What should you play in class? Researched opinions on "game reading list” (part 2) - Try Evidence
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What should you play in class? Researched opinions on “game reading list” (part 2)

After the Polish Prime Ministers declaration on adding This War of Mine game to the high school reading list as part of the program, at Try Evidence we immediately started wondering what else should be added to such a list. We were also curious on which games were considered “reading list material” for high schoolers by industry experts, gaming veterans or regular players. We asked about their opinions after which we dug into the Internet in search for comments; we analyzed over 1000 player comments on forums or websites. All of this served us at finding out which games gamers consider “high school reading list material” and what values they see in them.

In our previous post we presented results from the first part of the analysis – what gamers have to say about the games named as “reading list material” by the industry experts. In this part we’d like to show you the titles spontaneously named by gamers as “reading list material” outside of the ones named by the experts, as well as how those titles were commented on forums at Gram.pl, Steam, PPE.pl, Gry-Online.pl or in the comments from our own survey, conducted simultaneously [PL only] as our teams’ discourse analysis research.

In our discourse analyses we focused solely on threads relevant to potentially adding a game to the “reading list”; we therefore omitted comments on the technical state of the game, complaints on weak audio track, praising the graphics etc.

In the further portion of this text, all opinions are the researched player opinions, unless specifically stated otherwise.

Assassin’s Creed Series – walk in the French Revolution [PEGI 18+]

The general plot of the games in this series was ranked very unevenly and the players could not agree on a common score for them (which predominantly depend on whether the players were focusing on the story or the gameplay mechanics). Up until a certain moment, only the second part in the series (Assassin’s Creed II) stands above all divisions, which seems to be a benchmark gamers relate to when talking about other Ubisoft titles.

What distinguished this series from its competition is undoubtfully the settings and historical characters as well as the faithful city depictions (up until Assassin’s Creed Syndicate inclusive). This allows players to dive into historical metropolises, get a taste of the culture of the given nations or get a glimpse of significant historical events. That’s why it might be valuable to include those titles in the game reading list.

 

„The biggest pro of the game is the incredible creation of London” ~ yaper

„Paris was perfectly depicted and the player can really feel like they’re there” ~ Lightning

„You can find interesting historical facts pop up on the map like descriptions of certain places or the behaviors of Ancient Greeks; the old names of the territories are interesting. In general, to whomever is interested in history – I recommend this one. You can really get hooked – after all it is the Peloponnesian Wars.” ~ MisioKGB

The best example highlighting the possibilities delivered by the various settings is the educational mode introduced in Assassin’s Creed Origins. The combat-free mode allows the player to walk freely in the ancient cities, meet historical characters and witness events, all well described by the narrator.

Players alco complimented the coop mode introduced in the fith gme of the Series (Assassin’s Creed Unity). Allowing players to freely roam through the ancient series with a group of friends, the mode could be a nice addition in a history class e.g. on the day discussing the French Revolution. Despite the creators not being able to 100% mirror all areas of the ancient city (due to the general lack of passed down historical data on how exactly they looked like), the game does allow players to view places of interest such as the Notre Dame Cathedral, which suffered due to a fire in 2019.

„The coop mode (up to 4 players) i quite nice and other than freely roaming through the city, we can also complete quests” ~ fon112

Some players, however, are bothered by the direction the series is taking, departing from maximum realism and faithful depictions of real locations, for the sake of an RPG game set in areas allowing game creators to freely build the game world.

„I always liked the series for its ability to combine the game plot with real places and historical events. I think there are more people like me out there. If I enjoyed the world of fantasy, I am sure I’d find a bunch of titles to satisfy my preference. AC was always a little different that way, and that why I liked that game.” ~ procesorjl

Detroit: Become Human – choices evoking existential dilemmas [PEGI 18+]

Players state that the strongest suit of Detroit: Become Human is its immersive and interesting story, which frequently touches on difficult subjects (violence at home, drugs, unemployment caused by technological advances etc.), which is thought provoking. Albeit according to some the game can be naive and unoriginal at times, some faults are won over by its non-linearity and the great amount of decisions one can take.

„You can come to many conclusions about our society, people, economy as well as aspects of human awareness and emotional functioning.” ~ KoksekArnes

„The plot may not be anything special, but the way it is presented is. Almost every one of the enormous number of choices we make has an impact on its further course and it is tempting to get to know them all..” ~ Foks Moulder

Regardless of how the story layer was scored, many players wrote that Detroit is an emotional rollercoaster with extreme sensations, which in the light of the given choices to make, leaves players with existential dilemmas.

„An emotional rollercoaster. I love when games or films evoke emotions in me. Best yet if they’re extreme, and all of them at the same time. This time Mr. David rocked my world entirely.” ~ BlondSpaceBoro

„ I did not expect that I would experience the presented story so emotionally and that so many scenes, words and pictures would remain in my memory. So this is probably the best review of the game. The depth and symbolism contained in the plot gives a lot to think about.”

