I grew up playing games. All kinds of games. I try to remember the first game I ever played but it was far too long ago. It was probably some sort of card game like “go fish”. I know we played kick the can and all manner of sports. We raced bikes and played football with the neighborhood kids. There was a family of eight boys that lived a block away so games were always easy to find. My brother and I would jump in, usually getting trounced by the older brothers. After many a beating, eventually we could hold our own. We learned how to work as a team.

My mom bought my brother and I a Nintendo for Christmas in 1989 and it was all over. I absolutely fell in love with it. We had four games in the beginning: The Legend of Zelda, Tetris, WWF Wrestlemania, and Tecmo Bowl. I played them all furiously and would come to own many more games. We learned to share, as we would lose it quickly if we fought over it. It motivated me to do all my homework in school so I could play all the games I could while home. I wanted more games so I got a paper route. I was able to generate a whopping 27$ a week delivering papers. Nintendo games at the time were fifty dollars or more, meaning if I saved ALL of my money for two weeks I could afford ONE game. And I did this often. I learned the value of sacrifice. I also learned early on that some times in life you get ripped off! It is difficult to describe the feeling of delivering papers every day for two weeks and coming home with what you think is an awesome X-Men game and it turns out to be the third worst Nintendo game of all time. It definitely feels bad man.

I will play just about any thing put in front of me. From role playing games to strategy games to card games I could go on and on. Since learning and games are two of my biggest passions in life, I am listing the top ten games I learned the most from throughout the course of my life.

Honorable Mention: Diablo 2

The Diablo series is one of the best of all time. Diablo 2 was so ahead of its time that people still play it today nearly 20 years after it was released. This pc game was one of my first online multiplayer experiences with real graphics. Being able to interact with others anonymously while working towards a common goal (getting loot!) was a great learning experience. I didn’t learn as much directly from this game as the others on the list but I loved this game so much I got into software engineering because of it. People would make mods and all sorts of hacks for the game. I would pick them up and after running the commands I wondered how the code all worked underneath. Fast forward 20 years and I finally understand how it works! I figure that deserves a mention.

#10 Number Munchers

Math is good. Math is important. Number Munchers may have been my first exposure to learning in video games. This helped me learn math in a more interesting way than flash cards. Who doesn’t like smashing troggles with Math any way?

#9 Tetris

Tetris doesn’t have a tangible return like the others. I can not definitively say I learned XXX from playing Tetris. I do know I played this game a lot and I believe it has helped my spatial reasoning and intrinsic understanding of Geometry. There is even some research to suggest Tetris makes you smarter.

#8 League of Legends

Team work and communication. Game play wise is very similar to Diablo 2 – however this is a 5 on 5 smash fest. You are randomly teamed together with 4 other players and in a couple minutes time figure out the role each player is playing, what types of champions to pick and counter pick, and an overall strategy for winning the game. I’ve learned through playing this game that no matter how skilled a player you are, the players who win the most are good team mates. I think this is a valuable life lesson to learn and it is put on display in full force here. The smarter, better organized, and better communicating team almost always wins. I’ve learned a few bad things from this game as well – it can be hyper competitive which leads to people yelling at each other, but this is part of the lesson.

#7 Dead of Winter

Zombies are cool, let’s be honest. This is a co-operative board game where you and your team have to complete certain objectives and kill/avoid zombies. This is one of the more hard core co-op games I’ve ever played and if you don’t work together – YOU WILL DIE! Great team work game with a twist – there may be a traitor!

#6 Deja Vu / ShadowGate / Myst

Deja Vu and ShadowGate for NES and later Myst for pc all kind of fall into the same category for me. You awake in some strange land not knowing anything and are forced to piece together what is going on through clues and interacting with your environment. A complex puzzle that makes you constantly think of how to solve different problems throughout the game. These games can be super punishing, as you can use items early in the game you may need later in the game making it a constant question of should I use this here? These types of games definitely test your problem solving abilities.

#5 Fantasy Quest

This is an old school text only game that I played on bulletin board services before the internet as we know it existed. Yes I am that old. I would dial up a local server run by a guy named Lord Richter at 300 baud (thats all the phone lines in our rural town were capable at the time) and play this game for hours. I needed to play it for hours because the connection speed was so bad. This was my first exposure to a massive multiplayer online role playing game and social interaction in video games. I learned a lot through this game. As mentioned it was all text, so reading and absorbing information quickly was necessary. Fantasy Quest was also old school in that you only got 50 lives. Once you died that 50th time, you were DEAD. Could not use the character ever again. Also when you died in a dungeon, all of your gear fell on the ground with your corpse. Any one walking by could just take it all. To get it back you had to run all the way into the dungeon again and grab it! NAKED! This game had interactions with people and real consequences which was mind expansive at the time.

#4 Dungeons and Dragons

Dungeons and Dragons was the first role playing game I ever played. Admittedly this one is not for everyone. If you are the type that grew up reading Dragonlance books and always imagined yourself in magical fantasy lands this is perfect. The real learning experience here is in imagination with some heavy doses of math thrown in. Rolling a 20 sided dice over and over does hone your math skills. To this day I can do percentage math with relative ease and I believe this is due to figuring out THAC0. As I was often forced to be the dungeon master, it really made me think of new worlds and scenarios to run my friends through. Also the social engagement and being forced to play out different roles makes you understand the dynamics of a team.

#3 Axies and Allies

World War II strategy board game.  This game combines long term strategy and planning and a lot of figuring out dice odds. Teamwork?  Try coordinating 3 different ally teams against the axies powers!  It takes strategy, communication, and team work if you want to defeat these powerful nations.  Another game that is great for honing math skills and figuring out percentages.  You also win and lose as a team.  As brutal as it is to lose a game you’ve been playing for 8 hours, you suck it up as a team, think over your mistakes and try again next time.

#2 Civilization

I’ve played countless hours of Civilization 5 (I can actually count this on my steam account but I am not sharing – it is a little embarrassing). This series of pc games has taught me a lot over the years. First of all I’ve learned about countless historical figures. After playing a game with a particular leader I always feel intrigued to go and read up on them on Wikipedia. It makes history fun! This also has many strategic possibilities and ways to win which makes each game a learning experience of it’s own. It also gives you a certain civic understanding of the world. Do you want to raise a large army?  How are you going to pay for it?  Invest in the arts?  Defense?  Religion?  This combines many different aspects of how civilizations operate all from a god’s eye perspective. This leads to an immersive game of balance and counter play.  I would not know about Hannibal, Ashurbanipal, Katherine or other great leaders of the past if not for this game.

#1 Magic the Gathering

Language. Arts. Math. Imagination. Critical Thinking. Design. All of these things are pretty core to our understanding and pursuit of knowledge. Magic is a card game that some how incorporates all of these things. The cards tell a great fantasy story, and the game itself is great. You can think of it like a combination of chess and poker. At any given game you can take many different options leading to a depth of game play that is unparalleled. In essence it is a resource management game, utilizing different cards and combinations to create powerful effects. It is math and language intensive, requiring reading, comprehension and logic skills. It teaches you to weigh outcomes and make the best moves based on the information you have, and immediately changing your strategy once more information comes about. There is imagination and design skills utilized while making new powerful decks. You also have to learn to lose to play Magic cards. In the end it is an odds game and the fact is you are just going to lose some times.

Magic The Gathering


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