have some aspects of war, but not all.  With that said, historical facts and figures will always capture our attention, especially when we can connect with those past moments by interesting and interactive means.

Take my hand, historical time traveler, and gaze through the ages at 5 great historical games. 

1. Victoria Series (Paradox Interactive) 

Paradox Interactive has a lengthy lineage of historically based grand-strategy games that have you leading your chosen country to great heights or, on a bad day, eradication. Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis, and Hearts of Iron all have excellent historical depth and addictive gameplay, but when it comes to complete control and immersion, none stand taller than the Victoria series.

So much of our modern foundation was set in those turbulent years of the 19th century...


By accessing the spiritually destructive yet modern world building event of the Industrial Revolution, the Victoria series deals with the most important era for modern man. As you take your country from your humble, pre-steel, pre-electrical, pre-penicillin days, wholly useless as a modern human, you will find the driving force behind your country to advance --all in the name of capital and nationalism. So much of our modern foundation was set in those turbulent years of the 19th century and because of this Victoria is as relevant as it is challenging.  

 2. Assassins Creed II  (Ubisoft)

 It’s difficult to pick one title from the "Assassin’s Creed" series, but because our historical cause demands it, Assassin’s Creed II is the most rewarding, historically, of the series. Assassin's Creed III and Assassin's Creed IV have beautiful vistas entwined with engaging and addictive gameplay but Assassin’s Creed 2 had me longing to be wrapped in some Venetian cloth as I strolled down to the local duomo for a quick shout out to family in purgatory.

The gameplay's balanced on a concealed knives edge, slipping between fast and fluid combat and white knuckle, urban climbing. With the help of the frequent codex alert, AC2 invites you to look upon great historical structures, cultures, and people in a fresh light as you meander down the narrow alleys, alive with fast talking commoners or overly protective royalty, enticing gamers with the prospect of living in a reconstructed past.   

3. Rome: Total War (Creative Assembly) 

 Ancient Rome has no shortage of histories, plays, and other forms of artistic representation. With Rome: Total War, we are allowed to conquer the lands of proto-Europe and at the same time advance the noble cause of Romanization. With every unit, building, faction, and philosophical advance, you can read a small pamphlets worth of information that might teach you a thing or two about those ol' imperial Romans. It’s like being in history class but without a teacher or fellow students to warn you not to enslave an entire town. What do they know?  With Rome the real historical fun comes from the choice to sack cities and then crucify their entire male population. Those were the days…

4. The Oregon Trail (Mecc)

Who didn't want to be the leader of their family as they crossed rivers and fought off venomous snakes

 Oregon Trail works on so many levels of historical goodness. First off, a large majority of gamers and non-gamers alike played this game at school; reliving one of the most harrowing and endemic parts of the American narrative. Who didn’t want to be the leader of their family as they crossed rivers and fought off venomous snakes, or had to stop trail side for a few days while your daughter's dysentery calmed down — it’s what making your way out west in a covered wagon was about. Oregon Trail is that beautiful blend of player interaction with a strong historical narrative; teaching the player about American history through difficult choices and thoughtful gameplay. 

5. Civilization Series (Firaxis)

Sid Meier's games might slowly whittle our lives away, one turn at a time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn something in the process. From that one more turn philosophy, you slowly start you to realize the destiny of your nation. Civilization has always prided itself with real world leaders, architectural wonders, and military units. What would happen if Genghis Khan and the Mongolian people started on a tropical island abundant in bananas and sunshine? These are the types of questions that lead to a deeper historical inquiry, and if you want real world application the game lets you read a rather large civopedia that has historical information on all things within Civ. Oh Leonard Nimoy, your dulcet notes are a wonder to my ears.with real world leaders, units, building, wonders, etc… within a sandbox world.

History will always be a great avenue to stroll down when the wellspring of game ideas has run dry. Although almost all of these games are PC and strategy exclusive that doesn't mean that great historical games aren't available in other game genres and consoles. 

What did we learn? For one, history class is for the birds, especially with such a great wealth of gameplay focused on Western history out there. What can we really learn from history other than humans have magnificent moments of enlightenment followed by horrid moments of exploitation and destruction. Oh yeah, and we can have fun doing it. 

