203: Don't Knock the Aztecs

Don't Knock the Aztecs

Can Civ IV teach you about Central American history? Or World of Warcraft improve your German? If Dickinson College's course offerings are any indication, they can. Todd Bryant examines how he and his employer are integrating games into their college classrooms with encouraging results.

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I remeber playing Civ IV, my only problem with it is the battles, which is essentially just rolling dice. If only it could have battles similar to that of the total war games then it would've been an almost perfect game.

I do remember Age of Empires helping me out on several history tests. This could be the start of a very good trend.

Isn't part of what makes games fun the unrealistic element? I sure hope that was a primary school history test...

My freeze hammer vikings WILL knock your Aztecs!

Civ IV is a great game, but the picture of the Aztec makes him look like he has a really old face, on a not quite as old body... (In other words, he just looks weird)

Age of Empires 2 : the Conquerers has an Aztec Campaign doesn't it? Maybe thats why this all sounds familiar.

NuclearJonJon:
Isn't part of what makes games fun the unrealistic element?

Some people might find that adds to the fun, but the leading theories of fun don't require unrealism. According to Raph Koster from "A Theory of Fun for Game Design", fun is merely the brain's reward for figuring out new puzzles. As long as there is a challenge, reward, and some puzzle which the brain is slowly but surely able to pick up, the player will experience fun. It's easier said than done, but that's the meat of it.

I salute you, sir. I wish I had a teacher like you in my youth.

On this subject about games for teaching, I used LittleBigPlanet as a presentation for Biology a month or two ago (hosted online as LittleBigBiology). Got an A* and it counted as my research study grade.

One weird thing about Civ IV that never sat right with me was the inclusion of tribal villages, which were little more than random resource acquisition points. On one hand, a game that presumes to teach history is technically correct in rendering these 'non-cultures' as targets for assimilation and conversion into assets, since that's what often happened. On the other hand, the way tribal villages are represented reveals an inherent Westernized perspective on development and colonization. The player doesn't even have the choice to leave these villages alone (they are automatically negated and converted into resources once your sphere of influence reaches and encompasses them). Specifically European advancements and achievements are also given a rather weighty presence and value.

I hate politically-correct indignation as much as the next guy, but even 'learning' games like Civilization are wide open for these kind of critiques. The good news? At least they get people thinking and talking. Open dialog is better than glossing over colonial history.

NuclearJonJon:
Isn't part of what makes games fun the unrealistic element? I sure hope that was a primary school history test...

No, that would be the fun element of the game making the game fun.

Thanks to all the WWII games I aced the entire unit in my history class.

Todd Bryant:
Don't Knock the Aztecs
...Cortes was able to conquer the Aztecs because of two factors that aren't present in the game. The first was disease. The second was Montezuma's belief that the appearance of Cortes was a sign that marked the beginning of the Aztec Empire's doom...

Actually, there was a third factor that I believe is more important than the two you mention. Namely, that the Aztecs had subjugated almost all of their neighbouring tribes and were ruling practically as an "evil empire", abusing the other populations for slaves and sacrifices. That made it easy for the spaniards to find allies among the natives which were very eager to fight back against the Aztec suppresion.

Interesting article, especially considering that this is EXACTLY what I stopped studying for my Spanish final about 10 minutes ago.

Those are some of the best uses of teaching through games I've ever heard. Great article!

Eh, I always play Egypt so I avoid the Anarchy turns. That all adds up ;-)

How about Koei teaching us a hillarious version of the Romance of the three kingdoms, and in turn, a horrible knowledge of the fall of the Han dynasty?

Clemenstation:
...The player doesn't even have the choice to leave these villages alone (they are automatically negated and converted into resources once your sphere of influence reaches and encompasses them)...

