Computer games are art according to the US government and NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) and this is about as official as you can get.
It’s good that one’s settled. But I dare to say, that they are not just art but can actually make you smarter!
Sometimes a great game blurs the line between a realistic simulation and a very fun game and achieves the supposedly impossible and becomes more than just a game.
I’m not talking about games for consumeridiot console-kids, who are stuffing their faces with Cheetos and calling each other “FAGGOT!” while playing their latest mind-numbing FPS game.
I’m also not talking about the games for the hordes of “”gamers”” (with a double quotation mark) ,whose only experience in gaming is Farmvilee and similar repetitive mind-numbing caricatures of real games. You won’t find these gems among those games.
Thank god however, there is extreme variety on the computer game landscape. There are games you can play, which are both beautiful works of art and at the same time make you think as well. You might end up learning something new too. So if you are a gamer or a parent with kids, who are gamers, then by all means read on.
In short: Do video games make you smarter?
PC>Consoles for now
Mods! The biggest single reason for this are mods.
The origin of the word was “modification” but they evolved into something much more than mere modifications and the bigger ones out there rival official expansion packs. Mods add depth, additional content and customization to computer games. And mod authors do this entirely FOR FREE!
This is just as unbelievable as Wikipedia’s(free encyclopedia of everything by unpaid volunteers) existence and success. You gotta love the internet and geeks.
Using mods especially many mods and mods for older games requires quite the technical know-how and expertise. Not to mention you too can become a mod author if you want to, and of course, if you have the time.
Modding is the second biggest drive behind young boys early-developing computer skills. Just barely behind hacking porn sites for free porn and before setting up private multiplayer servers online. For more information on how to make the most out of your gaming time check out my other blog post.
I’ve only selected games, which even on their own contain intellectual depth and that certain “je ne sais quoi” to be considered “games, which make you smart”.
I’ve included the mods -if any- I’ve used at the time of playing.
Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri + Alien Crossfire expansion pack
Release date: 1999
Mods used: None
A fine example of a complex 4X strategy game. It is essentially a sci-fi Civ clone but it is much more than just a simple clone. The game has a deep and engaging story. These alone would not be enough to qualify for this list.
This game has a special place on my list and it is the number one for a reason.
This game is a work of art and has immense intellectual and strategic depth. It is hard to pinpoint out the sole reason why this game is such a masterful tool to transmit knowledge but hard-pressed I would say it’s because of the technology quotes and the secret project achievement animations.
Every time a new technology is discovered the game plays a relevant quote and every time a secret project is built it played an animation and a quote. These quotes ranged from fictional quotations from fictional books to Bible quotes and Li Po poetry interspersed by quotes by famous philosophers, scientists and politicians (see the Youtube video below) .
This game made me be able to flawlessly quote Machiavelli, Newton, Emanuel Kant at the age of 13! Not just quoting it but it actually made me read such books as Machiavelli: The Prince, Emanuel Kant : The Critique of pure Reason and St. Augustine: Confessions . To this day I can still remember most of the quotes.
This game taught me more about philosophy and ethics than all of my high-school and university ethics and philosophy classes combined!
An example secret project animation(the resolution is quite poor as the video was uploaded 6 years ago)
Sim-City 4000 +Rush Hour expansion pack
Relase date: 2003
Mods: Basically all of them from here: http://www.sc4devotion.com (Including-NAM and CAM)
Buy here: I don’t know a good place…. Do you know any? Drop me a line in the comments and help me out.
Simcity 2000 was my first one in the series and I’m hooked ever since.
Actually, no longer, as the latest one ,Simcity 5 -or as it is simply called, Simcity- is quite a disappointment. It is obviously dumbed down to accommodate the ever shrinking attention span of shallow ADD(attention deficit disorder) sufferer console kids. The map size is an abhorrent abomination compared to the large maps of Simcity 4K. I’m not just going to complain about it but I’m going to do the worst what a simple consumer can do.
I advise you to do the same if you are a disappointed SC fan like me as this is the only thing which can change such consumerwhore megacorporations as EA. I’m going to complain about it and NOT GOING TO BUY IT. EVER! Take that EA.
I mostly played Simcity 4K with the expansion pack Rush Hour and with hundreds of mods. Simcity 4K is obviously the best in the series and with the mods the most complex and most-entertaining.
This game teaches you more about the complex economy of cities and about economy in general than most university economy 101 classes and teaches you about the complexities of infrastructure, utilities, environment etc…
And you will need to know all this to successfully manage a realistic simulation of a megalopolis. Not just one city but a whole interconnected region of cities populated by millions of people.
I would advise anyone to play only with the mods, because the game without them is a little bare bones compared to the infinite complexity and fun of the modded version.
Release date: 2006 (constantly updated and expanded)
Mods: Masterwork mod bundle
“Buy here” (It’s free! They subsist on donations.): http://www.bay12games.com/dwarves/
Dwarf Fortress! Need I say more? For those of you “in the know” probably not. If you ahven1t tried it so far,then you are missing out.
This game is basically the most complex, hardest to learn game out there with a mind-boggling variety of in-game resources (hundreds of different types of rocks, ore, soil and even trees) and attention to detail. Especially with mods.
You control the lives of a group of dwarves in a proceduraly generated sandbox world -complete with hundreds or thousands of years of proceduraly generated history, lore, heroes, kingdoms and legendary monsters- as they embark to establish their own fort.
This is the ultimate sandbox game. The game is HARD and extremely complex but what can you expect from a game, that has the motto: “Losing is fun” .