The Positives of Playing Video Games Fri, 07 Feb 2014 05:08:55 -0500 Venisia Gonzalez

Many people, especially those who don't play video games, most often don't realize that there are many things to learn from playing video games besides killing a zombie, shooting the "bad" guy, driving a super-fast car or saving the Princess.

Knowing that there are positives out there in terms of benefits gained when it comes to video games, I hope I can assist parents make a more informed decision. Yes, not all games have a beneficial impact, but for the ones that do, a lot can be learned. Being able to view video games in a positive light (other than the dark stain of violence that is too often portrayed by the media every time something bad happens) needs to happen more often.

I'm a parent and I'm a gamer.

Part of being a parent is making decisions for your child, which means you'll need to be informed. When it comes to video games, knowing the content of the game is important, not just the ESRB rating. Some game ratings can be overlooked depending on its content and your child's maturity level. You know your child best.

I don't find all 'M' rated games off-limits to my 14-year-old son but that's only due to the fact that I know his maturity level. I know what he can and cannot handle and understand, the difference between fantasy, fiction, and real life. Having taught my son these differences myself, doesn't just apply to the world of video games in general either.

You need to know your child's limits.

Sitting down with your child and teaching them the differences between make-believe and reality is important. I've seen too many parents purchasing games for their young child just because that's what they asked for, not once looking into the type of game it actually is. It's our responsibility as parents to make informed decisions that are in our child's best interest. We don't have to say "no" to every game, but we also don't have to say "yes," either.

 Dr. Andrea Facoetti said: "Action video games enhance many aspects of visual attention, mainly improving the extraction of information from the environment."

What you may not have realized is that there are many things being learned from video games, such as:

  • Social Skills
  • Timing (learning time management)
  • Basic morality (in most cases)
  • Resource management
  • Teamwork (communication, collaboration)
  • Creativity
  • Improve strategy and coordination
  • Learning to use maps
  • Learning to listen and follow instructions
  • Critical thinking
  • Problem solving
  • Math, science and history usage and knowledge
  • Digital citizenship
  • Building literacy skills
  • Teaching how to improve (from every failure, a lesson is learned to achieve a goal)
  • Empowerment (building self-confidence is a powerful tool)
  • How to multi-task
  • How to dance and stay fit

In an article for BBC News Health back in February 2013, a study that was conducted by the University of Padua that stated video games helped reading in children with dyslexia. Study leader, Dr. Andrea Facoetti, said, "Action video games enhance many aspects of visual attention, mainly improving the extraction of information from the environment. Dyslexic children learned to orient and focus their attention more efficiently to extract the relevant information of a written word more rapidly."

The researchers found those who had played the video games had better attention skills than before. "The video games may be working to train the part of the brain responsible for attention and motion perception", he added.

(Use of the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device in Portal)

Games such as Portal and Portal 2 are based on a puzzle platform. It consists of a series of puzzles that must be solved by teleporting the player's character and simple objects using the game's "Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device." This device can create interspatial portals between two flat planes. The game's unique physics allow momentum to be retained through portals, requiring creative use of portals to maneuver through test chambers. This is a game where critical thinking and problem solving is key.

(Shuttle launch built in Minecraft)

Minecraft is also a game that teaches problem solving, in that it requires the player to tackle complex puzzles in order to advance and become successful. Minecraft also teaches creativity in what is called 'creative mode,' where supplies and materials are unlimited. The creative and building aspects in this game allow the player to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D generated world. The only limits are your own imagination. The game teaches exploration, gathering resources, crafting and combat. Simple math and science skills are used when creating railroads. In survival mode, the player is required to obtain resources and maintain their health and hunger to survive.

(Science Papa)

In Science Papa, the player is the newest member of Science Papa's research team, looking to become the greatest scientist in the world. It won't be easy, however, as players must prove their scientific worth against a crazy cast of rival scientists in intense competitions.

Science Papa features over 30 different experiments for players, and by utilizing motion controls, players will pour and mix chemicals, pound objects into dust, monitor Bunsen burners, fix and use lab equipment, and more. Players can also invite their friends into the lab, and compete against each other in split screen science competitions to see who can finish an experiment first, and with the most precision.

