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My name is Will Peacock. I'm a long-term gamer, a full-time teacher and a part-time geek. I've been blogging about these topics since January '14.

You can find me writing in the Community area here, or at Kotaku. I'm also on WordPress. If you're feeling really adventurous, you can follow me on Twitter.

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Two weeks ago I was on a school trip in Berlin. Each time I go on this trip (this was the fifth time) a student looks up at the Reichstag building, turns to me and demands to know if that was the building 'they' assaulted at the end of Call of Duty: World at War. Every trip, without fail, and it always makes me chuckle.

Returning to my blog after a two week hiatus, I find myself mulling over an odd question (which formed somewhere between leaving the amazing city of Berlin and challenging my students to Mario Kart on the coach ride home) that I wish pose to anyone who has ever been a student or teacher:

If you could organise/embark on a school trip to a video game location, where would you go?

There are numerous lists peppered across the internet describing the video game worlds we'd most like to live in or the worlds that would be awful locations to visit. But what about the educational value of such places? Are there video game lands that – if we could visit – would make inspiring, educational experiences for young people. Whilst most gaming worlds would be interesting to visit, some would be way too dangerous. We might argue that the world of Fallout 3 would prove insightful for any student studying nuclear physics, but I wouldn't want to fill out the risk assessment...

I have a few examples in mind, but for now I present just one for your consideration. The first thing you'll notice is that suspension of disbelief is required. Not only is the location in the past, but an alternate past at that. To make matters worse, the site is in a poor state of affairs before the original game even begins. The point however is to consider how incredible a video game world could be if we could visit it in all its glory.

A School Trip to Rapture (Bioshock)

Rapture only really had few good years. The construction of the underwater city began in 1946 and was fully completed in 1951. By 1958, a devastating Civil War and increasing addiction to the superpower-inducing 'Plasmids' sends Rapture into the chaos which the protagonist of Bioshock 1 is subjected to. In those few good years though, Rapture would have been an amazing place to take students.

When History students at my school hear that the Berlin trip will include a 15 hour coach ride, they tend to groan and grumble. You would have no trouble convincing students to journey to Rapture; few would miss the opportunity to take the submersible down to the ocean floor, to behold the sea life swirling about the staggeringly beautiful architecture.

If you were simply taking students to see Rapture, as a reward for hard work or as a fun weekend away, you would not fail to find enjoyment. An entire entertainment centre can be found at Fort Frolic; a large Farmer's Market, a museum, department stores and numerous lookout spots will keep students occupied at all times; the luxury apartments offer excellent accommodation. You can also rest assured knowing your students are safe: not only is the entire complex literally water-tight, but the Sentry Bots will keep a close eye on anyone wandering off.

But what if you're planning a trip to Rapture for a particular subject? Whatever the course, your students would greatly benefit for a stay in this extraordinary place. The very nature of Rapture allows the study of almost anything to be greatly enhanced,

"In Rapture, Science, Industry and Art would thrive undisturbed by intervention from governments, religious institutions or other social agencies." (Bioshock Wiki)

For a short while at least, Rapture was a place where invention, creativity, study and self expression were paramount. It's in this environment that the minds of your students will greatly develop.

Is Rapture relevant to your subject?

Biology: a trip to Rapture combines the study of genetics and gene-splicing with the ideal environment to observe marine animals close up.

Business Studies: What better way to expand the minds of budding business men and women than by visiting stores and shops that thrive despite being trapped at the bottom of the ocean.

Citizenship: Students can witness the development of a brand new society, with new laws, rules and ideas. Then they can witness how all of that failed horribly.

Design and Technology: The benefits of learning how a city can be built and sustained underwater should be apparent. The transport system should also get the young minds racing.

Drama: There is an excellent theatre in Rapture. The performers are a tad eccentric, but they put on a good show.

History: If the chance to view a slice of 1940s/50s lifestyle isn't enough for you, discussions on ideologies – democracy, communism, fascism, objectivism – would be thoroughly enriching to any young historian.

Physical Education: Students will have their eyes opened to the real limits of the human body in an environment where Plasmids are commonplace. Just don't let them get too close to those needles.

Religious Education: Okay... so religion isn't really allowed in Rapture. Yet students may gain some important insight by observing a society devoid of religious involvement.

Final Thoughts

It's good to be writing again. I lead the Berlin trip two weeks ago, and last week involved a lot of work on my new house. That's partly why this post is a little shorter – and a little more random – than usual. Next week is probably going to be just as busy, so I will probably add a part 2 to this post to keep things simple. I have two other locations I would love to take students to. I'm hoping you have a few ideas yourself. Maybe you can think of some other benefits of visiting Rapture? Or maybe I've overlooked a potential risk of visiting this game location? I'm pretty sure it's risk free.

Thank You For Reading.
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A student once asked me if Richard the Lionheart was ginger (we'd just finished a lesson on the Crusades). I stated that, yes, records show that King Richard I had red hair. The student gleefully announced that he had seen Richard in the city of Arsuf when playing Assassin's Creed. Once again, a video game has provided a visual queue for a student's studies.