This game has hundreds if not thousands of different resources, materials and realistic, complicated resource management and crafting system. The crafting system hasenough content to fill 10 MMORPGS!
I advise you to clear out your calendar for a week (or a year…) if you dare to try it as if you manage to get into it and learn to play it (few do), then it’s hugely addictive.
I would advise you to only use the modded version as the original has a minimal rouge-like graphic, and to be honest it is not easy on the eyes. The graphics mods does not detract from the depth of the game and only makes it more accessible.
Masters of the World, Geopolitical Simulator 3
Release date: 2013
Mods: None yet it’s just been released
This game is my favorite currently and the one, which inspired me to compile this one in the first place. Reportedly this game is used by NATO as an educational tool to train their diplomats.
This is the most realistic geopolitical and world economy simulator to date.
The game let’s you take charge of any country and control them in a realistic simulation of the entire world. Sounds complex? Sounds scary? You don’t know the half of it! Do try.
Medieval II. Total war +Kingdoms
Release date: 2006
Actually any one of the total war series could be mentioned as an example. I just like Medieval and Medieval II. the most.
Mostly because of personal preferences as a European I feel more in-tune and inclined to play with the one taking place in the European medieval ages.
The games in the series are the perfect examples of grand strategy games, where one game lasts a good 20+ hours. Don’t start playing with this unless you have time to spare!
This is a black hole of free time but it more than compensates with giving you the ability to rewrite history and immerse yourself in a realistic (realistic with mods) strategic simulation.
The battle system and simulation is the most realistic and complex medieval warfare simulation to date.
Not to mention the graphics are gorgeous in the latest installment (Shogun II.) and at the time of the release the graphics of Medieval II. was among the best as well.
I never ever played it without mods but I’ve heard it is quite unrealistic and nowhere near as deep as with mods. I advise anyone to try the game with the mods.
Crusader Kings II. with all of the expansions
Release date: 2012
This game is very similar -being a grand strategy game- to the campaign mode of the Total War series.
Imagine Total war with the pretty battlefield simulation taken out and with an even more complex in-depth economy, diplomacy, resource management. Basically that is Crusader Kings II.
I highly recommend buying the expansion sets for the game as they add quite the depth and fun to the game.
This game is a time-sink as well so be prepared to not be able to finish one game in one sitting. (unless you have butt mad out of iron and endless amount of free time….)
The game is really deep and realistic. It teaches you among others more about the medieval European (mostly dark ages period from 1066) history than all of your high-school history classes combined. This game -like every other one on the list- is not for everyone and has quite a steep learning curve.
Galactic Civilizations II. with all of the expansions
Release date: 2006
Mods: More Anomalies mod
Buy here: http://www.galciv2.com/Purchase.aspx
This is another great 4x scifi grand strategy game, which let’s you create your own interstellar empire.
If you play with all the expansion packs , then you are in for quite the treat. It is great vanilla as well but they add to the gameplay experience tremendously.You wont regret it, especially now, as the price is heavily discounted.
Unique tech trees for every faction, unbelievably huge galaxy map (One game can last days or weeks!), random events and competitive AI, unique racial skills and abilities just to name a few of the things you can expect.
I’ve played with this game for years. It is not that easy to get into but well worth the try.
Release date: 2012
This game is a 4X sci fi strategy game, very similar to Galactic Civilizations II. You might say it is a spiritual successor.
They added heroes and other RPG elements and an interesting battle system.
Complex, deep, engaging, intellectually challenging game just like Galactic Civilizations.
See for yourself. Check out the let’s play video.
Release date: 2008 (constantly updated, ongoing development)
Buy here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/72200/
The game’s motto should be : “The most fun you ever had while learning” .
Indeed, you will have a surprising amount of fun in this near-scientifically accurate simulation of our solar system and the Milky Way.
Create your own solar system. Bored? How about turning our sun twice the size? Better yet, into a black hole.
What if a comet -or two thousand?- would hit the Earth? Make the Moon larger than the Earth and see what happens.
These are only a fraction of the fun things you can do in this space physics simulator. Check out the included “let’s play” video to get a better idea.
The simulator is free for teachers and for educational purposes.
How awesome is that?
Release date: 2001
Buy here: http://www.gog.com/gamecard/capitalism_2
This is once again not entirely a game as this is a business (commerce and marketing) simulator used around the world in many schools as a teaching aid.
However, it does not mean that this is not fun. It is most certainly the most entertaining “tycoon” style game I’ve played but with attention to detail and depth like no other.
Basically in this game you can create your own company. Be it a mining company, retail chain, farming or a real estate empire, your goal is to become the market leader and become the biggest corporation.It is easier said then done because on harder difficulties it is an effort to simply just to survive.
This game is really scaleable. The complexity and the difficulty is adjustable so it is easier to get the hang of it for newcomers.
The real fun only starts on higher difficulty and with higher complexity.
I studied economy, commerce and marketing at the university but this game has taught me more about commerce and marketing than most of my courses.
Highly recommended for those seeking a challenge and wanting to learn about real business management at the same time.
UPDATE: A new and improved remake of the original has just been released: Capitalism Lab . I haven’t had the time to check it out yet but it looks promising and will definitely buy it and give it a go as soon as I have time.
I want to make another list but I’ve run out of “smart games”. So if you have played any game, which you think is suitable for the next list please drop me a line in the comments below!
If you want to maximize the effect of these games and turn gaming time into class time, check out: How to make the most out of your Gaming Time