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This past year all of our history lessons were interest led. My children each chose one topic to study in depth. Not surprisingly, my son chose to learn about the history of video games.
We have spent the last 8 years studying traditional history topics – world history and United States history. The year before high school transcripts felt like the perfect time for a history curriculum break. Studying the history of chocolate and the history of video games was a great way to encourage my kids to always be curious.
Ben has loved video games since the first time a controller was placed in his hands. My nephew was spending the weekend with us and took the time to teach Ben how to play Minecraft. He was instantly hooked.
I was a little nervous when Ben asked me to teach him the history of video games. This is definitely not my area of expertise!
My husband was instrumental in creating this history of video games curriculum. He played video games as a kid and even has a computer science degree, so had the background knowledge necessary to choose educational materials.
History of Video Games Curriculum
I compiled the video game resources the same way that I do when I am creating any unit study:
- Online Resources
- Field Trips
History of Video Games Books
We read three books, but some were significantly better than the others. I am listing them in order of our preferences.
The conversational tone of writing made this book our favorite. It was packed with knowledge that was presented in an interesting manner. We were able to track the evolution of cabinet style video game consoles (like you would see in an arcade) to games on smartphones.
Each chapter cover one game. There are black and white photos showing consoles, controllers, and screen images. The margins are filled with interesting tidbits.
I read this aloud to both of my children, but my 5th grade son would have had no trouble reading it on his own.
Verdict: Highly recommend!
Blood, Sweat, and Pixels goes behind the scenes of video game creation. It tells the story of the video game designers and their struggles to get profitable games to market.
We read about 4/5 of this book before calling it quits. It is rare that we don’t finish a book, but every story was starting to blend together. Every video game designer had problems with budgets and timelines. They all spent lots of late nights hunched over the computer screens only to find out that the project they worked so hard on was scrapped.
My son did say that this book was good at explaining the difficulties of being a video game designer. It isn’t just sitting around playing video games all day. He had considered being a video game designer when he grows up, but this book squashed that idea. It opened his eyes to the reality of the job.
Verdict: This is a good read if your teen intends to go into video game design as a career. There is some language making this selection inappropriate for children (I skipped those words when reading aloud).
Shigeru Miyamoto is considered the father of modern video games. He worked on famous video games such as Super Mario Brothers, Donkey Kong, and The Legend of Zelda. My husband and I had high hopes for this book.
Unfortunately, it is dull and boring. It felt more like a long academic paper than an interesting biography. Perhaps this would be okay for an older student, but my 5th and 8th graders were unable to focus. We stopped reading part way through the book. The only thing they learned was that Miyamoto got a great head start due to his father’s connections.
Verdict: Skip it
History of Video Game Movies
This documentary showcases the history of video games quite nicely. It includes enough interviews to be factual, but not so many that it is boring. It provided a good overview of the timeline progression and the major contributors. We watched this movie to kick off our video game history curriculum, but it would also be good as a final wrap up.
Full disclosure – we haven’t watched this movie yet. I am adding it to our summer documentary list though! My kids were fascinated by the story of the ET Atari game complete failure. They have read all about the circumstances surrounding the game, but I think they will really like seeing the actual game burial site.
Online History of Video Games Resources
We love Ted-ed in my house. It breaks big ideas into short animated video lessons. Each video includes a few multiple choice questions and a think deeper question.
We spent so much time learning about video games that it only made sense to try our hand at coding too. These activities are completely online and include thorough instructions. I actually assigned them when I was out of town as an independent project for my kids.
There are tons of options, but some of our favorites were:
History of Video Games Field Trips
It was surprisingly hard to find field trip locations about video games. We live near the Epic Games headquarters so I had high hopes of taking a tour. Understandably, they are quite busy there and do not allow tour groups to traipse through their offices.
Instead, we took a quick trip up to Washington, DC. Technically we were there to see the National Christmas tree, but we snuck in a little education too. The Smithsonian National Museum of American History had a video game history exhibit. Ben loved it of course. Video games are not really Hannah’s thing, and she wasn’t feeling well, so she didn’t explore the exhibit as much as Ben.
Studying the history of video games was more interesting than I expected it to be.
Have you ever tried interest-led history curricula?
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