Our hobbies and our professions are usually kept far apart. This is usually deliberate; a hobby allows you to take your mind off the work waiting for you. In other instances the career and the pastime are so different that they rarely cross paths. I usually put aside my enjoyment of video games when teaching… but every so often the two benefit each other.

All the way back in March, I highlighted five reasons why being a teacher who games could work in your favour. In that post, I focused on how allowing yourself to be a Gamer-Teacher can benefit you in the classroom. In this follow up article, I'd like to suggest how your 'gamer side' can further improve the individual student's education and well-being.

If you would like to read the first post first and the second post second, click here.

6) Students can concentrate.

Using game references and imagery in lessons can seriously improve the attention of students who struggle to focus. Students diagnosed with ADD, ADHD or any other similar condition can find it extremely difficult to focus on the task in hand. These students are unfairly labelled as 'the naughty kids' by people outside the education system, which is far from the truth. Whilst it's completely plausible that a student with ADHD could also be badly behaved, the fact is most of the students you will come across with this or similar Disorders are often students who enjoy learning, and want to learn, but find concentration difficult.

For the last three years I've used the occasional video game reference in my lessons. Small comparisons, representations or jokey asides that hook the interest of my classes. For the gamers, it's exciting. For the non-gamers, it's amusing. And for the students with difficulties concentrating, it's a really valuable addition. Those little moments give the distracted something to focus on.

With serious cases of ADHD, forcing a student to work sensibly for an entire hour is asking a lot. Some teachers will allow for a few minutes of distraction. The student might be allowed to complete a puzzle or doodle for a few minutes before returning to work. A policy at my school permits some students to go for a stroll around the school with the teaching assistant, returning to work refreshed and focused. For a gamer-teacher, getting a student with ADHD on track can take less than two minutes.

I've acknowledged in the past that I am by no means an expert on gaming or on education. Despite this, even I have found that after just one short conversation about video games, unfocused students have their moment of diversion, and can return to work refreshed. Each time I see a student with ADHD becoming restless, I approach them asking what they are playing these days. They tell me; they ask what I'm playing; we chat for a bit. I then ask "so where were we?" referring to the work. The student, focus returned, continues with the task. They are happy to have been recognised as a gamer, and they were provided with a two minute distraction that sets them back to work.

7) Students can talk to you.

In every school community, there are varying levels of confidence. Some students are in their element when answering questions and discussing points in big groups. Others take a back seat, more than happy for others to take the limelight in the classroom. Whatever the case, all students can go through difficult times. Nary a day goes by when at least one student finds themselves facing an emotional, personal challenge. The hope is that, when those moments arise, the students have people to talk to inside and outside of school. As teachers and an adults, we try to be one of those people.

In the last post I stated that being a Gamer-Teacher gives you a level of coolness and credibility. This can benefit you within the classroom. I'd now like to address a more sensible benefit: letting students know you are a gamer-teacher allows them to quickly realise that you are an adult they can relate too. By making students aware that you are human, you also let them know that you are a person that they can confide in. That teacher likes video games too. I can talk to them.

You may not even realise that you are helping. Nevertheless, one day a worried face may appear around your door, looking for a teacher that they know will want to listen to their problem. I'm not trying to argue that being a gamer is the only way to relate to students on their level. Some people prefer their TV dramas. Others prefer sport. The point is that when you let the students realise you're not just the stuffy old person making them do homework, they will be more inclined to open up when something is troubling them.

8) Students want to read.

Some students don't want to read books. That goes for a lot of adults too. It certainly makes sense; movies and games are instantly gratifying, and books take more concentration. If the act of reading is difficult for you, the choice between going to the cinema and picking up a book is an easy one to make.

If given full control, video games can take over a child's free time. In moderation however, video games can benefit a child's learning. Promoting the desire to read is just one of the benefits. Firstly, games themselves have fantastic stories, and inspire creativity. More importantly, the number of novels and short stories orbiting around a game franchise is ever increasing. Even comics and manga based on video games make a contribution to literacy.

Video games themselves are also advocates for improving reading comprehension. Not only do so many games require a certain reading level – the Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds decided to add a recommended reading age to the back cover – but the tutorials, text prompts and messages all get children reading. Of course, those same students should also be reading from more traditional sources as well, but it's reassuring to remember that a student who enjoys video games is still required to do some reading.

9) Students can be rewarded

If a student gets House Points, it means they have done well in school. If a student gets enough House Points, they will most likely get a certificate, maybe a book token or cinema voucher. There's also a healthy competition to be had between individual students and between the 'houses'. By the end of the year, the highest achieving, best behaved students deserve an extra award. In the last week of this school year, a small group of students at my school are being given a half-day "picnic in the park". In the morning, before the picnic, those students will be able to enjoy a range of quizzes, games, challenges and video games.

