In 1996, many Friday nights looked something like this: cassette tapes of my favorite songs (taped off the radio of course), a couple cans of iced tea, some pizza, and Civilization 2. I generally played as the Celts, a vague sort of hat-tip to my emerging cultural pride (I’m Gerad Francis O’Shea after all). My strategy was simple: accept peace accords from any friendly societies, focus on developing new technologies but never trade them, move quickly towards developing The Great Library, never pay tribute (especially not to Napoleon), never engage in alliances against anybody unless the request came from Native-American societies, only fight wars if completely necessary; and if they were, crush the opponent.
The Sid Meir’s Civilization franchise has sold over 8 million units over the last 25 years and is widely considered one of the best “strategy” franchises of all-time. Civilization IV was listed as #2 on IGN’s 2007 Top 25 PC Games of All Time. Most everybody agrees that these games are great but they are rarely, if ever, considered an educational game.
Is world domination the purpose of the game? Yes.
Can you acquire nuclear weapons and vaporize entire societies? Yes.
Is it really fun and really addicting to play? Yes and yes.
Okay, there is suggested violence in this game (no blood, no personal combat). But there is also real and integrated educational content. As part of one’s pursuit of world domination, one must create settlements, irrigate the land, build roads, create a sustainable agricultural economy, chose from new and developing forms of government to influence civic output and civil unrest, manage alliances with actual ancient societies and decide which technologies to pursue to shape your available units and civil structures (e.g. “should I discover the wheel so I can recruit chariots, or develop literacy and build a library?”). I can still name the Seven Wonders of the World through my Civ II gaming, though they have probably changed since I was in 8th grade.
Gaming is supposed to be fun! It’s not fun to solve math equations on a touch screen so you can earn a chance to throw ninja stars at a giant cat (that’s a real app). Great educators will tell you that comprehension is often best achieved by using skills in an applied setting. If a game is primarily applied math (economics) and problem solving directly related to real historical events, how is it not an educational game!? It should be considered a model for integrated curriculum.
It is important to consider Civ II, and the entire Civilization franchise, as the app store becomes increasingly cluttered with shallow flashcard apps. Not all games need to be educational, but all games have to be fun! That’s the point. It would be great if more educational games resembled the successful and engaging “non-education” games.