EarlyGame Talk: Videogames Made me Study History

Age of Empires EGT
Age of Empires is only one of the many games that sparked my interest in history. (Image source: Microsoft)

Do you remember Age of Empires? The very first one from 1997? Looking back, that game was one of the things that helped shape a large part of my life so far: From casual gamer to historian to gaming journalist. Sounds crazy? Maybe. But it's not that far-fetched.

As I said, Age of Empires was one of my first games on the PC and I loved it: Gathering berries, building huts, advancing to new ages – to this day, I'm a huge real-time strategy fan because of that game. I mean, do you remember the monks? Of course you do, how could you forget them...?

I was fascinated by the variety of units, buildings, siege engines and upgrades. Sure, I was still in elementary school at the time, but the game managed to get me interested in knights, catapults and castles. It also taught me historical facts, such as: pikes are good against cavalry.

What then followed was the first Call of Duty in 2003: It drew my attention to World War II. To this day, I think the campaign was incredibly impressive. Never before had I experienced World War II so closely and with such immersion – certainly not in school. Over the years that followed, more games built up my history thirst: Battlefield, Assassin's Creed, Sniper Elite, Civilization and many other games are all based on historical events and try to depict them more or less realistically. Unfortunately, no history lesson ever managed to grab my attention quite like that. Even movies rarely pull me in as much as a good game.

Nevertheless, these games and their settings and stories impressed me so much that I decided to study history at university.
Of course, that wasn't the only reason, but without video games I would never have developed such an interest in the past. It's truly amazing how much information actually gets stuck in your brain without you even realizing it… then, suddenly all of this pops up during your studies, and you go “Oh, I already knew that from video games.” Of course, there were some things in my studies that I was less interested in, but I finally wrote my thesis about the construction of history in video games and rarely have I had so much fun researching and writing a paper.

Today I am a video game journalist and write about new games, esports tournaments and the latest updates. Even though I don't do game reviews or test them for historical correctness, my interest in history is still there and I'm always happy about games with a historical background. For example, I've never paid much attention to vikings, but since Assassin's Creed Valhalla I've actually read up a thing or two on them.

What I'm getting at is that video games are not a waste of time or a pointless hobby. Video games can teach us a lot and definitely serve to impart knowledge. Especially in this day and age, the gaming industry is growing incredibly fast and there are more fields to work in as a passionate gamer than you might think – thankfully!

You're still in school and don't want to learn history? Play Age of Empires or Valiant Hearts! Trust me, you'll learn something whether you want to or not – and it's fun, too.

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