Can you guess which of those incentives has had the biggest impact on students wanting to prove how well behaved they are? That's right, the video games. As the school year winds down, behaviour can become an issue. The promise of Mario Kart within school grounds, while everyone else studies, has gone a long way to combat behavioural issues in the final weeks. Some might call that bribery... but it's Mario Kart.

Further Thought

As with the previous post, I must stress that use of video games in school is something that should happen sparingly. If those references are made effectively, they can have a really positive impact on the classroom and on the individual student. Maybe you agree? Maybe you have some suggestions of your own? Or maybe you feel that gaming and teaching should remain apart? Either way, I'd love to hear your view.

Furthermore, if you have a link to another post that discusses gaming in education, please share that link in the comments box. Greater writers than myself have already carried out amazing research regarding this topic, many of which focus on the connections between literacy and gaming.

Thank you for reading.

If you enjoyed reading, you might like to read more at Wordpress, follow me on Twitter or on Facebook.
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Some of the greatest games only get one play through. Whether the adventure lasts for ten hours or one hundred, or occupies your gaming time for several months, there will come a point where the most entertaining game fulfils its purpose. The story is complete; all achievements are unlocked; each puzzle solved; every enemy slain. No matter how great, most games fail sooner or later.

But not every game. Amongst the shelves of past games or buried in a hard drive is that game you can always return to. Regardless of how long it's been since your last visit, that game will always deliver. When it seems like you've played every game in your collection, a little voice reminds you that you could always play that game again, and you can't think of any objections. I would very much like to talk about that game today.

Below are my most Dependable Games. The first is a game I've been playing and replaying since I can remember. The second is a game that will always prove reliable with friends. The third is a newer game, slowly proving to be a steadfast companion.

The Faithful Old Friend – Populous: The Beginning

I know that I played other games before Populous, but this is the first game I can remember asking for. I was really, annoyingly insistent about it. After months of petulant begging and not-so-subtle hints I was allowed this game for my birthday. By then I'd played the demo through so many times the game felt like an old friend even before the full version arrived.

As strategy games go, Populous is straightforward. You begin each level on a new planet, in control of a small tribe. At first you have two unit types. The first is a simple villager, capable of building new wood huts and throwing a few punches, should an enemy villager get too close. The huts they build generate more villagers (which are curiously all male in appearance) and so the tribe grows stronger.

The second unit is the key to the whole game. You control a single Shaman who wields god-like magical powers. Even by the end of the first level she can torch enemy tribesman and call forth lighting. There are over twenty five spells to discover. Should the Shaman die in battle, she will resurrect back at your tribe as long as there is a tribe left to return to. Once you or the enemy tribe is reduced to zero, the level is done.

With each new level, new units and new spells are unlocked, bringing greater strategy and chaos into gameplay. Your tribe grows more powerful: warriors could take on three tribesmen with ease; fire warriors allow for mid-long range attacks; priests convert enemy warriors to your cause. The Shaman herself gathers a terrifying arsenal of powers: panic-inducing swarms of insects, spells that reshape the land, firestorms… the number of possible ways to decimate your opponents is just one of the ways the game drags me back even today. In some levels I challenge myself to build my army up to its maximum (200 units) before storming the enemy encampment. In other levels I only used the Shaman, calling on every spell to torment and terrify the evil Shaman's minions. On more than one occasion I only used the 'Erode' spell – which sinks a patch of land into the sea – slowly dragging the aggressors into the ocean.

I won't argue that this is a perfect game. Time has certainly not been kind to the visuals in the game. The levels are repetitive - despite different landscapes the objective is always the same and the opponents barely change throughout. There is also one embarrassing issue with the intelligence of your tribesman. If you ever command them to go to an area they can't reach they will throw their hands up in the air with dismay and, unless you tell them to do otherwise, will stay like that until they pass out and die. Yes, your units can die of confusion.

Nevertheless, I have returned to this game on countless occasions, several times each year, if only for one or two levels. The whole game is instantly enjoyable and satisfying. The sheer number of offensive options allows for diverse gameplay. The presentation is welcoming, neat and oddly childlike (Fire-blasted enemies arch through the air like they are in an episode of Tom and Jerry). Plus, the game truly allows you to play god. And not in the modern, life-or-death altering way. This game allows you to play like the Greek and Roman Gods of old.

I love this game. I've been playing Populous: The Beginning since 1999, and whilst it now only makes fleeting appearances, it still gives me joy between games. Whenever I find myself at the end of surprisingly short campaign and I can't think of what I want to play next, there is always Populous.

The Trusty Multiplayer – Mashed: Drive to Survive

I've no interest in an authentic racing experience. Sit me at the controls of the most accurate, high definition vehicle every created by game developers and you will see a man confused. How do I boost? Where are the guns? Why design a racetrack you can't fall off? WHY HAS NO ONE EXPLODED YET?

In my younger gaming days I was fully aware that there were racing games that wanted to be realistic and racing games that wanted to fire you from a cannon and throw things at you. TheMicro Machine games were an especially adored franchise amongst my friends growing up. When Mashed: Drive to Survive emerged, I saw a chance to relive the enjoyment with the friends I met at Sixth From College.

