The Shay Rebellion | Christopher Shay

Romance of the Three Kingdoms

I learned most of my Chinese history from playing Nintendo.

Before the age of ten, my neighbor and I had familiarized ourselves with the names of the important figures in China during the second and third centuries. Liu Bei, Sun Quan, Cao Cao, Cao Ren, and Cao Pi—we knew ‘em all. Combined, we spent countless hours and (our parents’) dollars playing Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a role-playing game where you attempted to unify China. Somehow—even without Wikipedia or the internet—we learned a bit of the actual history. Though, we always chose to play as the Cao family not for any historic reason, but because we thought Cao Pi—and this provided hours of entertainment—was pronounced “Cow Pie.” Come to think of it, the idea of “Cow Pie” conquering China is still funny.

I bring this up, because at dinner with some of my students, Romance of the Three Kingdoms came up in conversation. It turns out it’s an important historical novel based on actual events—not just an era acting as fodder for video games. Wanting to come off as more knowledgeable than I actually was, I asked a few educated questions: “Now, I know Cao Pi was Cao Cao’s son but how was Cao Ren related to Cao Cao again?” I impressed a couple people—briefly—but then someone inevitably asked how I knew the plot of a massive tome written in the 14th century. Sheepishly, I had to admit that I learned it from a video game.

But, they had too! While I learned my Chinese history from the first RotTK, a couple of my students learned from the much more sophisticated ninth installment of the game. It doesn’t sit completely right with me for a generation of people to learn Chinese history from a Japanese video game, but if you’re going to play video games anyways you might as well learn something that you can later teach your English teacher. Right?

Category: Blog Entries

Tagged: ,

Leave a Reply