In the game The Walking Dead, you'd be quite surprised on how much empathy can be learned. Add in the success of the television series, you'd also be quite surprised to learn on how many kids want to pick up the graphic novels, written by Robert Kirkman, to read more about the story.

I know as a parent myself, getting my 14-year-old son to read anything was a struggle until The Walking Dead came to light. No, it may not be Shakespeare or J.D. Salinger, but the point being he is reading. This has helped his reading interests grow into other books as well.

(Assassin's Creed 3 features a battle in Upstate New York during the American Revolution)

Who would think that some aspects of history could be learned from Assassin's Creed 3? It's true, just as kids learned about U.S. history from the game The Oregon Trail, which in fact was created by two student teachers to coincide with their curriculum.

 (The Oregon Trail map)


(A player's view in BioShock using their abilities)

During a gaming session in BioShock, the player finds themself in the underwater city of Rapture. Rapture is an unknown environment, so the player must listen to instructions over the radio and use the game's map to find the correct location to fulfill the mission. The player must find a way to avoid or fend off the city's insane citizens using stealth, weaponry and special powers obtained through genetic modification.

The player follows orders, locates the best route and experiments with combat tactics, and must find audio logs that provide background on the politics and social history of Rapture (which some contradict the story being told by the radio "ally"). With this game, you build literacy skills, which teaches you new ways to learn and think.

(Characters of Mass Effect 3)

In Mass Effect 3, or the series as a whole, the player learns about responsibility, consequences, and relationships. Throughout the series, you play as Commander Shepard, whose mission is to save the galaxy from a race of mechanical beings known as Reapers, their followers, and Collectors, an alien race abducting entire human colonies. As the Commander, you must recruit members for various jobs to take on your ship the Normandy.

The player must make decisions based on the situation at hand, learn to deal with the consequences of those decisions (as it affects the gameplay) and build up communication with the many characters throughout the game. Personal relationships are also allowed within the game, which also can have a negative impact depending on the player's actions.

(The Sims PC Game)

The Sims is a strategic life simulation game which teaches digital citizenship, financial responsibilities, and resource management. The player creates virtual people called "Sims" and places them in houses and helps direct their moods and satisfy their desires. Players can either place their Sims in pre-constructed homes or build the homes themselves. 

(Just Dance for Wii)

Just Dance is a rhythm game developed and published by Ubisoft for the Wii, and it is the first in the video game series of the same name. In Just Dance, players use only the standard Wii Remote and attempt to mimic all the moves of the on-screen silhouette dancer. Players earn points depending on what moves they perform and how well they perform them. 

The game has three gameplay modes: the normal mode, in which players pick any track and attempt to dance with the on-screen dancer; a "Last One Standing" mode, where players are eliminated if they don't score enough points or make too many mistakes; and a "Strike a Pose" mode, in which players start and stop dancing as dictated by the on-screen dancer. There is also a "Practice" mode, where players may dance to tracks without keeping score. Here, not only is the player learning to dance, but also keeping physically active. This game is also available for PS3 with motion sensor and Xbox 360 with Kinect.

Again, not all games have a benefit, but being in the gaming environment can also be worthwhile.

Now I could go on and on giving you endless examples, but I'm not here to convince anyone, rather only to inform you that there are many things to be learned while having fun playing a video game.

Simply by being part of the social community, you learn there are rules and you must learn to conduct yourself properly or there are consequences: such as being kicked from a multiplayer game, being kicked from a party chat, or even being suspended or permanently banned from the system's online service, i.e. Xbox Live.

Video games are just great for learning skills and behavior etiquette but they can also help with depression, feelings that come with being bullied, and other life struggles. In an article entitled 'How Gaming Saved My Life', you can take a look and see that the video game world has a lot more to offer than one would know.

Again, not all games are bad, not all games are good, but it's important to remember that there are things being learned while playing even if you don't know or realize it.

 Being able to view video games in a positive light other than the dark stain of violence that is too often portrayed by the media every time something bad happens, needs to happen more often.