I assumed that Mashed would deliver a few hours of light-hearted enjoyment. It wasn't long before me and my friends realised that this was a game we could always rely on for entertainment. Any great 'local co-op' game is simple to learn and play, and Mashed is truly simple. The aim of this top-down racer is to go faster than your opponents. Go far enough ahead and your one, two, or three opponents will detonate. You get points, and the race resets. So the game goes on until enough points are reached.

Then there are the weapons. Mounted Machine guns and homing missiles give the racers at the back of the pack chance to catch up (or send the lead cars into oblivion). Drum bombs and flamethrowers give the leading vehicles a chance to claim a point. Even when an opponent is knocked out of a round, they have the option to aim missiles at the cars still in play, claiming revenge from the grave.

One of the main reasons I adore Mashed is that the game mechanics are just a little bit...off. The physics is a little suspect – whilst a single blast might turn your car over, two or more simultaneous explosions can send your automobile shrieking through the air. A skilled driver can deliberately cause their car to 'fish-tail' in the road, and a well time swing can smack a chasing car off the track. On top of this, the vehicles perform almost as effectively goingbackwards as they do going forwards. This leads to situations where two or more cars come out of a collision facing the wrong way, but continue on as if nothing has happened.

Grown up jobs and greater distances have meant that meeting up for a game of Mashed: Drive to Survive seldom occurs these days. Whenever we can visit each other, we know that there will always be one dependable game to go back to.

The New Contender – XCOM: Enemy Unknown

This game may or may not prove to be a Dependable Game for me. Nevertheless, two years after first playing this XCOM instalment, I know I can easily begin a new campaign and experience the same levels of excitement and enjoyment.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a game of two, very distinct halves. On the one hand there are the turn-based combat missions that see your 4-6 elite soldiers pitted against an assortment of vicious aliens attempting to blast or bite their heads off. Between missions the game reverts to a micromanagement game, in which you organise research and resources that keeps your troops fighting effectively. Both halves of the game promote a sense of tension. The wrong decision back at base could hamper your team's chances of success, and a death in the field is permanent.

The 'permadeath' aspect of the game makes every mission feel infinitely more dangerous. The wrong move could cripple your team. Even an injury can leave a soldier out of action for weeks. On the flip-side, each alien successfully dealt with feels like a real achievement; one less chance for a team member to be struck down. Every well-aimed kill-shot feels ten times more triumphal than your average FPS. The game also makes a point of emphasising each death with a cinematic camera angle, enhancing each success.

My favourite aspect of XCOM: Enemy Unknown: the games ability to generate war stories. I've played the game several times through now, and I've yet to complete two battles that felt the same. The randomness of missions, enemy strength and numbers, and locations means that each new mission has a certain uniqueness. Every time your troops return from battle, they return with a new story to tell.

In my most recent campaign, which is about the sixth run through, I was still seeing new events. In one recent battle, my troops were inside an enemy ship, reloading their weapons and healing before entering the heart of the ship. At that moment three Chryssalids – four-legged monsters made of claws and jaws – entered the ship behind my troops. They had apparently gone down to the shops when the battle started. The trio of slobbering death bore down on my tightly packed group of soldiers, totally exposed. Alien claws stopped inches from human faces.

This was pretty early on in the game; one bite could end a life, and it would normally take two shots to take a Chryssalid down. In that moment my team was beaten a rock and a hard place. Mercifully and miraculously, every single shot landed a critical hit, the sniper and assault soldiers each taking an alien down. My soldiers walked out unscathed, high-fiving and fist-bumping all the way home.

I enjoy games that tell a story. I really enjoy games that allow you to make that story your own, personal adventure. XCOM is a game of little personal victories and stories, and I find it hard to imagine that I won't be going back to this game in another ten years time.

Further Thought

We are always excited by new games. This month especially, with all the news from E3 stirring imagination for future gaming possibilities, there's a lot on the horizon to be excited about. You might be getting ready to grab any number of these new games the moment they step out into the light. Or maybe you're happy to wait, but are excited by these new games nonetheless (it will be a year or two before I play anything announced at E3, but I'm still excited about a lot of it). Whatever your, never forget to appreciate those games that will always be there when you need them. Appreciate that game (or games) that have always proved faithful friends. Hopefully you have an old, reliable game that welcomes you back each time you play. If you don't have a Dependable Game, maybe one of the suggestions above will fill that void.

Your Thoughts?

Do you a Dependable Game or a game that might prove to be reliable in time? Maybe it's one of the games above, or maybe you disagree with my suggestions. Let me and others know.

Thank You For Reading!

Like what you read? You can find more at Wordpress, or contact me on Twitter.
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The stage is set. Mario’s desire for a male child is an ever-growing concern. His first wife, Pauline, has failed to produce the heir he craves. Age and stress have taken a toll on her body. Mario wants a new, younger wife that will secure his succession, and the vibrant Princess Peach has presented herself as an appealing alternative. A major barrier stands between Mario and his new wife: Bowser refuses to allow Mario and Peach to marry. How will Mario solve his Great Matter?

