We talk of the importance of enjoying an excellent social life, love life, work life; yet how often do we speak of enjoying our imaginative lives? For me, this is an essential, and often unspoken, part of living a full life. As much as we educate good, literate (and little) workers, I believe there is a vocational mission to empower the imaginative experiences of people.
Part of the (often) untapped potential of the imaginative life is through computer games, particularly narrative ones.
I have long been attracted to computer games. In my youth I completed such wonderful classics as Eye of the Beholder (step on the invisible pressure pads in the correct order! Gak…), and Baldur’s Gate. These were lived experiences outside the button-clicking conditioning of Call of Duty and Mario (as fun as those games were).
It was therefore with great excitement that I went to see a Tim Rylands CPD session some years ago (eight?).
He was predictably charismatic, and a storyteller of excellence. The audience loved what he did.
Full of excitement, I returned back to my classroom to try to use Myst and several other games. However, things did not really quite happen with the same levels of excitement. retuhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KcaE5NwfgUA
Looking at his actual practice, the experience is more like you expect in a classroom: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5xFMmK5Ujs There is, though, some great storytelling.
Jose Picardo spoke in his great blog www.boxoftricks.com (now not so maintained) of students not being impressed by the usual games these days. Games are meant to be excitement. Speaking to a colleague on my last day in my last school, we spoke of what makes a game enjoyable. Using the example of Football Manager (a game where you manage the fortunes of a football club over many years), we spoke about whether you play the game without quitting – therefore accepting results – or whether you would quit the game if the game didn’t suit your given narrative. (How the English FA wish such an option would be possible!).
We decided that what made a game like Football Manager so compelling was not necessarily the winning and losing – even without quitting, you will invariably win the game’s competition in time anyway. What was compelling was the narrative created by playing the game, of how the myriad of events that arose were linked to the (apparent) choices you made – the player you purchased led to that win which led to this amount of money, which led to that promotion, and so on.
Despite the strong aspect of narrative creation in the best games (ignore Call of Duty and other such Pavlovian conditioning games), this is still a private experience, and one that requires distinct personal control.
For me, I think one of the best ‘learning’ applications of these games in a classroom is not to create a narrative (although of course that is part of the practice), but instead to creating ‘doodles’ of creative writing, where students try to present an experience without the words. These fragments of words are almost like poetry, and can be integrated in wider pieces of writing. These creative writing doodles are ‘inspired’ by the ‘experiences’ of playing the game (something you can read about through the profuse mention i reports of ‘artefacts being used in lessons’, such as producing clothing or similar prompts).
I suggest beginning a game with the creative/experiential description of an item. So, for example, one of the games below (The Long Dark), opens with a shot of a wooden cabin battered by a blizzard in a desolate valley. From its chimney curls a whispy line of smoke – the students describe that smoke in either positive or negative terms (with, of course, some nuance). I do this myself, writing in a diagonal fashion across the board in order to demonstrate the importance of non-linear writing and thought processes. So, for example, a positive description could be ‘a rising line of life’ or ‘a wispy shaking of wise whiskers’. A more negative description would evoke ‘a desperate blast of sodden air’ or ‘a twisting finger of stinking hate’. In all circumstances, the actual mention of the item is not necessary, and perhaps not even desired.
As both an aside and as a look to the future, check out Phil Grosset’s excellent case study on writing poetry with visualisers for a superb introduction to ‘creative writing doodling’: http://www.nate.org.uk/cmsfiles/ict/h2t/3_Visualiser.pdf
Back to the lesson – upon sharing these descriptions that depict the experience of things rather than plot or narrative, the students can then each take ten minutes on the game. Occasionally I call for us to pause upon an item or an area for us to again doodle creatively. The student controlling the game is able to move the character as they desire, but they have to stay focused on one area in particular.
Students are chosen at random using a generic tool such as www.classtools.net. Usually I leave the last space upon so as to maintain excitement that anyone could control the game, and yet keep the focus on the mood by not pausing to select after each ten minutes.
As a warning, many games contain themes that could be controversial in some cultures, and especially from the point of view that teachers should remain as neutral as possible. It is immensely difficult to get age ratings for particular games, and you really need to play them through to make an informed choice as to whether they are for your class. Even Myst had some scary moments.
Some suggested games:
Focus on characterisation and (despite what I said above) narration tone/mood etc. Students can believe that there might be someone hidden in the house. There are some adult themes in this game (although only in relationship and suggested form), so perhaps only worth playing for one lesson.
Home is where one starts
Focus on… The experience of the rubbish bags, the swings. Ask why the main character cannot move beyond the limits of the road. Challenge students to describe the inside of the house through experiential description, then evaluate with the actuality.
The game is generally placid, although there again can be some scary themes.
Focus on the futility of the opening. The game does not really progress beyond the opening breaking of the astronaut’s oxygen leak (unless play through it many times!). Can be written as an angst-ridden modernist text…
The Long Dark
Focus on the fears of the landscape, and describing snow in many different ways! Describe the terror of being chased, of being eaten. More useful for students who require games with some given purpose.
Focus on the fixing together of the narrative, and of experiencing the landscape. The cave scenes are particularly evocative. The least challenging in terms of adult themes of all the games mentioned, and the pioneer in its field.
Other options to use in this kind of writing:
Older students can help scribe stories of younger students who come into the classroom of the first few screens.
Students then read their stories. Descriptive writing here, clearly.
Students read their description as others play the game/scene. Description can be poetic. http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/sharingpractice/m/myst/impactonp7writing.asp?strReferringChannel=sharingpractice&strReferringPageID=tcm:4-449400-64
To create a log-book of great phrases prior to forming the final writing aspect. This could be a seperate log-book/an A3 piece of paper.
How to use?
Key questions, points.
Experiences of using it in class.
Student response to using this.
Writing to describe. Describing something with abstract vocabulary, or describing it in terms of the experience of something. Metaphorical/a reaction….
e.g. how to describe the emptiness of the bay?
Writing to describe:
A story? Or a series of moments? How to explain a vision of something that does not yet exist.
What is your experience of something.
Showing afterwards the ‘ghosts’.
What kind of story/genre is this?
Metaphors to describe experience.
Starting with the connotations – moving onto the descriptions to reveal the connotations.
4-5 lesson module. Record responses.
Issues of age-related appropriateness in games.
Find example on video.
Find Tim Ryland and Myst.
Issues of talking etc.