Games are for children.
Stop wasting your time.
When will you grow up?
Most of us have heard stuff like that from our non-gaming parents or acquaintances. If you happen to play primarily on Nintendo’s handhelds, you probably heard it, too, but had too much pure fun to care.
The point is, many games don’t exactly paint us in good light. Faster reactions, better hand-eye coordination, etc. aren’t typically going to impress most people, especially if we get these traits by brutally murdering hordes of demons in Doom. But every once in a while comes out a game that gives us some really good ammo to fire back at people who look down on games. This text is about such games, specifically the ones that actually teach us some skills nobody can dismiss as poppycock. There are plenty of video games that teach or help you learn.
Microsoft Flight Simulator
While flight simulation games won’t exactly make a pilot out of you and aren’t perfect at replicating every important aspect of this profession, Microsoft Flight Simulator does a pretty darn good job of letting you fly a plane while safely sitting on your sofa.
One of the game’s greatest features is the faithful recreation of the real world, including accurate weather and air traffic. Alright, AI-generated cities may not always be what they really are aside from a couple of hand-crafted ones, but in general MFS lets you visit pretty much every single place on Earth, which is nothing short of incredible.
You can customize a lot of things, too, including various flight options to make the experience either more relaxing or challenging, depending on what you feel like at any given moment. Not every aspect of Microsoft Flight Simulator is perfect, but it’s definitely one of the greatest sims that you can try out in order to find out what it is like to be a civilian pilot. Heck, even professionals use MFS to try out the routes they’ve never flown before!
Car Mechanic Simulator 2021
|Car mechanic sim (with an added dash of racing)
|Red Dot Games
If you want to learn the ways of the fine art of fixing art, but you’re not sure where to start, this game might be a perfect entry point into the whole garage shenanigans thing.
You start off with a car garage that you will soon expand into a true empire. To do so, you’ll fix the cars of your customers, rebuild the ones from the auction house and then sell them for a better price, and expand your workplace with new tools and so on. The more money you get, the more you are able to do. It’s as simple as that. There are also some mini-games in it as well, in addition to time trial races on a dedicated track.
Naturally, this game won’t give you all you need to actually step into a garage and start fixing cars yourself, but it’s a great way to learn the terms and names of various parts and tools, as well as gain an understanding of how things work. No one’s going to yell at you and you can work at your own pace, which is also a plus.
Valve’s classic puzzle-platformer turns out to be one heck of a physics teaching tool!
Just take a look at the clever puzzles you have to solve throughout the game. You need to use your portal gun (a gizmo that creates portals that you can use to either traverse the terrain or transport some objects across distances), lasers, tractor beams, jump pads, gels that either make you stick to a certain surface or bounce off like a ball…there’s quite a lot to deal with in here!
What makes this physics lesson even greater is the presence of the cooperative mode where you and your buddy explore the Aperture Science Laboratory as two robots, Atlas and P Body. The more players, the merrier, right?
This War of Mine
|11 bit studios
Gamers primarily know and see war as something exciting and grandiose. Whether it’s you playing a soldier in a first-person shooter or a leader in a grand strategy game, you rarely get to see war victims’ plight. This War of Mine changed that.
Now, we would recommend this game to younger players. It’s extremely dark, grim and depressing. Set in a fictional city of Pogoren, Graznavia, This War of Mine puts you in charge of a group of survivors. Your task is to ensure their survival. The characters you control rarely have any military or survival experience, so you’ll need to look after them at all times. You need to keep them healthy, well-fed and hopeful. The game ends once a ceasefire is declared – this happens at a random point.
All in all, it’s a heart-breaking lesson on morality and making tough choices. By the way, did you know that This War of Mine is used in Polish schools as a teaching material? Nice!
Farming Simulator 22
Let’s return to something far more pleasant and relaxing. The Farming Simulator series always let you experience what it feels like to own and cultivate a piece of land and the latest edition is no different in this respect.
Farming Simulator 22 is pretty much a complete farmstead simulation game. You can drive so many vehicles: tractors, harvesters, etc., there is a seasonal cycle and production chains… You can also tend to your livestock. There’s so much to do here! The game looks very good, too, featuring a lot of modern effects.
If you want to see how it’d feel like to be a farmer or a forester, this is probably the best way to do so. Grab it now and you shouldn’t be disappointed. Who knows, maybe Farming Simulator 22 will inspire you to build your own farm and help you with that, to boot?
