A Question for the Readers #15: A Quest for Knowledge

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?

38 thoughts on “A Question for the Readers #15: A Quest for Knowledge

  1. I always enjoyed reading as a child (I still do, when I find the time). But I found that video games did just as much to strengthen my vocabulary as books ever did! Games like Pokémon, Zelda, and Dragon Quest 1 & 2 on the GameBoy were text-packed adventures that introduced new words and concepts in small doses. As you said, this trend continued as I got older with big RPGs like Oblivion and Dragon Age. Aside from vocabulary, I’ve gained a lot of random bits of knowledge from a plethora of games: none that I can recall right now, unfortunately.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Yeah, a lot of people say that you need to read to become a good writer, but I find in practice, it’s better to consume multiple forms of media. If you limit yourself to one medium, you miss out on the subtle intricacies of others. I know I ended up picking up a lot of new words through Zelda and Pokémon myself along with Fire Emblem.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Too old to have ever played any computer games, plus I don’t have any kids. As a kid I spent hours in the library researching stuff for school projects which I can quickly look up on the internet today. Best thing is I’ve remained curious.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. This reminded me of playing through Gunstar Heroes as a kid and at the end one of the characters stating they need to “make amends” and going to my Mom afterwards and asking what that meant.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. The West Wing got me going on my love of specifically constitutional law and sometimes its not necessarily one thing but I used to follow recaps for Lost and Battlestar Galactica that they’d have book lists and further reading along the lines of this is where they pulled the philosophy in this episode that would send me down plenty of rabbit holes. It would make it easy and I always felt like I learned things from all three of those shows!

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Nancy Drew games taught me a lot about different topics from Mayans to France to Japan. The games are mystery games so there were plenty of puzzles as well which were fun to solve and I also learned about Sudoku through one of the games!

    Liked by 4 people

  6. As someone who is a philosophy noob, I learned a lot of fascinating stuff from the Zero Escape series too. Indiana Jones also motivated me to read up on Atlantis. Games are a great way of imparting knowledge. Kids are more likely to learn from a source they enjoy rather than a boring school teacher. My account on GameFAQs is 17 years old. I created it when looking for Final Fantasy Legends tips would you believe.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Speaking of which, I should probably finally get around to playing Fate of Atlantis at some point. And you’re exactly right. It’s important to receive knowledge from as many sources as possible, but context is needed to make it stick. Otherwise, you’re just juggling around a bunch of vague concepts. And I can believe you created an account to look for Final Fantasy Legend tips considering how cryptic those games could get.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. You definitely echoed most of my response with The Nonary Games series. I remember specifically being sparked by the Ice-9 puzzle in 999 and then looking up nearly everything else as it came up.

    To veer off a little, though, I also always had an underlying love for mythology growing up. Once I discovered the Shin Megami Tensei series, it really kicked into high gear and I started looking to all kinds of video games- Final Fantasy, Wild Arms, Fatal Frame, just to name a few- and hunkered down into learning more about a variety of different mythologies I had never thought to before.

    This is an incredibly cool article idea, though. There really is just so much that can be taught or learned from video games and a number of others sources if folks are inclined and want to take the time to check them out.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Yeah, and what makes it more effective than, say, Jonathan Blow’s approach, is that Kotaro Uchikoshi actually provides context for these scientific concepts. I remember The Witness trying to educate me, and failing because I’d forget what points the lecturers were trying to make the minute they stopped talking.

      Considering the many sources from which Shin Megami Tensei forms its mythology, I can see that being quite the educational experience. I had no idea Michael was the name of one of God’s archangels until I played Persona 4.

      As I said, any journalist who dismisses video games as mindless nonsense is doing it wrong.


  8. Playing Civilization II as a kid taught me a lot about different forms of government. I ended up always playing Communism for its high scientific research and total lack of unhappiness (because under communism, happiness is mandatory!) I also didn’t have to mess around with public opinion to go to war like you would in a Republic or Democracy. I was really an oppressive ruler.

    The Megami Tensei series also showed me new mythologies that I’d never studied before, as well as the evolution of Satan in the Old Testament, who wasn’t originally the Devil as we understand it, into the fallen angel Lucifer that we have today in Christian theology.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Yeah, that’s the thing I like about Civilization; there are so many different ways by which you can achieve victory. Being an artsy, forward-looking type, I really enjoyed going for a cultural or space race victory.

      I myself wasn’t familiar with a lot of Christian mythology, so the exposure I’ve had to the Shin Megami Tensei series ended up being an inadvertent crash course for me as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Also, forgot to mention: I agree about the Zero Escape series. I learned about the Prisoner’s Dilemma in high school when we were talking about the Cold War, and then I see it again in Virtue’s Last Reward, and Uchikoshi implemented it well in a totally different context. I liked how he used other concepts like that, not just to show off his knowledge but in ways that really contributed to the story.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yeah, with writers like Jonathan Blow, you get the sense that these people know a lot of stuff, but they provide no meaningful context to go with their knowledge. I’m sure they intended to be profound. However, in practice, what they do isn’t that much more advanced than reading the “Did you know?” section of Wikipedia aloud to your audience. Mr. Uchikoshi, on the other hand, is the real deal, and by providing context, he demonstrates that he actually grasps these concepts rather than just having read about them in a book one time.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, it’s important to realize that a wealth of information can be drawn from what most people consider unlikely sources. All in all it always pays to listen, doesn’t it?


  10. I was pretty behind the ball when it came to learning to read because I was lazy (well…I still am lazy). It took the Pokemon games to give me a reason to want to even learn to read in the first place. There are also several other games I’d be hard pressed to list off that taught me words I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. Most people picked up new words from books…I picked them up from games.

    It’s been mentioned by others, but The Land Before Time and Jurassic park were instrumental in my enjoyment and learning about dinosaurs as a kiddo.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I myself was always drawn more to video games than literature. Fortunately, I grew up in a time in which localizations were starting to become consistently good, so I don’t think it cost me. I even learned from one of my friends mistakes when she played Wave Race 64. She didn’t like how a race turned out so she wanted to “retry” the race. That’s not an option; she instead chose the similarly spelled “retire” and was confused as to why she lost. That’s how I learned the distinction between those words.

      And I remember as a kid feeling I’d been had when we were discussing dinosaurs in science class and realized many of the dinosaurs featured in Jurassic Park were from the Cretaceous Era instead. To be fair, Jurassic Park does sound better than Cretaceous Park.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. As AK mentioned, the Megami Tensei series is great for introducing you to new facets of mythology. It doesn’t even attempt to use them accurately, and it doesn’t go into detail on them, but it does bring some really obscure corners into light for further development.

    I don’t remember which one, but I first learned about surface viscosity from a Star Wars novel.

    And I learned about the Chinese Room and morphogenetic fields from the Zero Escape series. As you said, they were very educational.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I definitely think that’s for the best because if they just used them accurately, it would’ve made things a little too predictable. It places the onus on players to look up these facets.

      Weirdly enough, I learned of the word “viscous” through an adventure game (I think it was one of the Chzo Mythos games) – I thought it said “vicious” at first.

      The Zero Escape games are some of the best educational titles out there, huh? I like how seriously Mr. Uchikoshi takes his audience.

      Liked by 1 person

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