Heading Back to School? 9 Games That Will Make You Smarter

Total War Series by Ben RichardsonFollow him on Twitter

It’s hard to pick just one. Total War: Shogun 2 may be the most recent offering, but Rome 2 is due out sometime in 2013. With developers The Creative Assembly, attention to historical detail is a given, and each game provides a wealth of knowledge about the era in which it’s set. I’m a particular fan of the tech trees, which distill trends in the history of science and culture into clever little abstractions.

For lessons in geography, the Empire/Napoleon games are a must — they show what the map of Europe looked like before the unification of Italy and Germany (hint: complicated), and they taught me once and for all where Pomeranian dogs come from (currently the northeastern corner of Germany/northwestern corner of Poland). Of course, if you prefer battlefield slaughter to cute lapdogs, the Total War games bring the info with historically accurate units and tactics in that department too.

Limbo by Ross LincolnFollow him on Twitter

Critical thinking is one of the most important skills you should be getting out of your education. But with the emphasis on rote memorization and standardized test-taking that currently dominates the American public school system, such development is sorely lacking from the experience of too many students. Why not make up for what your schools are failing to provide you by playing Limbo?

Limbo is a surprising, mentally taxing experiencing that demands total attention from players. Deceptively framed as a side-scrolling platformer, puzzles aren’t easily solved, and the game’s numerous traps must be identified and evaded with almost no hints other than the elements onscreen. You’ll be frustrated by experiencing death after death but the sense of accomplishment you’ll get from successful completion will beat any A+. And as an added bonus, Limbo is also a great way to immerse yourself in the art of animation. With its spooky, bichromatic color scheme and clever use of shadows, every frame is a living, breathing tribute to the both golden age of black and white cartoons and to film noir.

Civilization Series by Ross LincolnFollow him on Twitter

Does History class have to be nothing but a boring lecture? Not if you’re playing Civilization, where the most exciting and brutal aspects of humanity’s long evolution come alive in the form of counterfactual battles for world domination.

Civilization offers would-be history scholars the chance to play as one of several dozen ancient and modern societies. Everything from the Assyrian Empire to the United States is available as players begin at the dawn of history, and advance their civ from stone age tech through the space age. But it isn’t just a chance to find out if the Aztecs could have beaten Spain had they used nukes, it’s also an opportunity to learn from each civilization, and from each historical era. Period-specific combat units like War Elephants, great wonders like the Library of Alexandria, even the bios of each civilization’s leader adds a strange kind of realism to the whole thing.

Topping things off, however, is the excellent in-game encyclopedia that spills enormous detail about every civilization, every unit, every historical era, and every but of researched technology in succinct detail. More than simply a regurgitation of known information, these entries even contain obscure details usually left out of your average history class (for instance, did you know Montezuma drank nothing but Chocolate? I didn’t until I played Civ IV). It won’t replace a bachelor’s degree, but it might be just the thing to get you through the next pop quiz.


Feeling smarter? We thought you might be. Now, tell us your favorite games for training your brain!

* NOTE: These games are not guaranteed to make smarter in any way, shape, or form. In all likelihood, they’ll just frustrate the hell out of you.

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