Asked to predict the topic that would divide my seminar group of prospective English teachers into equally-passionate but opposing camps, I would have picked something other than video games – and that’s before hearing a lecture on the topic in which we participated in activities of close-reading games and their associated texts, and saw stats indicating very high exposure to gaming among school-aged people in Australia. Here’s pre-existing enthusiasm for creative and literary practice among the people with whom we’re planning to study English. Ideal, right?
Wrong, boomed half the seminar room, taking up virtual controllers with which to obliterate my naivety. Seriously, voices and eyebrows were raised! Weakened, I hung back for a while, taking notes on their tactics. What could future teachers of English have against the study of games?
Here’s what they contended:
1) Unlike films and written texts, video games can’t be consumed as a whole class, thereby breaking down the collective experience of reading and viewing on which so much of our teaching depends! [Hang on, aren’t classes in which texts are read aloud both highly inefficient and disconnected from the experience of reading?]
2) Unlike films and written texts, video games feature plots that are flexible and open-ended; if students all have a different experience, how can it be analysed? [Don’t overemphasise plot. Even if storylines diverge, most elements of a game are a common experience; those that aren’t can be retold.]
3) Video games often contain violent, antifeminist messages! [So do films and written texts. Choose carefully, and at all costs avoid sounding like (a) parents trying to ban Macbeth or (b) literary censors of the early 20th century.]
4) Teachers and students lack gaming literacy, making it hard to ensure that everyone can actually read/play a game. [Teaching literacy is a responsibility of schools and should include training students to decode multimodal texts. Real or imagined illiteracy of teachers shouldn’t affect the curriculum; illiteracy of students is our concern, not our excuse.]
5) Teachers are not skilled or confident enough in the use of games to teach them! [This assumes an outdated model of teaching in which learning depends on the teacher’s expertise being unilaterally transmitted.]
6) It’s easier to control a class when they’re reading than when they’re playing games! [Really? Plus controlling students is not an educational goal.]
7) Games are not as complex or engaging as novels! [Depends on the hypothetical novel or game. Again, when choosing, choose well.]
8) As games are consumed by so many young people they should be criticised within the study of persuasive rather than creative texts. [A couple of false dichotomies here. Firstly, the study of creative texts includes an analysis of audience and intended effect; secondly, text responses and the study of persuasive texts differ in style and content, not object of analysis. Novels can be studied under either lens; so can video games.]
9) Games shouldn’t be taught as texts, but used as contextual or comparative material. [This sounds familiar. Ah yes, it was said of film texts when they were still devalued.]
10) Playing games is antisocial and should therefore be discouraged! [Same goes for poems.]