I’m not sure if you have the same guilty feeling whenever you play video games, but it always tends to creep into the back of my mind – “you should be doing something productive”. This feeling is so strong that I have not touched my PS3 for at least 2 months now (thanks COMET…) but, seeing as how this is a games & simulations class, at least I can talk about one of my favorite games that I can no longer play – until winter break.
The Dynasty Warriors series by KOEI is currently in its 6th incarnation and is truly a guilty pleasure. Basically, you can win this game by having a Mountain Dew and two calloused thumbs. How then, you must ask, is KOEI able to keep releasing this hack-n-slash game over and over again? I think it has to do with their ability to draw the player into the history depicted in the game, and by slowly adding in little extras along the way.
In the game, you control a general or other important figure in China’s history. The game is actually based upon the historical novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, in which three warlords vie to unify and control all of China. While the game play itself is quite simplistic, destroy anything that stands in your way, there are a few strategic elements involved that keep the player engaged. Upgrading weapons, having hidden items that appear only when you trigger certain events, and having different game scenarios occurring on the battlefield in real-time, all add up to addiction. Also, with every new release of the game, KOEI adds a few more playable historical characters. While the first game had around 16 characters, the roster now has grown to 41!
Still, with all of the bells and whistles that the game can offer, the most interesting thing about Dynasty Warriors is that you are playing through battles and events in history. While this is not anything new in gaming, it provides a new insight into a different culture that, growing up in America, you aren’t usually exposed to. The game (in its last few releases) provides a huge historical database for characters included in the game and even for some that are just in the novel. Also, the game gives the player a detailed synopsis of the events that occurred during the period of the game. I found myself enjoying reading all of this material just as much as I enjoyed playing the game. It also made me interested enough to purchase the novel and read it! (See! I told you I was learning about history!)
Finally, if you have an interest in this game or learning about this period in China’s history, there is a really great film that has just found a limited release in the USA and features just one of the great battles in Dynasty Warriors! The film is Red Cliff, directed by John Woo. I have seen the Hong Kong version of the film which is about 4 1/2 hours long, but the theatrical release is only half that and Amazon has it for VOD.
It really is sneaky how they can get you to learn stuff, and I hope that’s a lesson I can learn to help my students – learning without realizing it! Maybe it’ll also help with the PS3 guilt trip too