Last week I introduced a revision lesson that I use with Sixth Form students studying the reign of Henry VIII. The lesson uses the Mario games as an analogy for Henry VIII and the impact his actions had on the English Church. It’s a great lesson for everyone involved and the students recall a huge amount of information through the activity.

You can click here to read Part One, otherwise here is a summary:

a) In the lesson, each new character is added one after the other. After an introduction to the character students work out the connection between video game and history.
b) Mario represents King Henry VIII.
c) Pauline represents Henry’s aging first wife, Catherine of Aragon.
d) Princess Peach represents Henry’s new love interest, Anne Boleyn.
e) Bowser’s Kingdom represents the Catholic Church that is ‘keeping Anne from Henry’.

The discussion up until this point takes about twenty minutes. With the four main ‘characters’ introduced, the next stage is to add the important details. This is also where the analogy really stares to shine. It’s not perfect, but it does a really nice job of summarising the ‘Break with Rome’. On the downside, not every Mario character makes it to the end…

[Education Warning – reading further may lead to minor amounts of learning.]

5) This is Luigi

This is Luigi. He’s a supporter of Mario and his skills and power are arguably on par with the man he follows. Where Mario goes, Luigi will follow. If Mario needs him to jump to a high ledge, Luigi will do it. However, Mario is aware that his ‘loyal’ supporter can’t really do more than he can. Furthermore, Luigi will often grab coins and power-ups or let Mario fall when he could have saved him.

Possible student responses:

Unfortunately for Luigi, in this comparison he plays the role of Cardinal Wolsey. Whilst this man answered to the King, he also held great power due to his role in the Catholic Church. This was the man that Henry put in charge of securing him an annulment. When Henry realised that Wolsey wouldn’t be able to convince the Pope to end Henry’s first marriage, Wolsey’s loyalties were questioned. Wolsey would become one of the first victims of Henry’s Great Matter. He died of illness before he could answer accusations of treason.

6) This is Yoshi

When everyone else fails, Mario can rely on Yoshi. This dinosaur acts as a friend and noble steed, capable of running fast and jumping high, carrying Henry to greatness. He can also take down Mario’s opposition with a flick of his tongue, and make light work of potential threats. With Yoshi alongside him (or beneath him) Mario is able to go further and achieve so much more.

Possible student responses:

With Wolsey out of the picture, Henry needed other ministers to fill his place and assist him with his divorce. Enter Thomas Cromwell. This man is one of, if not the mastermind behind most of the actions that Henry and the English Parliament took to secure control over the Church in England. By the mid 1530s Thomas Cromwell not only spearheaded legislation that placed Henry at the head of the Church of England, but also made the crown wealthy and powerful. His power increased too – I’d argue his one of the most powerful politicians in history – and up until 1540 any major change in England involved Cromwell in some capacity.

7) These are Toads

These are Toads. There are several Toads that follow Mario on his journey through the Mushroom Kingdom. They try to make themselves as useful as possible, and always show a positive face to Mario. None of them are as powerful as Luigi or Yoshi, but they each support the search for Princess Peach as best they can.

Possible student responses:

This will start to really test student memory. There are lots of ministers and supporting parties in Henry’s England. Each minister holds their office or position of authority due to their positive relationship with the King. The students should recall the names of several people – More, Cranmer, Howard, etc. – as well as the role they play in Henry’s Great Matter.

8) These are Power-Ups

These are Power-Ups. In order to reach Princess Peach, Mario seeks out several new abilities that give him greater strength. These Power-Ups give him new ways to dispatch his enemies, make him invulnerable to attack, or make his quest much easier.

Possible student responses:

As with Toad, it’s up to the students to form their own interpretations. Each Power-Up should be connected to one of the new English laws that altered the political or religious landscape. The Power Star might represent the Act of Supremacy, (which officially made Henry head of his own Church of England) thus making him ‘invulnerable’ to the Pope’s control. The Fire Flower could represent to Treason Act, which allowed Henry to dispatch anyone who questions his authority. The students will make their own inspired comparisons.

9) This is how Mario breaks blocks.

This is how Mario breaks blocks. On his way to claim Princess Peach, Mario will dramatically change the landscape. Brick blocks are destroyed, in some places whole levels are torn apart as Mario seeks out his new woman. A staggering number of creatures are affected by his actions, crushed beneath his feet or kicked to the side.

As Henry destroys blocks, he benefits from the destructions. Power-Ups are discovered in this fashion, and broken blocks also reveal lots of coins. The more he destroys, the more coins he finds. By the end of the game Mario is a wealthier, more powerful individual.

Possible student responses:

It’s at this point the analogy goes from ‘good’ to ‘great’, in my opinion. As Henry tore up the foundations of the old Catholic Church, he changes English religion, politics and society. Life and government in England was altered for the long term. Henry became a much more powerful King because he now controlled Church and State. Before the ‘Break with Rome’, a significant amount of money left the country through taxation. The wealth that used to go to Rome and the Papacy now stayed with Henry. Those that resisted Henry’s new laws and authority were executed or removed from office.

