CrashCourse starts a fun, smart 20-week YouTube series on games

by: Randy -
More On: World of Warcraft

CrashCourse is a YouTube series put together by experts in World History, Biology, Literature, Ecology, Chemistry, Psychology, and US History. This past week, CrashCourse expanded to games in what's projected to be a 20-week series of videos talking about everything from games written on caveman walls to virtual reality. The whole idea behind CrashCourse is to make this stuff accessible to people that aren't necessarily immersed in it for 20 hours a week. At the same time, there are great callbacks to gaming history as well as games' current place in culture at large today. Hey, I am somebody immersed in video game culture every single day, and I still think this is a wonderful way to spend 10 minutes regaining perspective on games as a whole.

So, while the title of this video is "What is a game?" things go deeper without getting stuck out in the weeds for too long. It starts out with a rather rote, dry-mouthed definition of games (not just video games): A game is a construct that organizes play through a series of rules, for the purpose of achieving a set of goals, overcoming an obstacle, and/or attaining an objective.

There's no short answer as to why we play games. We play games for a lot of different reasons. There are around 145 million video game players. Major universities offer classes in game development. This introduction hits on a lot of varied topics. I have no doubt that in 20 weeks, we'll have gained -- or regained -- a wealth of information on the topic.

I like how CrashCourse goes into a "corrupted blood" pathogen that spread further than it was supposed to in World of Warcraft back in 2005. Epidemiologists started studying this, noting how the in-game hit-point-draining epidemic spread with a similarity to SARS or Avian Flu; and terrorism experts noted that some players intentionally spread the epidemic, and how their behaviors aligned with the formation of terrorist cells in the real world. *shudder*

There's talk of "gamification," a term that's reviled by some people, but is a fact of life in the world around us. Gamification can take the form of rewarding students with badges for completing assignments. Some fitness apps award badges just for walking around. Heck, I'd posit that filling out a punch card at a coffee shop for a discount on that twelfth cup is even a form of gamification.

They touch on studies with positive outcomes for gamers, citing increased gray matter and increased connectivity in gamers' brains. Surgeons who played video games for more than three hours a week made 37% fewer errors during surgery. I hope this series likewise digs into the, well, perhaps darker side of gaming culture, but it's easy to see that games can be a positive force in the world too.

Again, this series isn't meant for you if you already know everything about everything. But this appears to be a great start to a 20-week (or so) series of videos from CrashCourse.