„ No game, nor even a movie, has evoked such emotions in me yet.” ~ ruldziarz

Due to its gameplay mechanics many players call this more of an interactive movie. Which albeit in the eyes of many players can disqualify the title, from the perspective of non-gamer-savvy high schoolers could in fact be a big advantage.

Dilemmas, decisions and consequences of those felt “on ones own skin”, together with the story talking about the role of AI in the society, could be basis of discussions on philosophy, ethics or morale, and could also encourage students to think about the future they may one day find themselves in. That’s why that’s a good potential position on game reading list.

God of War – a literature-worth slasher [PEGI 16+]

The most named pro of the game is its story. Immersive, intriguing, ambitious and well led, talking about a difficult relationship between a father and a son – which is where it sticks out from other slashers. Players say that God of War is an emotional game, which setting evokes interest in Nordic mythology, which could be a nice get-away for students continuously discussing Greek mythology (at least that’s the case in Poland). The story in its complexity does not come short to literature, and its audio-visual layer only multiplies the experience.

„I don’t who’s the scenarist for this game, but the created world, locations or characters we come across etc. Are at the same level as in the best books in this setting. The beautiful packaging [audio-visual] only magnifies the experience.” ~ Dominik Hyży

„Story-wise you honestly can’t complain about anything; father-son relationship, journey motif, development of their relationship, mythology of the north and all its quirks; the devteam really did a hell of a good job.” ~ xrayPL

Despite distancing itself from the rigid limitations of the genre, the game itself does not require a ton of thinking, which could potentially be a blocker for adding the game to the reading list. And although the game does not lack interesting themes – which can be analyzed and compared with other works of culture – in the eyes of critics, the world of God of War is not a very reliable board for chopping enemies, and the mythology itself, according to some, has been treated neglectfully.

„The plot is very average, the main character is gloomy and reticent, side quests – kill, sweep, bring” ~ Victarion90

„Nordic mythology has barely been addressed here.” ~ m4tekt

„Some totally unbelievable world which seems to only be a box where you can hop stuff up without greater meaning.” ~ forzaroma

NieR: Automata – Japanese, weird, artistic [PEGI 18+]

The strongest suit of NieR: Automata is its plot which provokes the player to consider the topics of morale, ethics and philosophy, Similar to Detroit, the game asks about the notion of humanity or the border between man and machine. All of this is completed by an amazing audio track which plays very well with the presented story or the mechanics.

Although first impressions may contradict it, NieR is an ambitious and artistic game, and Yoko Taro himself (Japanese screenwriter and director best known for NieR and the Drakengard series) has been called a visionary many times and compared with Hideo Kojima (Japanese designer, director, screenwriter and producer, responsible for the Metal Gear series or the latest Death Stranding).

„This game is a concentrated amount of philosophical content in one pill, which casued my inability to get back to normal 3 days after finishing it. You don’t beat that game, the game beats you. Completely changes your approach to life, AI, the boundary between a robot and a human, the very notion of humanity, death and  nonsense of life.” ~ szczenalol

„The whole plot is a masterpiece (a bit too sad for me), which crushes you into an armchair, and if you have no chair back, you fly back to the ground. I haven’t had so much reflection on many aspects of humanity, the future, human choices etc. for a long time.” ~ Enc0re123

„A metaphysical journey through a crazy world where cyberpunk debates heavy questions with steampunk. Yoko Taro (director) shows that the player’s intelligence can be respected in this medium. Effect? I will not forget this adventure.” ~ Res3t.ini

Players found motifs of Final Fantasy or Ghost in the Shell within NieR, or even references to Nietzsche, Final Fantasy, Ghost in the Shell or references to Nitzsche, and also saw room for interpretation and discussion about the game in a group of other people.

„Lots of content to interpret, lots to think about and discuss with others.” ~ szczenalol

NieR: Automata is a thoroughly Japanese game whose specific style and artistry are clearly visible. Mixing genres, changing the perspective from 3D to 2D and other exercises make the game even more unconventional and unique. On the one hand, thanks to the specificity of the game, students would have the opportunity to go beyond the European cultural circle and get to know the aesthetics of Japan and their approach to game development, on the other, unfortunately – through a strange and confusing story (which can be difficult to understand without knowing the previous games), and also the lack of explanation of the game mechanics, high difficulty level and the need to complete it three times – makes it a game not suitable for everyone.

Red Dead Redemption 2 – an ambitious wild west simulator [PEGI 18+]

Serous, mature, unusual and deep storyline is the greatest advantage of Red Dead Redemption 2 according to players. Although the story itself isn’t epic and talks about the every-day life things of regular people (which gave it the nickname of a wild west simulator), it does not leave players indifferent and evokes numerous emotions. Many players say this Rockstar’s best production.

