Video Games as Narrative Spaces

IMG_0846I will be running a workshop on Friday 27th March at Sheffield Hallam University for PGCE students, titled: ‘Video Games as Narrative Spaces’.

This workshop is built around three examples of video games being used in a KS2 classroom to enhance and supplement the literacy curriculum. Whilst demonstrating the potential for using video games in these contexts, each example will also be used as a springboard for discussion, encouraging you to reflect on your own teaching practice in relation to themes around technology, engagement and the nature of literacy itself.

Games discussed will be: Proteus, Thomas Was Alone and Minecraft

 

The Stories So Far: Games as Narrative Opportunities in the Classroom

In the article ‘Game Design as Narrative Architecture‘, Jenkins discusses the opportunities that games – as virtual spaces – offer for the development of narratives.

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Can games like Paradis Perdus that ‘embed narrative information’ offer potential in the primary classroom?

Asking, in effect, `Are games stories?`, Jenkins places himself in between the ‘ludologists’ (`games aren’t stories`) and the `narratologists` (‘games are stories‘), answering both `yes` and `no`. Based on what I have seen in the classroom, I think I would position myself in a comfortable chair next to Jenkins, nodding in agreement – particularly as he identifies a game (in this case, The Sims) as being `ripe with narrative possibility`.

Whilst considering games as stories accounts for only a small part of their potential, it does – particularly for the technologically cautious – provide a tangible link to current practice, perhaps offering a useful starting point for understanding just one way in which games can be used in the primary school classroom, to address Literacy-based objectives.

Jenkins goes on to state four ways in which he believes that games, as ‘virtual playspaces‘, may create `the preconditions for an immersive narrative experience`. All four offer potential for classroom practitioners to harness the potential of game narratives – I have attempted to link these to recent examples from my own classroom practice, not by any means as definitive illustrations, but perhaps as starting points…

1. `Spacial stories can evoke pre-existing narrative associations’

(Eg. Using Minecraft to explore Kensuke’s Kingdom.  The way that Paradis Perdus reminded one child of the story of Slender Man.)

2. `They can provide a staging ground where narrative events are enacted`

(Eg. The town of Bradborough – created by the children in Minecraft  – is host to multiple stories: what Jenkins calls `micronarratives`.
The theatre in Bradborough, where children enacted their own scenes.)

3. `They may embed narrative information within their mise-en-scene`

(Eg. Spheres in Minecraft, the `meaning` of Paradis Perdus.)

4. `… they provide resources for emergent narratives`

(Eg. Proteus as a stimulus for ekphrastic writing, Tornados in Minecraft.)

Thinking of a game only as a story would certainly be reductionist, but careful consideration of their narrative potential could be useful for encouraging the use of `virtual playspaces` in the classroom.

Proteus Display

For anyone who wondered what a corridor display board full of mounted, Proteus inspired work would look like: today is your lucky day!

For those who don’t wonder such things: move along, keep to the left, there’s nothing for you here…

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Proteus as a Writing Stimulus 2

Following on from yesterday’s post about using the indie exploration game Proteus in the classroom as a writing prompt, here are the children’s final pieces of work.

They spent an hour this afternoon – with Proteus again playing on the electronic whiteboard and over the speakers – using the iPads and laptops to combine their work from the previous lesson with images they grabbed from locations in the game. The aim was also to level-up their writing, following some work on noun, adverbial and prepositional phrases (yes, the dreaded grammar test looms).

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Proteus can currently be purchased here in beta, and gets a full release on Steam on 30th January.

Proteus as a Writing Stimulus

I wrote this excitable blog post the other week about an amazing virtual exploration game called Proteus. This afternoon, I was pleased to use it in the classroom for the first time.

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As I mentioned, my intention for this game was to use it as a stimulus for writing. I had done a similar thing previously with the game Myst (based on the ideas of Tim Ryands, amongst others), but much of that had been teacher led. With Proteus I saw an opportunity for the children to participate purely in the exploration of the virtual world, without turning it into a long-term venture. (In the run-up to SATS I am eager to find enjoyable ways that allow the class to practise and improve the quality of their writing, rather than relying purely on previously-set writing tasks.)

