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.

There are plenty of video games that teach or help you learn.

Video Games which may teach you something
GameReleaseGenreDeveloperSale
Farming Simulator 22 2021-11-22 Simulation Giants Software 56% Read more
This War of Mine 2014-11-14 Adventure 11 bit studios 93% Read more
Sid Meier's Civilization VI 2016-10-20 Economy Firaxis Games 93% Read more
Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition 2015-07-29 Adventure Mojang Read more
Minecraft Java Edition 2013-11-19 Action Mojang 20% Read more
Kerbal Space Program 2015-04-27 Adventure Squad 86% Read more
Planescape Torment Enhanced Edition 2017-04-11 Strategy Beamdog 89% Read more
Hearts of Iron IV: Cadet Edition 2016-06-06 Simulation Paradox Development Studio 84% Read more
Caesar 3 1999-05-30 Strategy Impressions Games Read more
Assassin's Creed: Valhalla 2020-11-10 Action RPG Ubisoft 70% Read more
Portal 2 2011-04-18 Adventure Valve Read more
Sid Meier's Civilization IV 2005-10-25 Economy Firaxis Games 91% Read more
Sid Meier's Civilization V 2010-09-23 Economy Aspyr (Mac, Linux) 78% Read more
Pharaoh + Cleopatra 1999-10-31 Simulation Impressions Games 14% Read more
Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition 2013-01-16 RPG Beamdog 73% Read more
Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition 2013-11-15 RPG Beamdog 78% Read more
Pillars Of Eternity Hero Edition 2015-03-26 Action & Shooter Obsidian Entertainment 93% Read more
World of Warcraft 2004-11-23 MMORPG, Fantasy Blizzard Entertainment Read more
Crusader Kings III 2020-09-01 Strategy Paradox Development Studio 74% Read more
Europa Universalis IV 2013-08-13 Economy Paradox Development Studio 87% Read more

        

Portal 2

Release:2011-04-18
Genre:Adventure
Developer:Valve

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!

Portal 2

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

Release:2014-11-14
Genre:Adventure
Developer: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.

This War of Mine

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

Release:2021-11-22
Genre:Simulation
Developer:Giants Software

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)

Release:2004-11-23
Genre:MMO
Developer:Blizzard Entertainment

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

Release:2015-04-27
Genre:Adventure
Developer:Squad

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.

Kerbal Space Program

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

Release:2016-10-20
Genre:Economy
Developer:Firaxis Games

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

Release:~1999
Genre:Isometric city-building games
Developer:Impressions 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.

Pharaoh / Caesar / Zeus

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.

        

Minecraft

Release:2015-07-29
Genre:Adventure
Developer:Mojang

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?

Minecraft

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…

Release:1995-2005

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

Any old-school-like RPG…

If you find yourself ever struggling with basic math, go ahead and calculate your “To Hit” value in Temple of Elemental Evil, or the bonuses for equipping a piece of stat-boosting gear in Tyranny.

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!

        

EVE Online

Release:2003-05-06
Genre:Space MMORPG
Developer:CCP

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.

EVE Online

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

Release:2007-2020..
Genre:Action RPG
Developer:Ubisoft

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.

Assassin’s Creed series

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

Release:2012-02-14
Genre:Economy
Developer: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.

Crusader Kings II

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

Release:2016-02-18
Genre:Indie
Developer:Ndemic Creations

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).

Plague Inc: Evolved

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 13 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!