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Gaming the Classroom: Assassin's Creed Odyssey as a Learning Tool for First Year Undergraduates

Debra Ann Trusty

University of Iowa

After teaching undergraduate students for over a decade, the most frustrating learning gap I have encountered is the disparity between accurate reconstructions of the Classical world and the erroneous material that has been perpetuated by pop culture (e.g. The History Channel’s Ancient Aliens). I constantly encourage my students to picture themselves living in the ancient world and try to empathize with people from ancient cultures, but this had been a Herculean task-- until the entertainment industry took the lead.

In 2018, Ubisoft released Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, a video game which puts the player in the sandals of an ancient Greek mercenary and Spartan exile during the Peloponnesian War. Available on PC, Xbox, and Playstation, this video game is much more than just a game. Millions of hours were spent by Ubisoft’s designers and researchers in order to reconstruct ancient Greece and provide the player with a realistic interpretation of the 200+ years of work completed by Classical scholars. Players are immersed in a vivid world that is bustling with activity; they can walk around and explore ancient Greece, talk to characters from different demographics (women, children, and slaves, for example), and engage in or observe different activities. Even more useful was the "Discovery Tour" mode, released a year later and created with the primary goal of education. It allows players to explore Greece without the fear of being attacked by enemies or forced to follow specific missions. The mode consists of 30 short tours narrated by five different characters (including famous historical persons like Aspasia, Herodotus, and Leonidas). The player is even given brief, informal quizzes at the end of each tour to test their understanding of the material. These features make it perfect for a classroom.

In fall 2020, I will teach a first-year seminar for honors students at my university. Together, 18 students will explore the world that Ubisoft has created. Using a $5,000 grant I received from my university, we will play the game on Xbox consoles installed in one of our technologically-enhanced classrooms on campus and engage in a research project to verify the reality of Ubisoft’s creation. For this SCS presentation, I will outline the successes and failures of using a video game to introduce students to the primary and secondary sources used to create this game. This will include an explanation of the assignments, videos of the students engaging with the game and material, and examples from their reflection assignments.

Through this presentation, I hope to make it clear that video games, when used in the right environment, can positively effect learning and provide critical thinking opportunities for students. Simply looking at ancient objects on a projector in a traditional classroom or reading translations of ancient texts is a limited and often biased way of understanding the past. Using this game, as well as traditional primary and secondary sources, students have a better understanding of the daily activities, events, and traditions that were the bones and blood of the ancient Greek world.

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