‘Games are for children’, ‘stop wasting your time’, ‘why don’t 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 them by brutally murdering hordes of demons in Doom. But every once in a while a game comes out which 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.

Top 10 games which may teach you something

GameGenreRelease yearDeveloperCheck price below

World of Warcraft
MMORPG, Fantasy2016Blizzard EntertainmentBuy now!
Kerbal Space ProgramSpace flight simulation2011SquadBuy now!
CivilizationTurn-based strategy, 4X2016Firaxis GamesBuy now!
Pharaoh
Caesar
Zeus
City-building
Strategy
1999
2006
2016
Impressions Games
Tilted Mill Entertainment
Buy now!


Buy now!


Buy now!

MinecraftSandbox, survival2011MojangBuy now!
Planescape: Torment
Pillars of Eternity
Temple of Elemental Evil
RPG2017
2015
2003
Beamdog
Obsidian Entertainment
Troika Games
Buy now!


Buy now!


Buy now!

EVE OnlineSpace simulation, MMORPG2003CCP GamesBuy now!
Assassin’s Creed seriesAction-adventure, Stealth2007-2018Ubisoft
Gameloft
Read more
Crusader Kings IITurn-Based Strategy2012Paradox Development StudioBuy now!
Plague Inc: EvolvedRTS, simulation2015Ndemic CreationsBuy now!

World of Warcraft (and MMOs in general)

Genre:MMORPG, Fantasy
Release year:2016
Developer:Blizzard Entertainment

Sure, MMOs are usually insane time sinks and the image of an obsessive gamer a general popular has is of no help at all, but there is a side of things rarely considered, yet pretty important.

World of Warcraft: Legion

MMOs are by definition social affairs. Sure, the player may abhor the light of day and have little to talk about with uninitiated people, but they have constant contact with other people, 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” in CV. It turns out that spending long hours handling the needs and demands of sometimes hundreds of people, complete with internal hierarchy, duties etc. in a highly competitive and results-obsessed environments translates really well to managing people in real life and pretty developed so-called “soft skills”. Who would’ve thought! There is also something to be said about devotion to the task.

Kerbal Space Program

Genre:Space flight simulation
Release year:2011
Developer:Squad

Physics are boring, right? Well, yeah, if you go about learning in 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 - gameplay

Take a better look, though, and a game with exceptional physics engine emerges, and what you build makes perfect sense. It doesn’t substitute for the engineering degree, 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 Civilisation until they build you a space shuttle, it’s another to do it yourself. It turns out that physics can be fun. How about that.

Civilization

Genre:Turn-based strategy, 4X
Release year:2016
Developer:Firaxis Games

Speak of the devil, huh? The Civilisation 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 is great at doing something else.

Sid Meier's Civilization VI - the quay

It quite nicely depicts the growth of civilizations from a tribal level and some of the stresses of managing such budding cultures, on the military, scientific, social, and political fronts. It succeeds partly because it is more concerned with the theme than presenting it in a fully historically accurate manner, which 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 running a civilization through centuries and having to make uneasy compromises. Just don’t go around quoting your Civ exploits during your history exams.

Pharaoh / Caesar / Zeus

Genre:City-building
Release year:1999 / 2006 / 2016
Developer:Impressions Games / Tilted Mill Entertainment

Where Civilisation was concerned with a macroscale and abstracts, the 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.

Zeus + Poseidon - city

During the campaign, the player plays a 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 take upon themselves to depict and come with decent in-built encyclopedia adding 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. So that’s nice. Besides, watching cities burn has been fun long before Cities: Skylines decided to let its player cause havoc.

Minecraft

Genre:Sandbox, survival
Release year:2011
Developer:Mojang

We’ve written about Minecraft before because of course, we did. What can we say that we haven’t yet? Maybe that Minecraft is so good as a teaching aid that it has been actually used in numerous schools in that specific capacity?

Minecraft - flat

It also remains one of the finest open-ended crafting experiences available, outside of several dozen buckets of Lego brick, 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 kind of bricks also can help develop logical thinking to a certain degree, which gets magnified by the 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 research involved. Although I guess there are some wangs happening too if the example of Spore was any indication.

Any old-school-like RPG…

Genre:RPG
Release year:2017 / 2015 / 2003
Developer:Beamdog / Obsidian Entertainment / Troika Games

…like Planescape: Torment, Pillars of Eternity, Temple of Elemental Evil
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 adapted to, or developed as, a video game are no exception.

Planescape: Torment - red enter

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 and this one 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 aren’t playing, you’re reading. Playing through Planescape Torment gives you more text than you’d normally encounter in a thick book!

EVE Online

Genre:Space simulation, MMORPG
Release year:2003
Developer:CCP Games

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 makes it way to the gaming media like it did recently.

EVE ONLINE - cosmos

It is simply baffling for two reasons:
1) how seriously the players are treating the game, and
2) how complex are the developer-made and player-imposed systems to make this kind of thing possible.

What is clear though, is that if you get seriously into playing this cosmically complicated game you’ll find yourself developing 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 be just a drone working for some evil mastermind owning a corporation. At this point, EVE Online is pretty much a second world, and the consequences and interactions can leak into ours. It might look like any other space sim, but it certainly isn’t all fun and games.

Assassin’s Creed series

Genre:Action-adventure, Stealth
Release year:2007 – 2018
Developer:Ubisoft / Gameloft

Sure, the melodrama we know as Desmond’s story arc, the exploits of a Florentine noble, or the shenanigans of Frye twins have very little to do with historical accuracy. Similarly, the conflict between Templars and Assassins is nothing like the real one.

Assassin's Creed: Odyssey - bull

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 are flights of fancy, AC does a pretty great job in getting people interested in history. It’s one thing to read about, say, the Colosseum, it’s another to run around it, faithfully recreated. 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 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 hope to accomplish.

Assassin’s Creed Video Games

Crusader Kings II

Genre:Turn-Based Strategy
Release year:2012
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 - a map

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 f Hastings happened this year), and 1453 (Constantinople – and by extension the Eastern Roman empire – falls).

Much like Assassin’s Creed, Crusader Kings 2 won’t teach you much about the real historical events, since depending on your actions you can end up in a completely insane socio-political setup. But if you are interested in the generals and specifics of Medieval European politics and cultures, pick up Crusader Kings 2. It’s a great “What if?” game.

Plague Inc: Evolved

Genre:RTS, simulation
Release year:2015
Developer:Ndemic Creations

If you have a past with Flash game sites like Newgrounds or Kongregate dating back a decade, 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).

Plague Inc: Evolved - gamescreen

Both games are all about creating disease and making it kill the entire population of Earth. Easy, right? WRONG. You need to consider the type of disease (bacteria, virus, parasite, fungus…) before you ever start playing, with each type having different specific features, like survivability in adverse conditions, mutation rate 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 have a pretty good, if simplified, disease spread model. As a fun bonus, the game also has models for zombie plague, the ape intelligence virus (per Planet of Apes), and vampirism, each with unique mechanics.

The more you know

That’s our Top 10 of 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 playing useless games. It also happens that these are some really fun games, though they certainly aren’t going to be for everyone because of personal preferences and all that.

What are your suggestions for games holding more than just entertainment values? Let us know in the comments.