World of Warcraft (and MMOs in general)
Sure, MMOs are usually horrible time sinks, and the way the general public perceives obsessive gamers is of no help at all, but there is a side of things rarely considered, yet pretty important.
MMOs are by definition social affairs. Sure, the player may abhor the light of day and have little to talk about with the uninitiated, but they are constantly in touch with other players, albeit via a digital medium. And guilds/clans/alliances/what-have-you are probably among the finest examples of this.
Most of us have probably heard of stories that a person got a job because they had “Guild Leader for X time in Game Y” as an entry in their CV. It turns out that spending long hours handling the needs and demands of even hundreds of people, complete with maintaining internal hierarchy, overseeing all sorts of duties, etc. in a highly competitive and result-obsessed environment translates really well to managing people in real life and helps develop the so-called “soft skills.” Who would’ve thought! Gotta admire the devotion of these players.
Kerbal Space Program
Physics is boring, right? Well, yeah, if you go about learning it the wrong way. On the surface, KSP looks like a cute game about building machines and making tiny creatures die in horrifying explosions. Everyone would be excused for thinking that after a cursory glance.
Take a better look, though, and a game with an exceptional physics engine emerges, and what you build makes perfect sense. It’s not an engineering degree substitute, but it will teach you a bit about aerodynamics, drag, momentum and many other things nonetheless. Successfully launching your rocket into space feels like a proper achievement because of that. It’s one thing to support scientists in Civilization until they build you a space shuttle, it’s another to do it yourself. It turns out that physics can be fun!
Sid Meier's Civilization
Speak of the devil, huh? The Civilization series may not be any good at teaching history (unless you think that Attila the Hun had close diplomatic ties to Winston Churchill), but is great at doing something else.
It quite nicely depicts the growth of civilizations from primitive tribes to impressive empires, as well as some of the stresses of managing such budding cultures, on the military, scientific, social and political levels. It succeeds partly because it is more concerned with the general theme rather than presenting it in a fully historically accurate manner and it conveys the same message in an accessible way.
If you go looking for it, you’ll find no shortage of people stating that they understand governments a little bit better after leading a civilization through centuries and having to make uneasy compromises. Just don’t go around quoting your Civ exploits during your history exams, though.
Pharaoh / Caesar / Zeus
|Isometric city-building games
While Civilization was concerned with the macroscale and abstracts, a series of city-building games by Impressions Games got down and dirty. The three games each depict the process of building towns in ancient settings: Egypt, the Roman Empire, and Greece.
During the campaign, the player controls an entire dynasty rather than a single character and is tasked with founding settlements in new regions. Each time specific objectives are provided, such as reaching certain population numbers or building a monument. The games do a good job presenting some of the key aspects of cultures they depict and come with decent in-built encyclopedias, which adds to their educational value.
They also happen to be pretty demanding, too. So, you know, good fun, good challenge, and some entry-level knowledge of some of the most important ancient civilizations we owe so much to. Besides, watching cities burn has been fun long before Cities: Skylines let players wreak havoc on their metropolises.
We’ve written about Minecraft before because of course we did. What else is there to add? Maybe that Minecraft is so good as a teaching aid that it has been actually used in numerous schools in that specific capacity?
It also remains one of the finest open-ended crafting experiences available, outside of several dozen buckets of Lego bricks, of course, because nothing can compare to that.
As anyone involved in creating something will tell you, making something out of scratch and seeing it grow can be immensely satisfying. Learning the ropes and figuring out the interactions between different kinds of bricks also can help develop logical thinking to a certain degree, which gets magnified by spatial awareness and planning skills required to build some truly impressive structures. Many of them also happen to be recreations of real-world buildings, so there’s some actual research involved. Although I guess there are some wangs happening, too, if the example of Spore was any indication.
Any old-school-like RPG…
There’s an old joke going around that Dungeons & Dragons is about as much about maths as it is about dungeons. Or dragons. The same could be said about most other RPGs. The ones made into or as a video game are no exception here
This is the real deal. It won’t teach you about integrals or Thales’ theorem, but you’ll have the basic four calculations down pat.
The other benefit, which mostly applies to people with English as their second language, is that these games are great for your language skills. Between context, interactivity (and thus level of engagement with the text), and frequently some pretty…loquacious writing, playing old-school RPGs can turn out to be a great language practice. And then there’s the fact that it’s easier to pretend that you’re reading, not playing. Planescape: Torment gives you more text than you’d normally encounter in a thick book!
