The recent National Writing Project (NWP) Annual Meeting featured a series of presentations and workshops about video games. Not video games as sources of distraction, promoters of obesity, or providers of instant gratification. These sessions focused on video games and writing.
Turns out, there’s more of a connection between video games and literacy than most teachers realize. And now, several educators and non-profit organizations are exploring the inclusion of video games as a new and valid genre for students to study and compose. The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards now include a video game design category in the annual contest for students in grades 7-12. Added last year, the newest of the 29 categories recognizes the creative and narrative elements involved with video gaming. And of course, it taps into the 21stcentury literacies and relevancy at the same time. The contest deadline is January 29, 2011, so there’s still time for students to get involved.
In one NWP session, Alan Gershenfeld, founder and president of E-Line Media, emphasized this connection through narrative structure and theme. Gershenfeld, who is also the former Chairman of Games for Change, demonstrated several games that encourage students to make positive social change in the world. These are not typical “educational software” that floods the market with low-end graphic design and barely disguised multiple choice questions. These games use high quality design, role playing, and complex story lines to immerse the students in new situations and enable the development of empathy.
Video games share narrative elements with other fiction genres. Plot development moves the game forward through different challenges; characters are created (often interactively) with different strengths and grow throughout the game. Settings are well developed, often creating whole new worlds for the characters to explore. And the games that Gernshenfeld featured focused on serious, thought-provoking themes. Some, like The Sims or Civilization series, have been popular for quite a while. Others, like PeaceMaker, which focuses on Israeli-Palestinian relationships, and ClimateChallenge, which addresses environmental issues, are less main-stream but are becoming more commonly available to educators.
Focus on video gaming as narrative? As further evidence that video games aren’t all about the flash, students don’t have to have advanced software or programming skills. They don’t even need access to a computer. Students can complete the application and make their pitch for their original game on paper. Imagine that.
Integrating technology into the classroom must go beyond using the tools that others have developed; real integration will come from understanding the new genres of our world and incorporating them into our curriculum.