Civilization V: From an educational perspective

This posts outlines my thoughts and notes whilst playing Civilization V and its relation to the educational properties, predominately focusing on the tutorial levels.

This is a detailed and long post.

Sid Meier’s Civilization V

Having read a number of articles about education and games it has become apparent the learning properties from that of the Civilization series. After hearing a plethora of reviews about its appeal I got around to purchasing Civilization V about a week ago.

Whilst I have not invested a considerable number of hours and this is review is only going from what I have observed within just under 7 hours of gameplay; I can understand the standpoint in terms of its relation to educational potential.

I started out with the tutorials, having not played any of the previous series I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of what the game required from me in terms of skills, mechanics and concepts. So needless to say, a considerable amount of my time was spent learning the proverbial ropes and understanding how the game operated.

Now, playing the tutorial may not exactly qualify as playing the game, but alas, the tutorial is what I am most intrigued with in terms of educational properties. If you cannot properly explain to a player how in which they are to play the game, how do you expect them to play it at all?

What I liked the most from the tutorial menu was the simplicity and layout.

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The aesthetics; simple, bold and obvious buttons direct the player to where they want to go, along with the clear and bold tutorial topics make navigation an enjoyable experience. In relation to educational games this is an important aspect as you do not want your player having to locate WHERE to go when that time could be better spent learning what they NEED to know.

With each button outlining an aspect, you had your topics neatly set out with a description about its relevance to the game in general. The vernacular used in these descriptions is very casual, speaking to the audience on their terms I think is quite important if you want the information to be understood. However these descriptions for the most part did not reveal exactly what you will do, removing preconceptions and allowing you to play and learn in a meaningful way than the way they tell you to – that is you are able to develop your own learning experience.

As you cycle through the tutorials you get the impression that they build upon the previous, that they increase in level of difficulty and time consumption, but they are not limited to being sequential, that is a prerequisite to the previous as you can pick and choose in what ever order you so wish to do so. A good idea if you do not want to have to endure an aspect that may not be as enticing as another, but potentially dangerous if you do not understand one area properly.

Upon entering the game you learn of which world leader that you take the role of. For me it was that of Napoleon Bonaparte. The opening screen gives you a quick summary of who you are and what the situation is before you begin gameplay. Which I think is good to establish a context for you to play in, and that so you understand the period of time and thus your role within the environment.

(picture was taken after I played, hence the different leader)

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Whilst this is still a tutorial, flashing icons do well in directing your attention to important aspects so that they are not overlooked, however when the screen lit up like a proverbial Christmas tree it does not go well in allowing you to deal with, in detail, those aspects on their own and with one at a time. You have to systematically go through each one in their own. From a designers perspective this is both good and bad. It is good in the sense it teachers you the skill of multitasking and micromanagement but bad that if you are foreign to a concept; it can prove too overwhelming and create unnecessary anxiety.

Tutorials go well in outline in steps segments of the topics that you choose to undertake. Something that is important when learning new concepts. You can not understand complex aspects if you do not at least have a grounded understanding in the foundational material. Each tutorial is small with minor tasks and objectives, which in turn keep you focus on what is at hand rather than the overarching goal; which can distract you from focusing on what you need to know.

Information within the tutorials, albeit in an aural or visual form is kept simple, and to the point. The advisers that guide you through each tutorial offer you guidance without it being long winded, meaningless facts about what you are doing or trying to do. A simple statement such as “you may want to consider this” or “I have some information that may be of use” is far more effective in drawing your attention to an issue then spamming your screen with text displays stating must know this! It allows for more intrinsic learning and longer engagement.

Ultimately each tutorial consists of information that is only relevant to the topic that it is covering. This is effective game design in the sense that each aspect acts on its own accord, whilst still contributing to the game as a whole. You can view this in the way you do with chapters of a text book; in the sense that the previous segment of a topic learnt is in its own right defined in its own terms, but on the grand scheme of things contributes to the understanding and the development of the others.

Ultimately, once you have completed the objectives within the tutorial you are greeted  by welcome screen offering you positive reinforcement. “You Completed the Movement and Exploration tutorial! Nice Job!”. What I like about this is that it is still using the same vernacular as the tutorial descriptions, which is further expressed in with it displaying of a non interactive button of just: “Wait! Just…one…more…turn”, enticing you to continue playing.

With each tutorial, you play as a different leader, from Napoleon to Ramesses II, it exposes you to the variety of civilisations that are playable within the game. Furthermore you are exposed to the roles of the different advisers, so that by the time you enter the proper game, you are aware of their roles and what they can offer you.

Overall, in terms of the tutorial the game:

  • Clearly outlines what the tutorials consist of, before you undertake it.
  • Goals are clearly outlined.
  • Aural and visual information is relevant to that topic, rather than information that you may use later, by which you may have already forgotten.
  • They are short and to the point, without a looming overarching goal.
  • Many options for characters, that may distract from learning about their purpose (i.e. automated exploration, construction projects etc..) are disabled. This is good to maintain focus and ground the player in using the characters for their most basic and fundamental traits. (settlers, warriors etc..)

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Whilst I have not played the main game in considerable detail there are a few issues of concern I have found with educational consistencies and content. I understand the game is not entirely intended for an academic environment, but if looking at what works and what does not in order to distil it into a more pure academic orientated game, it needs to be addressed.

As you take turns navigating your way around the environment, you are greeted every so often with the period of time that you are entering. This is great for giving the impression of development as you establish your cities and explore the terrain, but I think that including a little bit of a history update will go a long way to contextualizing the situation. A lot of time gets spent in finding cities, defeating barbarians, researching and interacting with nearby cities, that a little bit of a historic update about what occurred during this time period would be beneficial. In saying that I can also understand perhaps why this has not been done. While playing as various leaders I have found you possess the ability to build famous landmarks such as the Pyramids, The Colosseum and Machu Picchu, just to name a few. Why is this a problem? When playing as Alexander the Great of Greece, it breaks the immersion of your role in Ancient Greece if you are able to construct, within your Civilization, historic landmarks that are not related to your country or even current period of time in history, the same can be said for discovering natural wonders. While it makes for interesting game play, it causes a disconnect from its potential educational properties.

Overall, Civilization V is an awe inspiring game to play that has many hours of enjoyment, I think in terms of a suitable game for teaching people history in an academic environment may be questionable. As I previously mentioned the disconnect that aspects of the game has, makes it difficult to properly integrate and deliver content in an academic setting. However the way the game delivers content and explains it to the player is definitely something game designers for educational content can use and develop on.

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