More Than Just a Game

More on ELI 2007:

ROTLATuesday afternoon, after the accessibility presentation, I attended a session directed by Bryan Alexander on the educational implications of gaming. The format of this session was designated as a “learning circle,” which is loosely defined as “a collaborative session in which a member discusses the ‘next big thing’ they plan to pursue and seeks feedback from the participants.” I liked this format because it afforded an informal space to speak, think and propose ways to approach gaming in the classroom.

Now gaming in the classroom is still on the fringes at most colleges and universities, and the questions surrounding using gaming in instruction is a complex one. What I liked about this session is that it didn’t pretend to offer clear-cut answers, but rather opened up a dialogue about gaming more generally. Bryan began with an appropriate question, “What games do you play?” After this question the session took on an organic flow that meandered through the games we all play, the “ethics” of cheat codes, the possibilities of virtual exploration, and the questions of narrative. This notion of cheating is quite interesting in relationship to gaming. Do these features of video games represent a breakdown in their educational value? Does the ability to advance through a narrative using a few codes change one’s relationship to hard work and dedication?

I think these are some key questions that need to be re-conceptualized. How do we understand the art of cheating in a more social, collaborative nexus of learners. The example I offered during the session was that a number of gamers often play the game through early upon its release then write a detailed narrative (a walk-through or FAQ) to help the novice, stuck, or lazy gamer move on to the next ‘big thing.’ Personally, I had a walk-through by my side during my whole trip through Half-Life 2. Not only because I might get stuck, but mostly because the author had framed a guide that helped me see things in this world that otherwise I might miss (a teacher of sorts). I think the distinction between collaboration and cheating is becoming increasingly blurred in the world of gaming, and re-framing this distinction in new ways may make the idea of gaming in the classroom that much more palatable.

I am a regular gamer, I usually play the old school coin-ops like Defender, Asteroids, Pac-Man, Galaxian, and Crush Roller, but I have played enough contemporary games to conceptualize a theme or two one might use to frame an entire class around. Below is the beginning of a mocked-up syllabus. It is less than perfect and desperately needs to be framed more specifically, but the topic might provide one way into gaming effectively in the classroom to think, learn and explore this immensely popular and important new media. So, here’s a rough sketch…

Popular Cinema and Gaming:

How do we define cinema? Wikipedia has to do a little disambiguation:

Cinema can refer to:
* Film, motion pictures or movies
* Movie theatre, a building in which films are shown
* Cinematography, the art of recording visual images
* Cinema 4D, high-end 3D graphics application

The rich and multi-layered term may offer a way into the questions surrounding format, space, recording visual images, as well as specific graphic applications of the narrative world of gaming. How do the interactive elements of narrative games intersect with popular film? How are narrative games cinematic in multiple ways? How do games augment the possibilities of spatializing (is this a word?), recording, and re-framing the filmic narrative? How are games impacting and informing the narrative and aesthetic choices of popular cinema? How are games colonizing popular cinematic genres?

Theoretical Readings:

Required viewing/playing:

Star  Wars screenshot

Additional Games/Films to consider:

Ok, so there is my meager attempt at an idea for teaching with and about games -what do you think? What else would you read, watch or play if you were teaching such a class? Would you even take this class?

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5 Responses to More Than Just a Game

  1. Mikhail says:

    I imagine myself someday teaching with video games in a film studies course which considers the modes of address the two media depend on — the ways in which films and video games interpolate the viewing/playing subject. So I would probably deal quite a bit of theories of spectatorship in film and, I suppose, conceptions of the player in considerations of gameplay, as a central concept in gaming.

    I would probably want to deal quite a bit with video game adaptations of commercial films and film adaptations of games (rarely successful in any sense). So I would of course talk about the movies and the game adaptations you mention, Jim, but I would also throw in John Carpenter’s The Thing and the PS2 game from a few years back. Although I know you will agree that it is by no means a great game, it was the first I played that made me think about the game as sequel or adaptation rather than simply licensed merchandise — maybe that had something to do with the PS2’s graphical capabilities as well as the positive aspects of that game (there were a few).

  2. jimgroom says:


    Right on, I wanna take that class. A theoretical model is key to placing video games and cinema in a more focused relationship. The model of spectatorship and the role of the player as spectator and actor is fascinating.

    As for The Thing, I guess you know it is one of my favorite movies of all time, but the game leaves me empty. Not only was my copy a dud, but the game play was less than innovative, bordering on boring. Yet, I entirely agree with you about the game’s ability to extend the world of the movie. I guess this is why The Warriors is on the “A” list. I think this game is really groundbreaking in that it gives you exactly what the movie did not have the time or space to offer: a more intimate look at each of the gangs. Maybe the funnest moment in gaming I have had to date was the writers’ showdown in SoHo where I was able to trash Chatterbox’s personal art gallery. I loved the fact that I could graffiti “art” in a Soho gallery, no less kill the artist responsible for it. All my anger over gentrification, the exponential rise in real estate prices, and the Soho “artists” that perpetrated this fraud found its escape in that beautiful moment of game play:)

    Anyway, this class obviously needs to be team taught. So let’s finish soon.

  3. Joseph says:

    Hey Jim,

    I like the reading list, but I think a course like this would be better if you picked games with a stronger narrative. Star Wars for Atari is fun, but it doesn’t have a narrative that we can think critically about.

    Check out Zelda, and the Final Fantasy series. They fall into the same deep storytelling that Half-Life 2 does. Otherwise, I think this is a great idea.

  4. jimgroom says:

    Great stuff, Joe. One direction a course like this may consider, given your comment, is how the technical/graphical evolution of gaming impacts the development of narrative in gaming. Interestingly enough, role-playing games with dice and figurines were the most popular technologies that may have had constitutive influences on film narrative during the late 70s and early 80s. So the Atari vector & 2600 games suggest a moment of emerging video game narrative within a competitive market. A great question to consider,that you suggest, is how does “deep storytelling” correspond to the technologies available? Is there necessarily a direct relationship between more complex technology and more complex narratives? I don’t know the answer to this question, but I think we all might make some quick assumptions. Examining these assumptions might prove generative for such a course.

  5. Kris says:

    Well i still remember the days when played on my atari with my friends. It must be 16-18 years ago.

    Do you still own your atari console ?

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