There was also a very physical ‘breaking of blocks’ going on in Henry’s reign. Under the King’s orders Thomas Cromwell tore down monasteries across England, in some cases brick-by-brick. The ‘dissolution of the monasteries’ had two major motivations – the monks represented the last resistance to Henry’s new powers and the staggering amount of wealth within the monasteries lined the King’s deep pockets. Henry was ‘breaking blocks to get coins’.

10) This is how Mario treats enemies and allies.

This is how Mario treats enemies and allies. It’s not just Mario’s opposition that can be crushed under foot. Some of Henry’s loyalist advisors are ditched the moment they resist him, or fail him in some way. Even loyal Yoshi is ejected the moment he makes one wrong leap. Mario won’t hesitate to jump off Toad’s head if it means he can leap higher.

Possible student responses:

Thomas Cromwell was a powerful individual by 1540. Not only had he ensured that the ‘Break with Rome’ was permanent, he’d dissolved hundreds of monasteries creating over £140,000 of profit a year for Henry (that’s about £80 million a year). Yet in 1540, Henry had Cromwell executed! There are several reasons – political backstabbing, Henry’s unhappiness over marriage #4, etc – but it really helps to hammer home how ruthless Henry was in search of power. In order to ensure his royal line, increase his power and find a marriage that pleased him, he would gladly imprison, execute and displace a cavalcade of people from all walks of life.  Ally or enemy, Henry is in some way responsible for the execution of 70,000 people. And most of them were executed, I feel I must emphasise, because his first wife wasn’t giving him the boy baby he wanted…

Further Thoughts

These steps were all I had time for in a one hour lesson. There are various ways that the analogy could be expanded into a second lesson. You could use Wario and Waluigi as representations of Henry’s opponents in France and Spain, for example. I’ve been happy so far with the results after one hour. I’ve been using this analogy for three years now, and each time a new idea or interpretation reveals itself. This year was the first time a class made a connection with Mario’s inclination for dropping into sewers and Henry’s personality. According to contemporary source his sense of humour was very rude and crude; he was a big fan of fart jokes…

Final Thoughts?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on lessons like this. You might love or hate comparisons like this, or maybe a way to alter/add to the analogy. If your enjoyed this post, you might like to visit my blog and check out the other Gamer-Teacher stuff I’ve written. You can contact me on Twitter too.

Thank You For Reading!
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I try to be very careful when mixing gaming with education. These are two of my major interests but not every student will appreciate gaming references punctuating every lesson. Nevertheless, a comparison between video game and subject matter is sometimes too tempting to pass up. In the case of the infamous King Henry VIII, there is a clear and definable connection with the affable Super Mario.

I’ll admit, the two characters are quite different at first glance. Whilst the two men are portly in stature, one is a high-jumping plumber and visitor of a magical kingdom, whilst the other rules over a much more traditional kingdom, occupying his time with women and wars with France. If you dig a little deeper though, you’ll soon realise that these two people have a lot in common. Those similarities make for a great lesson.

Let’s put this into context. The below activity takes place in a year 12 A level class (ages 16-17) at the end of a year of studying the reign of Henry VIII. This is therefore revision, and not meant to teach the topic. Whilst I imagine pieces of this comparison would facilitate learning during the course, the whole lesson works best once the students have a grasp of the subject material. Oh, and this lesson is a lot of fun; you’ll be surprised by just how much the students get out of it.

[Education Warning – reading further may lead to minor amounts of learning.]

The Premise:

Over the course of an hour you introduce Mario, other characters in his games and features of those adventures. Treat the games as if the students have never heard of them (there may be one or two who have never played) and then get them to work out what the connection is to the subject they are studying. At each stage there are certain facts you want them to bring up, but they’ll add their own interpretations that you can build on.

A little background reading:

Most readers will be aware that Henry VIII was King of England and is mostly famous for his six wives. What is less well known is why he went through so many marriages, when a king can have all the mistresses they want. The main reason is simple – he needed sons. One primary responsibility of a king is to ensure his family line continues to rule long after he is gone. That means making babies is top priority (and boy babies are preferred in the 1500s). To employ an old phrase, Henry needed “an heir and a spare” to guarantee the success of his dynasty. Unfortunately, his first wife wasn’t delivering the goods (pardon the expression) and Henry sought out a second wife to achieve this. He would later seek out a third wife for the same reason. His third wife died giving birth to a son, and so Henry needed a fourth wife, and so on. Whilst this alone makes Henry’s reign a compelling, intriguing and sordid soap opera story, the methods by which Henry secured his first divorce are what really cemented his illustrious place in the History books.

The Catholic Church in the Sixteenth Century was fervently against the notion of divorce. Unless you could convince the church and its leaders that your marriage was wrong in some way, you were together for life. When Henry realised that his efforts to get his first marriage annulled were failing, he sought out other methods to get his divorce. In the years that followed, Henry would pick apart the Catholic Church in England, sever all ties with the Pope and reshape the religious landscape of England. With himself at the helm of the Church of England he had the authority to divorce Catherine of Aragon (wife #1). He also made himself wealthier and more powerful than ever before, which is nice for him.

