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Exploring Ancient Egypt Through Video Games – A Look at Assassin’s Creed Origins’ Discovery Mode

“We are really here to say ‘You know what? Video games can bring more than entertainment.’”

– Jean Guesdon, Creative Director – Assassin’s Creed: Origins (2017)

For more than a decade, Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series has immersed players in the stories, environments, and histories of settings such as the Italian Renaissance, Imperial China, and more. While the games are perhaps most well-known for their highly detailed recreations of real-life historical sites, events, and figures, they are equally recognizable for their focus on brutal in-game violence (hence the Assassin’s Creed title). For years, many have recognized the potential educational merit of these works of historical fiction as a way to foster genuine excitement among learners interested in learning about the historic cultures, societies, and landmarks contained within the game. However, the series’ reputation for relying heavily on violence has hindered any chance of Assassin’s Creed being used as a supplemental digital tool in any formal learning environment…until now.

Introducing Assassin’s Creed: Origins’ all-new educational mode: Discovery Tour.

Discovery Tour by Assassin’s Creed: Ancient Egypt is a museum-like learning mode released as a free update for owners of Assassin’s Creed: Origins, in addition to being available as a standalone title available for PC players. Eliminating combat mechanics and other gameplay elements entirely, Discovery Tour grants players the ability to freely explore Ptolemaic Egypt as it existed in 49-43BC – completely transforming the bestselling commercial game into a living museum. Players are not only able to freely explore Ubisoft Montreal’s painstakingly detailed environments, but also achieve real learning outcomes through participation in 75 audio-guided tours curated by real-life Egyptologists and historians. Discovery Tour mode doesn’t feel like a last-minute, tacked-on addition to the game – it’s clear that the developers were extremely passionate about using the world they created to do more than solely entertain, and it shows.

Tangential learning – or what you learn when you are exposed to new ideas in a context that you’re already familiar with and find exciting – is a phenomenon that works of historical fiction like the Assassin’s Creed series excel at. But Assassin’s Creed Origins’ Discovery Mode takes learning one step further. Researchers at the University of Montreal tested the game with more than 400 high schoolers across 8 different schools and found that students who only played Discovery Tour mode improved their grades by 22-41%, while students who did not play and instead only relied on their teacher’s expertise improved their grades by roughly 55%. Ultimately, the study proposes that a two fold approach of traditional classroom instruction combined with supplemental educational gaming time could prove to enhance learning outcomes beyond the results of only one of these tactics in isolation. These findings mirror the results of our own study examining the efficacy of learning games used in combination with traditional classroom instruction – an exciting outcome that bodes well for the future of high-quality, exciting game-based learning experiences like Discovery Mode.

Want to learn more about Assassin’s Creed’s new Discovery Tour mode? The friendly folks over at Extra Credits released an excellent video that examines the affordances (and limitations) of the museum-like learning experience. If you’re hungry for more Discovery Tour content, check out IGN’s YouTube channel for a full-length preview of one of the included historical tours: “The Secrets of the Great Pyramids.”


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