How RTS Games Helped me Pass History

23 Sep

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Suburbian Bucharest, Summer 1992. Ogaja was the first word that came out of my mouth. Not Mommy or Daddy, but my mispronunciation of the Romanian word for Toy (Jucarie). It seemed that my mind was set on playing more than anything from a very young age. Winter 1996. My mesmerized vision was set on the screen of my family’s brand new Intel 4.0. The freshly installed Windows 3.11 did not hold many games my parents could entertain me with, but it did contain one magical application under the name of Minesweeper. That moment when I set my first embarrassing high score, I was prompted with a window that asked for my nickname. And that’s where Ogaja 3.11 was born. A nickname that was yet to be competing with others in our community of blocks of flats and set so many more high scores.

To my parent’s despair I was a heavy gamer for many years, from my PC to my Nintendo and even to those dark days in Internet Cafes.  My gaming habits heavily diminished when I got to University. You would say that it was the busy life, the crazy nights out combined with the studying and all the socializing that influenced this. But the truth is, I am an incurable nostalgic. The 3D, heavily textured battles of Heroes of Might and Magic V never beat the 2D animations of Heroes of Might and Magic III, for me and Unreal Tournament 2 might be the best online shooter I have played. These are the stories of Ogaja 3.11 and my love for retro games, which I hope will respark yours. 

 And to start off, I am blending in with this week’s choice of discussion of RTS. My first contact with the genre was after the 11 floppy disk installation of Civilization 1. Although the game comprised of a highly pixelated world map, with units being represented by squares, and occasional basic animations, I was immediately attracted by the amount of detailed descriptions of units, constructions and upgrades. I found myself sitting there for hours reading these in order to make the best decisions possible to make my civilization flourish. Weeks after, sitting in primary school History, my knowledge exceeded that of the textbooks by miles. I knew the times when the big emperors of the world ruled, which civilizations made important progresses and their inventions and even their currency. Even if my teacher was too conventional to accept I knew all this because of a video game, she was still very impressed with my knowledge.

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Arguably, Civilization was not strictly an RTS, being a hybrid with a 4X game, but it was the basis of a lot of others to come. Age of Empire 1 and 2, Empire Earth and Shogun: Total War are just a few examples of games that not only provided huge entertainment, but were teaching kids history, from war strategies used by different nations to who their emperors were and when they ruled. Even the more fictional Command and Conquer series had its roots in World War II and was an Americanized vision of the Cold War and the present political situation (the one and only time I also shined in Physics by knowing everything about Tesla). Sadly, this is an amount of detail and education that most modern games don’t seem to put a focus on.

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Sure, these games might have not improved my grades in school significantly, and that’s because my mind was on UFO magazines and Pokemon. But years later, the things that flat history textbooks couldn’t imprint in my memory, RTS games did through their appeal. In a time in which video games were heavily blamed for making kids violent, wasting their time and restricting their imagination, they never thought that they might also provide us with valuable knowledge.

By Ogaja 3.11


3 Responses to “How RTS Games Helped me Pass History”

  1. twohp2few September 24, 2013 at 10:18 am #

    I kid you not when I say that the original Age of Empires manual actually contained more useful information than my expensive first year university classic’s textbook. You are definitely right; you don’t find it as much in a lot of the newer games but man some of the old ones sure put a lot of time and detail into the history they were covering.

    Also, you had me at Heroes of Might and Magic 3. Probably my most played game of all time (just ahead of Civ2), and i’m still happily playing it today.

    • alecspilik September 24, 2013 at 10:37 am #

      Agreed! It seems as though the only games that go for historical truth nowadays are those made by the History Channel like ‘Great Battles Medieval’ which looks a bit rubbish. Even Call of Duty is going for the ‘fictional terrorist wages war’ approach.

  2. Constantinescu Andrei October 1, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    Back when we used to be school mates, I also remember knowing everything in Ancient History way ahead of the class, due to my all time favorites : Caesar III, Pharaoh & Pharaoh Cleopatra and last but not least, Zeus: Master of Olympus and the Poseidon sequel. These city building games taught me a great deal about ancient religions, politics, economics and architecture. Not sure about you, but I can safely say that, these games truly taught me Ancient History, and everything I knew back then on the subject, I knew from the games. I never liked our History manuals much, and I still think they failed badly at captivating our interest back then when we were ~12 years old.
    Video games are and always have been (Since my Siemens Nixdorf 286 Windows 3.1) a big part of my life, and that’s one of the main reasons why I choose to work for gaming companies today 🙂

    This is what my first pc looked like (without the transparent plastic bit):

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