I was doing some searching for something else entirely when I came across this piece by Mimi Ito about the connections between gaming and writing. Ito shares a case study profile of a girl whose interests in Minecraft expanded her sense of self as a writer.
I appreciate this section, where Ito talks about how the student followed her interest in gaming by writing scripts that take place in Minecraft, and how the teacher was open enough to understand that the students was following a passion.
Tal got the idea to write scripts for her and her friends to film as animated plays in the game from a post on a Minecraft online forum. She got support for doing so from her social studies teacher, who had noticed Tal’s interest in creative writing. While the teacher wasn’t a Minecraft player herself, she did recognize that the game created a socially rich and creatively driven context for nurturing Tal’s writing interests. — from Writing to Gaming to Writing by Mimi Ito
We had just finished the last round of our state testing (we, meaning them) and we had some time in the classroom as we waited for the other three sixth grade classes to also finish (and then we would get outside for fresh air).
They ate snacks, and started games of Uno and Scrabble, and then I watched the boys (this was only the boys, and every boy in the classroom) gather together and start to act like their arms were pickaxes and they were cutting down trees (some acted like trees that others were cutting down.) When we finally got outside, the boys ran to bushes and trees, and began acting like they were chopping wood again.
Ok. What? Minecraft? Maybe?
I soon realized that the boys were “playing” Fortnite, the multi-player video game phenomenon that I know has been part of many of the students’ gaming lives for weeks now. But to see it being acted out — the axes being used to clear bushes and trees to make hiding spaces in the game world — just looked … odd. (The girls kept glancing over at the boys, with a look like … they are such strange creatures.)
At one point, one of my students came over to me, and with a smile and a laugh, asked: Mr. H, do you Floss?
I knew better than to respond right away, and I quickly realized that The Floss is a dance that players do inside Fortnite (and also outside of the game, as I recognized the movement immediately). Along with (thanks to later research) the Floss, there is also the Fresh, the Squat Kick and the Wiggle.
So, what to make of Fortnite? It’s a survival game, in which collaboration is key. It’s social. It’s global. Millions of people are playing it. I hear my students planning Fortnite sessions for the evening. Fortnite is everywhere right now. Is it just a fad? Maybe, but even fads have reverberations in culture, and the language and dancing and other elements of Fortnite are creeping into pop culture, for sure.
Just ask your kids.
A day later, I was reading a piece in The New Yorker about Fortnite by writer Nick Paumgarten (the article was inspired by him watching his adolescent son and son’s friends play the game). He immediately noticed the social aspects (including friends gathering to watch other friends play) as well as some of the positive pieces of the game. He also noticed how the design of the game draws players in for extended periods of time.
While a magazine headline writer used this warning in the magazine as the subhead on the featured image — The craze has elements of Beatlemania, the opioid crisis, and eating Tide Pods — Paumgarten ultimately notes that Fortnite is ” … a kind of mass social gathering, open to a much wider array of people than the games that came before it. Its relative lack of wickedness — its seems to be mostly free of the misogyny and racism that afflict many other games and gaming communities — makes it more palatable to a broader audience …”
My son, age 13, tried to download Fortnite to my iPad, but it didn’t work because of the age of the iPad (sorry, Kid). So he went into another game that is sort of a clone of Fortnite that he plays with friends. They keep an open communication channel and my wife and I can hear him chatting and planning and laughing and shouting, and socializing, with friends as they play together. This element of player connection, mostly positive for now, makes the game environment different, I think, and I wonder where that element will take the next tier of video games.
A few years ago, for DS106, I was part of a group that did a collaborative radio project that centered on the art of remixing. My segment centered around an activity I do with my sixth grade students, remixing and hacking the game of chess to create something new altogether. It is part of our Game Design Unit.
Here is the radio segment I did:
Peace (hacked for greater good),
PS — here is the entire Merry Hacksters Radio Show
This week, in Networked Narratives, the theme is on games and one of the challenges is to use audio to tell a story, and the audio should be game-themed. I decided to try to make a short song loop, with game sounds. No story except, there’s always a “game over” moment in a game.
By the way, if you want to join me in annotating the video hangout session that the NetNarr folks and guests did on the topic of gaming and learning, come into the Vialogues with me. I’m slow-watching it and adding comments off to the side.
(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)
I am always impressed when my students find new ways to “hack” or game a system. Last week, one of my students created a new video game in Gamestar Mechanic that everyone in the grade began playing. Not because it is a good game or a fun game or a challenging game. In fact, quite the opposite.
The game is called Spam Enter, and as soon as you hit play, you win the game. Hit replay. You win again. Again and again. No, the “game” my students were playing, which began with one or two kids and soon became a viral challenge across classes, was to help the game achieve more than 10,000 plays.
This morning, when I looked, it had more than 13,o00 plays.
One on hand, it’s nonsense. This means a bunch of kids were just hitting replay on the computer. They were. And it was rather funny, as kids had their fingers on the return button of their computer keyboards while holding conversations with each other about the coming vacation and the Olympics and such.
On the other hand, they saw the activity as a way to game the Gamestar System, to see what would happen if a single game suddenly got thousands of plays. One student starting telling others to rate the game high. Their informal plan was to move the game into the Gamestar Mechanic featured game section of what is known as Game Alley.
Did it work? I don’t know. But they keep hitting play.
The local newspaper published a column that I wrote about our sixth grade video game design unit, and how I use what we do as a way to encourage more writing out of my students, in different genres and different audiences.