You actually can leave them alone, but it means you can't exploit whatever resources they are built on top of (shades of United States history there) and they will start spawning barbarian units which burn your nearby farms, which did happen from time to time when people built settlements too close to Native American territory. It might make for a more interesting game if you could negotiate peace with the villages, but it does allow the player to understand a bit more of the early US perspective on the Native tribes: they are in the way and leaving them there prevents your nation from growing. Leaving a village alive provides no benefit to your nation, so the only reason to do so is the belief that the village has a right to exist. But I'm probably reading into it a bit too much there.

beefpelican:

You actually can leave them alone, but it means you can't exploit whatever resources they are built on top of (shades of United States history there) and they will start spawning barbarian units which burn your nearby farms, which did happen from time to time when people built settlements too close to Native American territory. It might make for a more interesting game if you could negotiate peace with the villages, but it does allow the player to understand a bit more of the early US perspective on the Native tribes: they are in the way and leaving them there prevents your nation from growing. Leaving a village alive provides no benefit to your nation, so the only reason to do so is the belief that the village has a right to exist. But I'm probably reading into it a bit too much there.

Really? In Civ IV? I've played a bunch of Civ IV games, and the tribal villages have always just sat there passively until they got amalgamated.

It would be interesting to have the option of negotiating with them, I agree. Turn your civilization into a 'federation' or something like that. Then you could have mini-Quebecs or mini-Texases trying to to secede all the time.

Yup, those three factors: disease, belief system, and allies among the natives all played in Cortes' favor. Without those three, Cortes' tiny force of Europeans would have been decimated. And considering the fact that Cortes landed on the mainland AGAINST the orders of his superiors in the Spanish monarchy, it seems safe to assume no one at home would have cared about him dying. He was practically a renegade until he reported all the gold, which was what ultimately convinced Spain to send more folks to the Americas.

Intoxicain:
How about Koei teaching us a hillarious version of the Romance of the three kingdoms, and in turn, a horrible knowledge of the fall of the Han dynasty?

Their old-school Romance of Three Kingdoms turn-based strategy games, while occasionally taking liberties with the battle system and resource abstraction, were actually fairly detailed and realistic. Dynasty Warriors came long after.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romance_of_the_Three_Kingdoms_(game)

It's considered a Historical Simulation game. If it doesn't completely follow history, it at least gets the player thinking about the myriad factors a warlord of the time had to deal with--politics, logistics, economy, and so on.

Think of it as Europa Universalis with a more robust combat system and less open-ended gameplay.

I have nothing useful to say about this article, but I can't help thinking German would be an awesome language for barking out orders in WoW.

Of course, I don't speak German or play WoW. I said I had nothing useful to say.

Tiamat666:
Actually, there was a third factor that I believe is more important than the two you mention. Namely, that the Aztecs had subjugated almost all of their neighbouring tribes and were ruling practically as an "evil empire", abusing the other populations for slaves and sacrifices. That made it easy for the spaniards to find allies among the natives which were very eager to fight back against the Aztec suppresion.

I didn't include the subjugation of neighboring tribes because I was able to include that factor in the mod. I set up empires within the Aztec area that were being squeezed on their borders on all sides, were hostile to the Aztecs, and had very unfavorable tribute agreements. They were ready allies for Cortes, but even including their numbers, they were dwarfed by the size of the Aztec army.

Clemenstation:

beefpelican:

You actually can leave them alone, but it means you can't exploit whatever resources they are built on top of (shades of United States history there) and they will start spawning barbarian units which burn your nearby farms, which did happen from time to time when people built settlements too close to Native American territory. It might make for a more interesting game if you could negotiate peace with the villages, but it does allow the player to understand a bit more of the early US perspective on the Native tribes: they are in the way and leaving them there prevents your nation from growing. Leaving a village alive provides no benefit to your nation, so the only reason to do so is the belief that the village has a right to exist. But I'm probably reading into it a bit too much there.

Really? In Civ IV? I've played a bunch of Civ IV games, and the tribal villages have always just sat there passively until they got amalgamated.

It would be interesting to have the option of negotiating with them, I agree. Turn your civilization into a 'federation' or something like that. Then you could have mini-Quebecs or mini-Texases trying to to secede all the time.

This is the reason I picked up Civ IV: Colonization. I don't think the ideas there were realized as completely as I would have hoped, but they are there.

wordsmythe:

This is the reason I picked up Civ IV: Colonization. I don't think the ideas there were realized as completely as I would have hoped, but they are there.

Wordy! I didn't know you posted over here too.

I've been thinking about picking up Colonization for the 360, but from what I remember the reviews said it was pretty dumbed-down from previous PC-only Civ titles. Still, I might grab it just for the achievements... not so much the gamerscore points, but the fact that achievements usually serve as an interesting set of guideposts for playing the game in a bunch of different ways.