So how does Mario help revise and memorise this story? The lesson follows the following steps.

Lesson Title: “Mario’s Great Matter”

The lesson begins with the students organised into small groups. Each group gets a pack of pictures face down on the desk, a big sheet of paper to write on and some glue to stick the pictures down. Alternatively you could print each picture on a page and have the students write around them (this is a bit wasteful though). As you introduce another part of the Mario universe they will turn over the next picture. After each ‘introduction’, the students will stick the picture down and then write around it. So it begins…

1) This is Mario

This is Mario. He’s a very popular man who spends his time running around the mushroom Kingdom, usually chasing after girls. He has a job to do but you rarely see him plumbing. He can jump quite high and is a good fighter. He can be immature at times and if he ever gets hurt in his adventures he tends to wail and flap his arms around. He also spends a lot of his time go-karting and fighting in Super Smash Bros tournaments.

Possible student responses:

Whilst most of Henry’s portraits show him to be a chubby old man, in his youth he was a fit and handsome gent. He was also a stubborn, overly passionate youth who was quite spoilt even compared to other kings. He had actually been second in line to the throne, but his older brother Arthur died young. This left Henry with an overactive need to prove himself at all times. When he wasn’t chasing after young women he could be found jousting, hunting wrestling and generally being a show off. He was very used to getting his way.

2) This is Pauline

This is Pauline. Long before he was really famous Mario was chasing after this woman. It wasn’t easy for him – in his first game Mario had to leap over obstacles to reach her, and a big gorilla blocked his way. Mario eventually succeeded and for a time he was happy with this woman. Pauline herself is quite plain, and by current standards she’s fairly boring and hasn’t aged well.

Possible student responses:

Mario had trouble marrying his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. She had originally been married to Arthur, Henry’s older brother. Marrying her was Henry’s best course of action because of her ties with Spain, so Henry approached the Pope (in this case that’s Donkey Kong) to request special permission to marry his brother’s widow.

For a time the two were happy together. Catherine gave Henry a daughter (and a son who unfortunately died in infancy). As time passed however, Catherine began to age. Her looks faded and her chances of producing children dwindled. Henry began to grow restless and sought out other ‘possibilities’. An alternative wife presented herself, younger and much more appealing…

3) This is Peach

This is Peach. She is a princess from the Mushroom Kingdom. She’s Mario’s objective in most of his games. Whilst at first this might make her seem weak and vulnerable, she is a very capable character, with hidden strengths and abilities. Mario goes to great lengths to impress Princess Peach. She much more visually appealing than Pauline and wears much finer clothing. Despite being a possible love interest of Mario, she is always very careful not to get to close to him. The best rewarded Mario gets from his adventures is a kiss on the cheek or a pat on the head. Nothing more.

Possible student responses:

This is where we make our first distinction between Mario’s world and Henry’s. Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, is not a princess. She is from an important English family, but she is in fact a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon when she appears on Henry’s RADAR. She was very appealing to Henry – much younger and more attractive than Catherine, she always wore fine French-style clothing and was quite pleasing to the eye.

Henry could have sought any woman to make his new wife, but he wanted Anne. We have to give Anne credit for very effectively manipulating Henry. She’s seen various woman chased by Henry, bedded and then immediately forgotten (one of which was her own sister) and was extra cautious with her approach to the king. She gave Henry enough reason to chase her and find her irresistible, using love letters and small tokens of affection, but was very clear that she would not be his until they were married. For a man who lived a life where he got everything he wanted, this turn Anne into an obsession for Henry, and drove him closer to breaking the English church away from Catholicism.

4) This is Bowser

This is Bowser. In almost every one of Mario’s adventures, Bowser has been the main antagonist. He is the main reason Mario has to hop, skip and jump to extraordinary lengths to reach Peach, who Bowser is keeping from him. It’s feasible to see that without Bowser’s intervention, Mario would be able to get close to Peach without any problems. He is a very powerful individual and in charge of an impressive kingdom of his own. His supporters are also very dangerous.

Possible student responses:

I do realise the slightly disrespectful tone of comparing the Pope to Bowser (and comparing the previous Pope to Donkey Kong). Yet the comparison is essentially sound. The Catholic Church was an incredibly powerful entity in the 1500s, and the Pope’s decisions and actions could influence the politics of an entire continent. So when Pope Clement VII refused to grant Henry an annulment that effectively ends any chance for Henry to remarry. The Catholic Church stands between Henry and Anne Boleyn. If Henry wanted to get close to Anne, he would have to go to more extreme lengths…

Further Thoughts

…and so the lesson goes on. These four points make up roughly twenty minutes. I’ve only really touched on a fraction of the ideas and inferences that the students should pull from the activity, thought they usually find many more. There are several more features that follow – references to Yoshi, Fire Flowers and the way Mario destroys blocks – but this post would be twice as long if I went through the whole lesson. I’ll probably go into more detail next week.

