Back in the dark ages of video games, I got hooked on a couple of games. The first was Colossal Cave Adventure, the grand-daddy of all text-based games. I, along with others, spent hours in the Tabor College computer lab typing stuff like:

open grate
go south
take axe
fight dwarf
grab bird

This addiction led to Zork, still text-based but a much more difficult game. As a visual learner, it became difficult for me to wrap my head around the many rooms, levels and hallways. Being a geography nerd, I created a series of maps to assist in getting around. The maps also were a great way to add new information gleaned from conversation with others.

Okay. We get it. You were a video game nerd in college. So what?

Pretty simple. What was going on, even though I didn’t know it, was that I was creating detailed mental maps of a specific place. Granted, the place was fictional but I was still able to visualize a geographic place in my head and create two-dimensional map to represent that visualization.

I was already practicing one of the required social studies standards/indicators in many states:

The student uses mental maps to answer questions about the location of physical and human features.

The problem is getting kids to practice creating mental and actual maps with our traditional content. It’s hard to suck kids into geography.

But I recently ran across a fun website that would have been incredibly useful several decades ago:

Mapstalgia – Video Game Maps Drawn from Memory

Map of The Secret of Monkey Island

The site has a ton of maps based on a variety of video games. Think about this for a minute. How might you use video game maps to help kids develop their ability to create mental maps?

These types of maps provide a nice way to teach mental mapping skills – relationships between places, geographic tools, location, scale, cause and effect. Use Mapstalgia to hook your students into thinking about maps and geography.

Have them create the own game maps. Have them compare and contrast maps of the same game. Ask them to think about what a good map must have on it to be a good map. Ask them how maps can be used to “lie” about reality. Ask groups of kids to compare game maps with actual maps.

No matter what you do, feel free to use video game maps to introduce geography concepts and processes to your kids.

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