Should video games be taught as literature?

Like television and film before them, video games are taking their sweet time to catch on as academic curriculum. Luckily, that’s changing. The 21st century is welcoming the birth of all kinds of new media studies in nearly every academic field. Last October, Teacher Paul Darvasi used the computer game Gone Home by The Fullbright Company in his high school English class, and I for one could not be happier. He’s writing about his experience in a new blog called Ludic Learning.

Letter to Katie

A note left behind by the playable character’s younger sister, Sam.

Darvasi has posted three entries on his blog so far, one explaining his decision to teach Gone Home as literature, and the other two briefly and insightfully describing the history of video games and education. His blog aims to serve as a sort of guidebook for other teachers, as well as a wider account and justification of the use of games in education.

You might not expect a video game to stand up next to “Moby Dick” or “Hamlet,” but as Darvasi points out, “Not all video games are created equal. What action movies are to film, first-person shooters are to video games—they may dominate financially, but should not define the medium.” Lately, an increasing trend toward emotional and thoughtful storytelling in games has been making video games more and more appealing from an analytical standpoint. The analysis of literature centers around the dissection of stories: analyzing how they are being told, why they are being told, and what impact those stories and authors had on their historical context. Using interactive media to tell or interpret a story simply adds a new dimension to the analysis. Increased access to technology is finally making that analysis possible for mainstream educators. 

In Gone Home, you play as Kaitlin Greenbriar, a teenager who has just returned from a year of travel to find her family missing. With no way of contacting them (the game takes place pre cell phone), you are left to wander the house, searching for clues. Through the use of letters, music, photos, postcards, books, post-its, magazines, paintings, report cards, and receipts, you gain an intimate feel for the people who live in the house, especially Kaitlin’s younger sister Sam.

The Greenbriar's family room. Clicking on objects allows the player to easily explore the empty house.

The Greenbriar’s family room. Clicking on objects allows the player to easily explore the empty house.

Gone Home has been earning critical accolades since its release last August. Unlike many mainstream games, Gone Home is not about achieving missions or beating enemies. It is about a family and the things that they leave behind. The characters feel real and familiar, both nostalgic and entirely new. Not only does the game create opportunities to discuss setting, character building, and nonlinear format, but as self-proclaimed lit geek Darvasi points out, “the game fulfilled Aristotle’s dictums of the three classical unities more successfully than any of Shakespeare’s plays.” And, because it’s from the perspective of a teenager, the story has the potential to be particularly resonant with high school students. As a lit geek myself, I’m especially excited by Darvasi’s juxtaposition of this story with Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.”

“Today, attitudes have softened and we find ourselves in a much more game-friendly universe, but the lingering stigmatization that surrounds video games continues to cause a lag in their successful adoption by schools,” Darvasi explains, “The reality is, gamers now transcend all walks of life.” Gaming is here to stay, and it deserves to be analyzed. By training his students to apply critical thinking to games, Darvasi might be encouraging them to carry that mindset to parts of their lives they hadn’t previously considered worth scrutiny.

If you want to keep up to date with Mr. Darvasi, check him out on Twitter.

(Source: Ludic Learning)

This article was written by

Courtney is Pixelkin's Associate Managing Editor. While working with the Girl Scouts of Northern California, she mentored young girls in teamwork, leadership, personal responsibility, and safety. Today, she spends her time studying adolescent development and using literary analysis techniques to examine video games.