Posted in classroom connections

Using Video Games in Curriculum

By Pete R.

This most recent episode saw a new media that we haven’t had a chance to explore yet: video games. Both Martha and I have talked in the past about how we would like to be able to incorporate video games into our homeworks and discussions. However, assigning video games is tricky. Many video games take far longer than we have time for in order to complete. Others require a certain level of skill, or simple familiarity with controllers and user interfaces. Many students (and adults) have this skill, but it is a barrier to entry that is different than music, books, graphics novels, film, or television. That’s one reason I was excited when our guest for this week, Cory Ruegg, assigned Gone Home. Here was a video game that required almost no “skill” in the traditional video game sense. There are no skill trees to manage, no quick time events, no firefights or strategy. Just simple point-and-click, mostly intuitive exploration. Additionally, the game clocked in at roughly 2-3 hours to play to completion. That put it on par with most films, and made it quicker than some of the books we’ve assigned.

However, as I was playing it I realized there were still some difficulties in translating it to an effective curriculum. Each player would, in theory, encounter the same events. However, due to the non-linear, exploratory nature of the game, different players might come across different events at different times. This could shade their interpretation of the narrative and its “mysteries” in different ways. I was struck by this quirk of the non-linear structure when I came across one of the diary entries that seems to “spoil” a diary entry that I had not come across yet.

Additionally, the game as a distinct “end”––when the player reaches the attic––that you can come to far before the entire house is investigates. I reached the “end” of the game before I had opened the locker in Sam’s room, or the locked filing cabinet in Dad’s office. I hadn’t even explored the basement, kitchen, green house! If I had stopped playing when I reached the “end” of the game, there is a lot I would have missed out on. And Gone Home is certainly a game about the nuances and little details.

To rectify this, I would highly recommend playthrough videos. We’ve linked to the playthrough video for Gone Home on the initial blog post for the episode, and I’ve link to it here as well. A playthrough video can serve as a “cannonical” text for a video game assigned in a classroom, book group, or other event. I’d recommend assigning playing the game, but then “citing” the game through the timestamp in the playthrough video. The playthrough video can also be used to make sure that everyone has experienced all aspects of the game. Did you miss the sub-story of Katie’s dad and her great-uncle? How about the real purpose to the parents’ anniversary camping trip? All of that comes through in the playthrough video, so there’s no question of some people opening that safe in the basement (hint: what’s the last year on the wall nearby?) and others not being able to (that was the only puzzle I didn’t clue into immediately, and I’m still kicking myself about it).

Luckily, playthrough videos are increasingly popular. Between twitch streams and general youtube videos of playthroughs, most games you might want to discuss or assign are likely available in such a format. It’s a great way to standardize what is inherently an individual experience. It’s also useful if you have people who are uncomfortable, uninterested, or unable to join in the act of PLAYING a video game. They can watch the video and treat it as a film and still access the narrative. Maximize your curriculum’s accessibility!

So by all means, use video games however you can! And if you do, look for playthrough videos to also create a standardized “text” that everyone can refer back to.

Posted in classroom connections

Audience Forgiveness of Characters

By Pete R.

In the most recent episode, we accidentally stumbled into a topic that none of us had thought of: the role of audience forgiveness in media. We talked primarily about whether characters had earned their forgiveness from other characters, but only at the end did we quickly discuss whether we, as readers or viewers, forgave the characters. In most cases, we were split. Even more interesting, in some cases we all agreed that the character had been forgiven within the narrative but we did not feel that forgiveness was truly earned; rather, that it was a cack-handed narrative conceit.

This would make a great topic to explore for older middle school or younger high school students. Asking students to explain compare how the character is forgiven within the narrative to their own forgiveness of the character allows students to engage deeply with the media. Asking them to defend their assertions in a paper allows them to practice using evidence to support their conclusions. And students at that age especially enjoy expressing their own feelings. Forgiveness is a topic not only relevant to this assignment, but to their emotional development. Asking them to grapple with and defend––using evidence––their own take on a character lets them engage with the text and begin to examine their requirements for forgiveness in their own lives.

Audience forgiveness is a discussion fulcrum that can be as simple as a think-pair-share activity or as complex as an essay or presentation. It can be one component of a larger discussion or the primary focus of the discussion. It hits that sweet spot of being inherently engaging, academically rigorous, and emotionally relevant. It works well for both struggling students and advanced students because it begins with a student’s personal opinion, yet it scaffolds easily as additional evidentiary requirements can be added as needed.