Learning History through Gaming – “Valiant Hearts: The Great War”

Rarely do we get a game that can blend fiction with reality so seamlessly. Ubisoft’s “Valiant Hearts: The Great War” does just that.

Taking place from 1914 to 1917 in war-torn Europe, Valiant Hearts follows the story of four characters: Emile (a father who is drafted to serve in the French army), Karl (son-in-law to Emile, and father to a three-year-old son, who is drafted to serve in the German Army), Freddie (an American soldier who volunteered to fight with the French), and Anna (a Belgian veterinary student who serves as a nurse on the battlefield). This comic-book style side scroller immerses its players into the world of World War I. Not only are the characters’ stories a reflection of what actual soldiers experienced, but they are also a way of making history come to life like never before.

When someone wants to learn about a specific time period, the first thing to come to mind is not often a video game. Instead, people usually look to books, documentaries, and museums to gather their information. Video games are generally seen as platforms for fictional stories. There are games, like “Assassin’s Creed” and “Call of Duty”, that fall into the historical fiction genre, but these titles do not serve the purpose of education—for they are more focused on entertaining their audiences with blockbuster effects and story arcs. Though historical fiction is a great way to shine a public light on history, it is not the greatest way to distribute the true facts. For this reason, people usually see video games as a no-go territory for education. However, “Valiant Hearts” challenges the traditional ways of teaching history.

Along with a fictional story following believable characters, the game offers a “Collectibles” mechanic that allows players to learn about the significance of certain artifacts and events. While solving puzzles, players can pick up “collectible items” that can be accessed from both the main menu and an in-game submenu. By clicking into these locations, the player is met with a list of the artifacts they gathered. Underneath each object is a brief, but detailed, description of its significance to the Great War. These facts are historically accurate, and build a greater understanding of the war, immersing the player into the historical landscape of the game even more. The act of finding new artifacts within the game encourages players to search for relics and read what they collected as a reward. This is a fantastic blend of interactivity and learning, which is a productive way of education that more institutions should practice.

Video games are more than just shooters and dungeon crawlers, they can be incredible platforms for education and growth. The team at Ubisoft saw this potential and decided to use the interactive elements of gameplay to teach history through an entertainment lens. Although the game experience is much different than that of visiting a museum, there is a unique charm that comes with playing as characters in a historic setting. You connect to individuals and events differently than you would if you were just reading a marker in a display case. You feel the emotion of completing an assignment, of witnessing the loss of a character’s friends. With a digital collection of artifacts readily at your disposal, you can easily switch from playing the game to reading actual facts of the real-world battles—all accompanied with a soft, ambient piano. To those who are not avid history buffs, games like these are important to publish. The education of history is something that belongs to all, it is something that should be accessible in every way possible, and taught within a variety of platforms. Overall, Ubisoft’s “Valiant Hearts: The Great War” is a unique take on public history, immersing players into the unforgettable stories of both fictional and true events.

Available on PC, Xbox, PlayStation, Android, and iOS

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