It's a sign of how far video games have come in the last few years that some of the biggest titles are working their way into the classrooms. The modern incarnation of the old classroom favorite SimCity has been doing well, as has Minecraft in its educational edition, but now players more suited to the "maps and chaps" aspect of learning are in for a treat. Through a partnership with publisher Take-Two Interactive, developer Firaxis Games, and an educational game company called GlassLab, the grand strategy game Sid Meier's Civilization V will start appearing in American high school classrooms by autumn of next year.
As the name implies, Civilization V is a game about civilizations, and it allows you to control their destinies by founding cities, acquiring resources, and choosing the optimal forms of government, religion, and technology as they grow. It offers multiple victory conditions, but many players get the most fun out of it by utterly dominating the rest of the civilizations in play. A game that strongly criticizes globalization this is not. Still, players have done some incredible things with the toolset on hand, such as pitting 61 artificial intelligence-powered opponents in a global war against each other.
GlassLab's work will alter the game into a new version called CivilizationEDU, thus granting teachers access to analytical tools that will allow them to keep track of their students' progress. The focus appears to be less on the straight history of the nations and historical figures involved, as the accompanying statement claims the game provides "students with the opportunity to think critically and create historical events, consider and evaluate the geographical ramifications of their economic and technological decisions, and to engage in systems thinking and experiment with the causal / correlative relationships between military, technology, political, and socioeconomic development."
Whew. That's a lot to ask of a game, but the idea sounds good in theory, and if any game could come close to living up to those expectations in a classroom, it'd probably be Civilization V. GlassLabs also believes that, if all goes well, results from its game would stand in for more traditional tests based on problem solving and analytical thinking. I wanted to ask the team if they thought the educational version of the game would provide a good way to see some possible ramifications of a decision like Brexit, but no one responded.
On the bright side, series founder Sid Meier certainly seemed excited about the project in the statement accompanying the announcement.
"For the past 25 years, we've found that one of the fun secrets of Civilization is learning while you play," Meir said. "We've always focused on entertainment first, but we believe that our players—young and old—enjoy learning, even if they don't always enjoy education."
We'll see how that translates into the classroom, Sid. I have my doubts about the whole "learning" bit as the series has a long and beloved tradition of making Gandhi into a nuke-hungry jingo. As such, let's hope the players learn about that whole "peaceful protest" bit before they get their hands on nukes.