„It’s a game about a brutal world which doesn’t forgive. The amount of morals which can be drawn after the game is over is overwhelming. I confess, 2 times a tear in my eye has sprung, and in my book, it means success, because little can move me emotionally.” ~ TurboFanEngine

„The plot is very depressing, and we will lose almost everything we collect along the way.” ~ rkBrain

„Rockstar’s Opus Magnum!” ~ Rise

Players admired the creation of the world, which is polished in every detail which increases its credibility and immersion. This very factor makes many players state this is their game of the year or even the decade and will leave its footprint in the gaming industry for a long time. The visual aspect completes the movie-like presentation of various scenes and acts. This gives an excuse to begin discussions on composition of frames, which could show students how one can build a story or show a story with frames in movies or games.

„Brilliant example showing how a game can reach a very high level of cinematography; many movie-makers wouldn’t be ashamed of such a production and plot” ~ Invisible

RDR2 is a mature game, it’s very calm in its pacing because of which – according to the comments – is a game for older audiences. The way the story is told and the gameplay pacing in this Rockstar title can discourage younger players craving action and adventure. The final blow would be the length of the game (between 50 and 75h according to howlongtobeat.com) which with its calm pacing could bore students.

„Coming back to the headline, the reviewers are mostly people like me around 30, people who already got the partying out of their system, who need new experiences. Next “Bang! YES I killed a cop!”  will not impress them anymore, they went through that some 15-20 years ago, playing the first installments of GTA, or many other FPS games. Players are mostly children and teenagers. So ss much as an adult will be completely absorbed by the idyll offered by RDR2 – after all, you do not need to hurry anywhere – a kid is thirsty for action; everything must be colorful, there must be shots, there must be constant action!” ~ omosquito

 

Valiant Hearts – a brutal story for kids [PEGI 12+]

This game, based on real letters sent out by soldiers during the First World War is highly appreciated due to its faithfulness to historical facts, showing the reality of the Great War, educational qualities or emotional stories (regardless of their simplicity). Valiant Hearts demythologizes war as the stuff of glory and presents a different approach to history than school lessons, where victims are often nothing more than statistics.

„The gloom and helplessness the conflict was presented well. The medium of computer games is properly used here. We see a lot of death and suffering, which are often part of the gameplay. The images and interactions are also a means of communication – not just the words.” ~ gutosaw

„A beautiful and touching story about the fate of several characters during the First World War. The armed conflict is somewhere in the background, and the goals of individuals, whose fates sometimes intertwine in a surprising way, matter more in the actual game.” ~ zanonimizowany579358

„One can think they’re watching a documentary about WWI.” ~ sebastor

Many players consider Valiant Hearts a game directed at kids or teenagers, which isn’t necessarily a fault – some say that if they were given a chance to play it as a child, they would be very moved by it. Some comments said that one could learn more about WWI from the game rather than history classes.

„When playing Valiant Hearts, I kept thinking I should be younger to play it, much, much younger. I’d then remember it as well after all those years, as I remember the great “The Ancient Art of War in The Skies” from Microprose (1992). Maybe even stronger memories as the visuals Valiant Hearts have to offer won’t grow old (as well as its message, which the above-mentioned oldie from 23 years ago did not have)” ~ Lemur80

„Nevertheless, I would like there to be as many productions of this sort as possible; ones which not only tell a valuable story, but also have an educational value. There will certainly be people who, after completing Valiant Hearts, will consult other information sources to learn more about the Great War.” ~ zanonimizowany579358

Try Evidence believes Valiant Hearts would be great for the middle school reading list. It shows the reality and tragedy of war and encourages players to conduct their own research and dive into history; and the cartoonish art style, humoristic moments and short gameplay (which was a fault according to players) could protect the child from feeling overwhelmed with the serious topic of the title.

Summary

There is no doubt that games offer tons of opportunities to be used in education. Not only in Polish language lessons, where the main topic is usually the discovery of the true meaning, the bottom line, and the analysis of the motivation and transformation of the characters, but also, for example, in history lessons many associate with memorizing dates. Computer games can arouse interest in distant cultures, provoke reflection on philosophical topics or mature difficult stories in accessible forms (even for children). Unfortunately, most of the ambitious games due to age limitations, could be on the game reading list only in secondary schools.

On the next episode of the series about the game reading list…

In the next part we’ll go deeper into games selected by industry journalists, such as Journey or Abe’s Oddysee and we’ll analyze why they think those titles are worth being on the game reading list.

How did we research this?

We collected and analyzed almost 1,000 positive and negative comments from Gram.pl. PPE.pl, Gry-Online.pl and from Steam. Then from all the narratives we separated those fragments that in our opinion may indicate why a given game should be included in the school reading list. We therefore omitted the technical aspects of games as well as those purely designed for entertaining (quality of graphics, attractiveness of mechanics and systems, e.g., shooting, etc.)

During the analysis we distinguished the key aspects of games as seen through the prism of possibly discussing them in schools and introducing them to the game reading list and we focused on those. These were, among others: the plot, moral dilemmas, (non) linearity, audio-video setting (the style used, not its quality), literary motifs, quality of dialogues, characters or references to other works of culture.