Your Thoughts?

What are your views on this little activity? Can you see how it could be developed further? Can you see any other connections that could be made between Mario and Henry? On the other hand, do you disagree with revision activities like these? Maybe you have ideas of your own you’d like to share below.

Thank You For Reading

I’ve written about being a Gamer-Teacher (amongst other things) on my blog. Click here to take a look. I’m on Twitter too if you want to contact me.

In my mind, there are few competitions nobler and more respectable than a Pokémon Battle. Pokémon Blue demonstrated to me that even the wildest creature can conduct themselves with fairness and restraint in each encounter. No words are uttered between combatants, yet each knows there place and fights with the upmost honour.

This is the third time I've written about my slightly awkward transition from Pokémon Blue to Pokémon Y. Last week I grumbled about how in my day we got by with only five Poké Balls and didn't need all these fancy versions. Since then I have become a little more open minded; after reading your comments and recommendations I went and bought a batch of "Quick Balls" and haven't looked back. Thanks to your responses I'm slightly less of an old gamer when playing Pokémon.

This week I wish to talk about a more troubling change in the layout of Pokémon. Whilst I can understand why these games add new features and change the old, for me the new Battle Modes represent a loss of honour amongst Pokémon.

Even at an early age I found the politeness, civility and general 'gentlemanliness' of Pokémon Battles wonderfully quaint. As a trainer you set off out into the world looking to catch some critters. Of course, no animal will just let you catch it. You're going to have to weaken your opponent first. This is where the Pokémon first show their honourable nature.

Rather than pouncing and eviscerating the trainer on sight, the creature presents itself, ready for combat, allowing the trainer to choose his opponent. There is a pause to allow the trainer to choose the first move for their Pokémon, and only then does the fight begin. Both sides take it in turns to strike each other. If a combatant faints, the victor ends the fight. Should the trainer's Pokémon fall, the wild one will always allow their opponent to leave in peace. On the other hand, should the wild Pokémon faint, both the trainer and their pets leave the fallen one alone, because it would dishonourable to capture an unconscious Pokémon.

The same is true when battling another trainer. A trainer will release one of their allies at a time, and when one has fainted the battle will pause until another Pokémon can be released. Furthermore, if a trainer wishes to use an item in battle, they are permitted to use it (regardless of how fast the opposing monster is) and their Pokémon will then forfeit their move for that turn out of respect. When all Pokémon on one team are KO'ed, they give payment, often with a few words of praise for their opposition.

This is the order of battle I came to enjoy from Pokémon Blue. I appreciated the honour amongst monsters and trainers alike. How troubled I was to see that this level of dignity and formality has become diluted over the generations. I saw a great deal of evidence in Pokémon Y that suggests that battle etiquette is slowly being warped for the sake of 'enjoyment'.

Firstly, there are the new "Battle Modes". Gone are the days where a Battle was fought between two opponents. Now there are "Double" and "Multi Battles" which see two trainers teaming up against you, or between two pairs of fighters. Worse still, "Triple" and "Rotation Battles" see trainers throwing half their Pokémon into the battle ground. In this scenario, a Pokémon can be attacked two or three times before they have been permitted to make their move. This outlandish behaviour is far from what I expect of these proud beasts and stands in mockery of the old ways. The ensuing skirmish is akin to a gladiatorial arena than an honourable Pokémon Battle.

I am also distressed by the fact that Pokémon in Generation VI are allowed to carry concealed weapons. In Generation I, a Pokémon would rely on their abilities and their own training. At present, a trainer can instruct their pets to hold all sorts of tools and weapons. From magic stones that boost their strengths, to berries that allow the Pokémon to heal themselves, to special armour that rebounds the attackers damage. That last item type is particularly galling; to me this shows the audacity of someone who brings a knife into a boxing match.

Most displeasing of all the new features is the "Horde Battle". I will not forget the moment when I stepped out of Lumiose City for the first time on my adventure and ran into five Pokémon at once. I looked to the group and wondered which one would be my first opponent. How horrified I was when I realised that they meant to attack me all at once! Whilst I was bound to the same rules, these low level whelps had broken the rules to try and get the best of me. Since then, each time I have fought against a Pokémon Horde, I have considered it my duty to teach these young pups not to violate the rules of engagement while I'm around. Young Whippersnappers...

Final Thoughts

One of the nice things about these recent Pokémon-based grumblings of mine is that most readers realise I'm exaggerating for effect. Of course the statements above are half-jest. I find the changes between Generation I and VI challenging but enjoy them nonetheless. I'm a particular fan of the new "Sky Battles", and would personally like to see more Battle Modes of that ilk. More skirmishes based on Pokémon types would make for more challenge and promote the training of a wider range of monsters.

Thank You For Reading

Did you enjoy my ramblings? You might like to visit my blog for more. If you're really keen you can contact me on Twitter. If you agree or disagree with what I've written, please leave a comment. They always make for a great read.
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