In the summer of 2000, I had the good fortune of attending a summer study abroad in Greece. Our band of merry adventurers traveled around southern Greece and Crete for over a month, staying at most four days in one location, with most stops lasting only two nights.
Needless to say, we covered a lot of ground. From the agora under the acropolis of Athens to the grand palace at Knossos on Crete, our “class” saw, walked along, touched, lived the history and culture of civilizations I’d studied for years at university. As a history major with a concentration in ancient Greek civilizations, this was a dream trip. We walked through the Lion’s Gate at Mycenae and drank raki under the stars while doing traditional dances with locals of a small town.
And while each of these memories is special, there’s one that holds a special place: the trip to Delphi. Many have heard of Delphi, as it’s the location of the famed oracle of Apollo. This was also the location of the Pythian Games, one of the pre-cursors to the modern Olympic Games.
It’s easy for us today, who take religion so very seriously, and tend to view our god(s) as stern and flawless parent-ish figures, to point at the ancients’ view of deities and say, “Not important to them.” Indeed, the stories detailing in-fighting and human emotions the gods displayed make them seem, well, less godlike, at least insofar as I think of gods.
So, perhaps their religion was not so important an aspect of the lives of ancient Greeks? Maybe the gods were there, but kind of sidelined? An afterthought? I had relegated them to that position in my mind – that explained how the all-powerful beings were fallible.
But then I went to Delphi. Thousands of years ago, pilgrims from all over Greece made the trek to Delphi to worship and seek the advice of this revered oracle. Some on foot, some were wealthy enough to have transportation, but certainly none had it as easy as we did. And as our tour bus grinded and whined and strained on the hairpin turns, making its way into and up the mountains (and I do mean up), my thoughts of the gods placement in ancient Greek society changed.
This was no minor journey these people made to Delphi. Delphi is in the mountains, and while the mountains of Greece aren’t the Himalayas, they do have a bit of heft to them. And they’re pretty rocky. And I wouldn’t want to climb them. But they did, to visit an oracle – who may or may not have been giving prophecies that day – just to butter up the god Apollo and see if he might offer some counsel. And I had no idea how deeply important it was until I made the journey myself, until I did.
Games offer us an opportunity to do. And they can make the doing fun. And because of this, games offer the ability to teach unlike any other entertainment media. Which is why this week’s issue of The Escapist, “Learning by Doing” is all about education and games. Enjoy!