Several years ago, I sat in a small conference room with a handful of teachers and administrators, moments away from taking my first full-time teaching job. I had trained to teach high school biology, but the position was junior-level physics—something I’d had little experience with.
“We’ll give you a call when we decide, but we really like what we’re seeing here,” the HR representative told me after the interview. “We want someone with your heart for these students, and we feel like you’ll pick up on the lesson content pretty quick. Do you think you can get certified to teach physics?”
It was two weeks before the start of the school year. I laughed and said that sounded great.
A group of students needed a teacher. That’s where I wanted to be—where I could serve.
Half an hour later I got the call and took the job. I took an online crash course in physics, passed the certification test on a Friday, and started work three days later. The next year would be the hardest, most rewarding adventure of my life.
You always remember your first class. You remember how you struggle to reconcile your idealism about what teaching should be with the reality of what public education is. You remember being overwhelmed with the workload and waking up not knowing if you’ll make it through another day. You remember your students, and how much you cared about their success. How much you wanted them to win.
As hard as teaching was, I miss it. When I found out that Fire Emblem: Three Houses was a story about a first-year teaching experience, I couldn’t wait to play.
Game Mechanics: Teaching, Story, and Strategy
Fire Emblem games are known for complex narratives featuring a diverse cast of characters. Characters you spend time with. Characters you fall in love with. In Three Houses, the story follows Edelgard, Dimitri, and Claude—classmates at the Garreg Mach Officer’s Academy and heirs to three nations on the brink of war.
The first half of Three Houses is about teaching high-school-and-college-aged students martial skills: Sword fighting, archery, heavy armor . . . how to burn your enemies’ faces off with magic fire blasts. You know, your basic core subjects.
Players plan lessons and tutor students who need extra support. This part of the game gets pretty analytical—a lot like real teaching does—and involves strategically investing study hours to optimize your party’s build. I enjoyed this because it felt pretty close to lesson-planning and analyzing my own students’ progress.
What makes teaching in Three Houses cooler than the real-life version? The more effort you put into classroom time, the more havoc your team wreaks in combat. (And the combat part of the game is really, really fun.)
Between lessons, you get to fight in weekend skirmishes against monsters or bandits—a practicum element where students hone their techniques on the battlefield. Then, once per in-game month, a “mission” battle appears to advance the story.
Three Houses also lets you fight in battles with your students, which is awesome. Maybe cutting down demon hordes side-by-side with my young proteges is low-key wish fulfillment? I don’t know, but I love this game.
The real magic of the narrative, though, comes through its portrayal of character relationships. The more time you spend with your students outside the classroom, the more you get to learn about their backstories and motivations—which makes it all the more heartbreaking if you lose them.
Players build relationships with their students through dialogue, sharing meals, sparring, and even a little bit of social counseling. The more effort you put into these get-to-know-you activities, the more story options you unlock. You can even recruit new characters if they like you enough.
Fire Emblem’s strongest appeal as an emotional storytelling exercise comes from its perma-death feature: If you lose a character in battle, they’re gone. No extra lives here. When a character dies, their death becomes part of a story that moves forward without them.
In short, it’s a game about choices and consequences, which makes it feel true to life. We don’t always get to choose how our stories turn out. But we can still decide what our journeys mean to us.
Great Gameplay Enhances Role-Play
This integration of simulated instruction, relationship building, and emotionally powerful storytelling makes for a deeply immersive experience. The sales statistics agree: Three Houses was the second best-selling game for its release month. (The first was Madden NFL 20, another game that uses management simulation mechanics to immerse players.)
Why is something so technical so much fun?
Role-playing is an important element in many video games. But the best ones use gameplay itself—the rules and button-presses that give you control over the characters—to place you right in the middle of the story.
Three Houses does this expertly. Analyzing your students’ stats really feels like you’re reviewing grades and adjusting lesson plans. Then, it takes an aspect of gaming that could be fairly bland and makes it an integral part of the journey: The better you plan during classroom time, the longer your students survive, and the more story you get to experience.
It makes me think about gamification in the workplace. One of the best ways to make work fun is to treat your mundane responsibilities like trophies or achievements. Knock out your report quota for the week? Help yourself to a free ice cream cone in the break room. Make that big sale? Grab an action figure from the prize wall. I’m not gonna lie—that would totally work for me.
In general, Three Houses speaks to reward and failure in life—that we try our hardest to anticipate; to strategize; to help the people we care about to succeed.
But sometimes you fail. Sometimes you drop the ball because you overcommitted, or you lose a sale because you just weren’t on you’re a-game, or you can’t figure out how to teach a 17-year-old about angular momentum.
The trick, then, is always finding a new, hopeful way of looking at things—a way of telling your story that frames it in a forward-moving light.
My first class of juniors graduated from high school in 2014. They are activists for immigrants; artists making their voices heard; mothers and fathers who love their children fiercely—strong adults who pull themselves up every day and push on toward the lives they know they’re meant to claim.
As hard as first-year teaching was, as much as I struggled, I couldn’t be prouder of the role I got to play. Or of my students.
Work—whether you’re a teacher, a magic-imbued mercenary, or anything else—is finding the beauty in mundanity and in your own professional growth. It’s about framing failures in light of the grander narrative: that we’re all learning together.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses reinforced for me the relationship between strategic planning and the people I serve. It reminded me that the work I do—even the tedious, analytical stuff—is a way of meeting people’s needs. Life may not be a game anyone can win. But to me, it’s worth it to play my hardest.