Aside from the brilliance of Proteus, I’m still constantly impressed with the awesomeness of the internet itself as a way of making contact. Firstly, I was easily able to get in touch with the game’s author Ed Key, who was more than gracious about my plan to use the game in the classroom. In addition to this, I received a comment on my previous post from Darren Grey, linking to his Proteus-inspired poem. This impressively language-rich piece seemed perfect as a model for the type of descriptive prose that I was hoping to encourage the children to write. Darren was kind enough to give me permission to use this also.

So, before I introduced the children to the game (and indeed, without mentioning that we would be using a game) we began by reading Darren’s poem together as a class. I asked the children to think about the kind of place they felt the author might be describing. I then asked them to re-read the poem in pairs, highlighting any words or language features that they found particularly effective, or that they would like to ‘borrow’ for their own writing.

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Discussing and annotating ‘In Proteus’ by Darren Grey

After this it was time to let the children loose in the game. Most children worked, as usual, with a partner – sharing a laptop or desktop. I gave each pair a note-taking sheet, which they used while playing the game to note down their ideas. I suggested that they should try to note down vocabulary relating to the senses, using a box for each sense. Proteus provides a very stimulating environment, with rapidly changing times and shifting seasons, and I therefore hoped that this would prompt a range of expansive vocabulary.

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Taking notes during the game

It was interesting to be present while so many screens were displaying the game – there were fourteen computers, each at different locations on the island, along with the electronic whiteboard. The sound from the main computer was played over the speakers, filling the room with David Kanaga’s amazing reactive soundtrack. Other children used headphones. Most were glued to their screens, whilst a few stood back, taking in the view and noting their observations from multiple machines.

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On the big screen

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Used dual headphone splitters (from The Pound Shop!) to plug in two sets of headphones

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Children explored with enthusiasm and excitement. They soon found their way on to the island and quickly discovered what was and wasn’t possible. A buzz went across the class when someone found something new – particularly the more mystical elements of the game, including the standing stones, ‘fireflies’ and the changes in season. The animals (bees, crabs, rabbits) were popular too. During play, children took screenshots of their favourite locations (pressing the F9 key creates a ‘postcard’ of a location that you can revisit again later):

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Crabs on the beach!

Eventually, it was time to leave the game and turn some of their written notes into  something a bit more formal. (The level 5 skill below involved mixing features of different genres – the idea here was for the children to use some features usually used in poetry in a piece of descriptive prose).

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Levelled objectives for the writing task.

Here are some examples of the writing produced by the children by the end of the session:

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As the final stage in this writing process I intend to get the children to ‘up-level’ their own writing, producing a word-processed version of their text in combination with some of the images from the game. I’ll post some examples when we complete them.

[EDIT: See this new post for final pieces of work]

Proteus

“I think video games are closer to fiction than anything else these days.” – Haruki Murakami (2004)

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Just a quick post – I’ll write more when I have had chance to use this in the classroom.

I discovered Proteus during the Christmas holiday while browsing through some lists of the best indie games of 2012. There is some debate over whether Proteus is actually a game. There’s no winning or losing and no obstacles to overcome – just amazing exploration and discovery. Either way, it’s certainly a joy to explore and it struck me that this would provide a fantastic stimulus for writing in the classroom.

With my recent use of Minecraft in the classroom I’ve intentionally avoided using the game as a prompt for writing, as the inherent value seems to be in the creation. With Proteus there is no creation, but there is a very intriguing setting, which seems to lend itself perfectly to creative writing – specifically, descriptive writing using the senses.

The game takes place across four shifting seasons. Things happen – although you can’t leave a mark on the world, your presence in the world does influence the surroundings. Animals appear and disappear – bees, frogs, crabs. Trees shudder and shed leaves. There’s mystery – strange standing-stones, lights doing unusual things, stars and sunsets. And the music and sound is amazingly immersive, ever-changing depending on the individual’s location. (With reference to the reactive soundtrack, one reviewer in PC Gamer described it brilliantly as “The best song I’ve ever played…”)

I’m really looking forward to introducing Proteus to my class – I’ll report back here when I have.