The column is part of a monthly series of teacher-written pieces that come from a partnership between our Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the Daily Hampshire Gazette. I coordinate that project — helping WMWP teachers develop ideas and coordinating the contact between teacher writers and newspaper editors — and every now and then, I write, too.
These come from the annotation activity of an article called New Media Art, a chapter from a collection published in 2006. In Networked Narratives, one of the activities this week is to annotate the article and examine the nature of New Media Art (or whatever title it has these days.)
I was intrigued by some of the early examples of video games as the source for art, and found two examples referenced in the writing that still live on the Internet. Notice how each artists used elements from the game, but remixed and remediated them in such a way to create something new and inventive.
From a description of the original experience, via BookChin
In Natalie Bookchin’s piece, The Intruder, we are presented with a sequence of ten videog ames, most of which are adapted from classics such as Pong and Space Invaders. We interact via moving or clicking the mouse, and by making whatever we make of/with/from the story. Meaning is always constructed, never on a plate. The interaction is less focused on video game play than it is on advancing the narrative of the story we hear throughout the presentation of the ten games.
Velvet Strike was a set of counter-military graffiti sprays for a spray-gun modification in the networked game Counter-Strike. Players could both download and spray images from the collection in-game and also create and contribute new spray paint graphics to the intervention. The project was created in response to the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and specifically the proliferation of militaristic anti-Arab, anti-Muslim Counter-Strike modifications following 9-11. Velvet Strike faced a massive backlash from gamers (particularly in the form of misogynist verbal attacks directed at Schleiner), raising important questions surrounding the uncritical acceptance of violent military fantasy in games and the role of networked multiplayer games as public space.
And then there is something simple, and yet beautiful, about something like this: taking video of the clouds in Super Mario and making the clouds into their own video. That’s what Cory Arcangel did in 2002.
In the NetNarr Twitter stream, one of the students shared a blog post with images of cities he built within a gaming city itself, and I decided to do a little remix. Using game worlds as the setting for Media Art is intriguing.
What I wonder about is this: are there communities out there doing this kind of work of appropriating video games into art still today, in 2018, and how might I learn more about how to teach my sixth graders — who are now video game designers — to do something similar with their own video games designed and published this school year?
We’re nearing the end of our video game design unit. Here are a few of the Hero’s Quest games created by my sixth graders that I think showed good use of story and game design. Not all are easy to play and to win (although I have, as I graded them for story and design).
I’ll admit: it’s one of the oddest ways to “read” a piece of student work. I’m digging into the video game of a sixth grader made on Gamestar Mechanic, trying to make my way out of the maze and rescue a character in my role as a hero on an epic quest. I am confronted by dragons, spitting out fire as I dodge and weave, and die. And then, I start the story all over again.
This is how I spent large parts of my vacation week: assessing student stories by playing the video games they have built with stories as frames. I’ve had a lot of fun, but I’ve also done a lot of thinking about what it means to tell a story in the format of a video game.
Some of the projects are excellent. Games like Bartimaeus’ Quest by Hailey and The Wall’s Secret by Devin and The Quest of El by Megan show student game designers and writers who get it, who understand the idea of story informing the game experience. Other students, not so much, although all of the other writing and reflective work we have done has given me insights into their learning, and allowed me to focus my teaching. I have notes for our conferencing when we return to school next week.
One of my favorite projects, not so much for its final version but for its origin, is a game called Captain Zero and Turtle Man. Two boys have been working on a comic book of the same title, and wanted to use their comic book story as the basis for the game they wanted to develop. Of course, I said, yes! I love when ideas from one genre spill into another.
As I play student games as player and as teacher, I am also assessing these student video game projects through three distinct lenses (all of which the students know and have used as the basis for design):
Narrative Story Frame (in this case, the use of the Hero’s Journey loose template);
Writing Mechanics within the game’s text areas;
Given that this is the first time nearly every one of my sixth grade students has designed and published a video game, I am not overly strict with these elements (and our grading system is standards-based, meaning the range runs from “meeting expectations” all the way to “beginning to show understanding”). I am looking for growth, and for experimental writing of stories, and of games that engage and challenge and entertain the reader/player.
As a teacher, this work is a very different experience than facing a pile of essays or stories or analytical pieces to read. I am playing the stories of my students (often, over and over, for if I want to see how the story ends or continues, my only way forward is to beat the level and keep moving forward). I leave comments both in public, at the game itself within Gamestar Mechanic, and privately, on an assessment sheet that every student will get back from me.
I am intentionally balancing my remarks in those spaces, knowing that one audience is beyond the student and our classroom (but probably more important an audience than my role as teacher), and the other, is a space for more one to one with my young writer/game designer. I am critical in both, if I need to be, but more celebratory in public.
One of the many writing activities that I do with my sixth grade students as part of our video game development unit (which is taught in writing class) is to write a letter to Gamestar Mechanic about their project, what they like about the site, and some ideas for making Gamestar even better.
I’ll be mailing the letters off in early January.
I don’t know if we will get a response from the company (my main contacts no longer work there and Gamestar is part of the larger eLine Media) but the act of writing to Gamestar — a site we we have been using rather extensively since the start of December — and articulating some ideas gives me a chance to see what they are thinking. The letter follows a community brainstorming about features they wish the site had.
The letters act as one sort of reflective end point as they finish up their games.