Are you kidding me? This is how you want to teach central American history after your personal correspondance course of six weeks? I'm glad I was not a student at Dickinson College.

Have I ever told anyone I aced my history exam because of Empire Earth? And I actually learned my Japanese through anime? I suppose that second one is pretty normal.

And here I thought this was involving San Diego State. Shoot...

Clemenstation:

wordsmythe:

This is the reason I picked up Civ IV: Colonization. I don't think the ideas there were realized as completely as I would have hoped, but they are there.

Wordy! I didn't know you posted over here too.

I've been thinking about picking up Colonization for the 360, but from what I remember the reviews said it was pretty dumbed-down from previous PC-only Civ titles. Still, I might grab it just for the achievements... not so much the gamerscore points, but the fact that achievements usually serve as an interesting set of guideposts for playing the game in a bunch of different ways.

I get around, if slowly. :)

I didn't know they'd released Colonization on consoles. You sure you aren't thinking about Revolutions?

Grevensher:
Are you kidding me? This is how you want to teach central American history after your personal correspondance course of six weeks? I'm glad I was not a student at Dickinson College.

The Mod of the game was a tool I created, which was used by Professor Webb along books, articles, discussions and written assignments to teach a course on empires. My advanced degree is in foreign languages. I do not teach in the political science department

bryantt:

Grevensher:
Are you kidding me? This is how you want to teach central American history after your personal correspondance course of six weeks? I'm glad I was not a student at Dickinson College.

The Mod of the game was a tool I created, which was used by Professor Webb along books, articles, discussions and written assignments to teach a course on empires. My advanced degree is in foreign languages. I do not teach in the political science department

Using Games to teach school..... where do I sign up?

Couple historical misconceptions to clear up:

I've read a lot of history books that claim that the story about the Aztecs believing Cortes was a god was actually invented after the fact. The prophecies, the return of Quetzalcoatl, and all that were likely added after to make the Spanish victory seem more inevitable than it really was, and to make other tribes believe that their gods had forsaken them. If nothing else, the bad behavior of the Spanish would have tipped the natives off very quickly.

Secondly, most people think that Cortes and his small army defeated the Aztecs without assistance. I know that's how we learned it in my elementary school. We learned that just a few Spanish with guns--less than 1,000--defeated the entire Aztec Empire, with its hundreds of thousands of troops. However, doing some research later in my life, I discovered that while there were indeed few Spanish soldiers, they were accompanied by upwards of 200,000 native allies during the Siege of Tenochtitlan--other cities who were enemies with the Aztecs and agreed to fight alongside the Spanish. Basically, the Spanish just set off a rebellion. I would say that the 200,000 native soldiers were more of a factor than the Spanish in the actual battle.

Helmutye:
Secondly, most people think that Cortes and his small army defeated the Aztecs without assistance. I know that's how we learned it in my elementary school. We learned that just a few Spanish with guns--less than 1,000--defeated the entire Aztec Empire, with its hundreds of thousands of troops. However, doing some research later in my life, I discovered that while there were indeed few Spanish soldiers, they were accompanied by upwards of 200,000 native allies during the Siege of Tenochtitlan--other cities who were enemies with the Aztecs and agreed to fight alongside the Spanish. Basically, the Spanish just set off a rebellion. I would say that the 200,000 native soldiers were more of a factor than the Spanish in the actual battle.

It was the Aztec's own fault, making all their neighbors hate them. All the other tribes needed was a uniting force, something to give them the chance to right past wrongs.

OT: I've never played Civ IV but I do agree that games like these can be very educational in their own way.

I remember when I was young in Primary School and I used to play Ages of Empires 2 and The Conquerors expansion. I used to sit there for hours playing through all the campaigns and it really made history fun and engaging. I used to sit there for hours reading through the little encyclopaedia the game had on all the civilisations and the different time periods during the Middle Ages.

When I grew older into High School I used to play the Total War games, and with those games too I would sit there and absorb all the information on all the civilisations throughout history. I dare say I've learnt more about history through video games than out of any text book.

EDIT: In hindsight I have learnt more through history text books than video games, however, without video games I wouldn't have been interested in history at all.

 

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