Any culture critic who insists animation is only for kids or that video games are rotting the brains of our youth is doing it wrong. Knowledge can come from a variety of sources – as long as you pay attention, you’ll be surprised with not only what you learn, but how you learn it.
Toy Story was a childhood favorite of mine. Even now, I still consider it one of the best animated films out there. One could reasonably argue its visuals haven’t aged well, but it has aged well in the fields that actually matter (in other words, it’s the anti-Avatar). Anyway, one of the classic gags near the beginning of the film involves Mr. Potato Head attempting to literally pull himself together after a particularly brutal playtime. In doing so, he places his body parts upon himself in a bizarre fashion and calls himself Picasso. After asking my parents what that joke meant, this ended up being how I learned of the famous artist and cubism in general.
I was one of the many kids who got swept up in the Pokémon fad of the late 1990s. Though I didn’t have much exposure to JRPGs by that point, I was nonetheless enraptured by the gameplay, believing it to be an overall better take on what Square attempted with the Final Fantasy Legend games. For my first playthrough, I chose Squirtle as my starter. When it reached Level 16, I was shocked to see it transform into another Pokémon. The game called the process “evolution”, thus causing me to become familiar with the concept (though I pronounced it “involving” by accident). Granted, I would later learn that evolution in Pokémon is actually closer to the biological process of metamorphosis, but the end result is the same.
As a kid, I thought one of the coolest aspects of The Legend of Zelda’s Oracle duology was the ability to link the two games together. By completing one game, you would get a password, which would allow you to play the other game as a direct continuation. Among other things, this would cause characters from the first game to show up in the second in addition to allowing the player to access a swath of bonus content.
The most notable feature is that by completing both games, you would gain access to one last dungeon where you would fight an antagonistic character responsible for orchestrating the events of both games. This proved to be a bit of a problem for me because the guide I was using did not even mention this dungeon. Although GameFAQs had been launched six years prior, I wouldn’t learn of it until 2003. The only hint I received to navigate the seemingly endless maze was that there was something called the “Eye of Deceit”. The problem is that, being an elementary-school student at the time, I had no idea what “deceit” meant. Again, after asking one of my parents what the word meant, I deduced that I had to go in the one direction the statues in the rooms were not looking towards in order to reach the end. Fortunately, it turns out that was exactly what I needed to do.
It should be noted my unintentional educational adventures didn’t stop after I left grade school. In 2012, I ended up getting Virtue’s Last Reward as a Christmas gift. Between the games I received, this is the one that grabbed me right away, and I had cleared it entirely within a week. I enjoyed it so much that I ended up getting Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors a month later. Despite not having many of the conveniences of its sequel, my mind was blown a second time, and I still feel it to be among the greatest games of the 2010s, being an example of what story-heavy experiences in this medium should strive to be. For that matter, I would say a lot of acclaimed science-fiction films of the 2010s come across as behind the curve compared to what these two games accomplished.
Sometime after the fact, I jokingly concluded that these Zero Escape games are some of the greatest educational games ever made. Then again, given the sheer number of scientific concepts I picked up from these games, including the Ship of Theseus, the Chinese Room, and the Prisoner’s Dilemma, such an assertion may not be too far from the truth. I was passingly familiar with the last of these having briefly watched a short-lived game show called Friend or Foe; I just didn’t know there was a name for it until I played Virtue’s Last Reward.
Now it’s your turn.
What are some of the most unlikely sources from which you gained knowledge?