Let’s say it up front: I can’t even begin to grasp the inner workings of EVE Online. Every time an in-game, player-made crisis happens, it makes its way to the gaming media somehow.
It is simply baffling for two reasons:
1) the extremely serious treatment of the game by its players,
2) the complexity of developer-made and player-imposed systems in order to make these kinds of things possible.
What is clear though, is that if you get seriously into playing this cosmically complicated game, you’ll find yourself developing quite a number of new skills. You’ll get a measure of understanding of economics, corporate structures, and possibly get an idea of how diplomacy works or at least should work.
If many stories are to be believed, you’ll also become well-versed in corporate espionage and sabotage. Or, you know, you could just be a drone working for some evil mastermind owning a corporation. At this point, EVE Online is pretty much a second world. It might look like any other space sim, but it certainly isn’t all fun and games.
EVE Online is a free-to-play game.
Assassin’s Creed series
Sure, the melodrama we know as Desmond’s story arc, the exploits of a Florentine noble, or the shenanigans of the Frye twins have very little to do with historical accuracy. Similarly, the conflict between the Templars and Assassins is nothing like the real one.
I’ve been sternly informed that no such shadow conflict is going on and there is no standing order to eliminate me should I say otherwise. Oh well, you learn something new every day.
Jokes aside, while most events you see in the game are flights of fancy, AC does a pretty great job when it comes to getting people interested in history. It’s one thing to read about, say, the Colosseum, it’s another to run around its faithful recreation. Throughout the franchise, you encounter an insane number of historical figures, each of them receives a handy note in the in-game encyclopedia, albeit filtered by the game’s narrative.
AC won’t teach you the nuts and bolts of history, but it does a great job painting the broad picture of the periods it tackles. Besides, climbing the world’s most famous monuments is amazing, and something no movie or history book can ever hope to accomplish.
Crusader Kings II
|Paradox Development Studio
Incest, betrayal, backstabbing, bizarre inheritance rules, inbred imbeciles, war, peace, religious turmoil. Game of Thrones? HA! No, it’s our own history we’re talking about, and it makes GoT look tame in comparison. The game we’re talking about here shows it perfectly.
Developed by the veterans of grand-scale historical strategies, Paradox Development Studio – the masterminds behind World War II Hearts of Iron, and of course Europa Universalis, Crusader Kings II is Paradox’s top-rated game on Steam. CK2 spans the time between 1066 (the Battle of Hastings happened that year) and 1453 (the fall of Constantinople and – by extension – the Eastern Roman empire).
Much like Assassin’s Creed, Crusader Kings 2 won’t teach you much about real historical events, since depending on your actions you can end up with a completely insane socio-political setup. But if you are interested in the generals and specifics of Medieval Europe’s politics and cultures, pick up Crusader Kings 2. It’s a great “What if?” game. Here you’ll find CK2 DLCs.
Plague Inc: Evolved
If you had run-ins with Flash game sites like Newgrounds or Kongregate, like, a decade ago, you might remember a game called Pandemic, specifically: Pandemic II. Effin’ Madagascar, man… Anyhow, Plague Inc. is Pandemic’s spiritual successor (to a startling degree, to boot).
Both games are all about engineering diseases and making them kill the entire population of Earth. Easy, right? WRONG. You need to consider the type of disease (bacteria, virus, parasite, fungus…) even before you start playing, as each type has different features, like survivability in adverse conditions, mutation rates, etc. Throughout the game, you have to manage the evolution of transmission factors, symptoms, medicine resistance… It’s a fairly complex game even before you add stuff like nations closing airports, closing borders, or announcing quarantines.
Long story short, the creator of Plague Inc. has been asked to have a panel at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because the game does such a good job educating the general public about epidemiology. It also happens to feature a pretty good, if simplified, disease spread model. As a fun bonus, the game also has models for zombie plague, the ape intelligence virus (a Planet of the Apes reference), and vampirism, each with unique mechanics.
The more you know
That’s our top 15 games that may actually teach you something potentially more useful than knowing how to move your mouse accurately and fast. Any of the games we put on the list gives you the right to say “Umm, actually…” whenever someone says you’re wasting your time. It also happens that these are some really fun titles, too, though they certainly aren’t going to be for everyone because of personal preferences and all that jazz. Still, you should totally at least check them out!