Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Case for Interactive Fiction - Part 1

I’ll wholeheartedly admit it, Atticus Finch is my hero!  To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the novels I look forward to reading each year with my freshman students.  Integrity, character, and standing up for what’s right are concepts that students seem to understand through Atticus’s struggles while defending Tom Robinson in a community that is seemingly against him.  To Kill a Mockingbird is undoubtedly a wonderful novel.  But I have another admission: Sometimes I need more! 

And I’m not alone.  Over the last five years, I’ve heard excellent discussion amongst my students about character and story development from reading To Kill a Mockingbird, but the “real” conversations about these topics takes place after class is over—when students crowd around my desk to talk about video games.  It is in these conversations that my students skillfully analyze character and story through interactive fiction.  It is from these conversations that I slowly realized that my students demand more interaction with characters and story than a novel can provide. 

As the increase in technology pushes our capabilities of teaching in the classroom, it also increases the level of collaboration and interaction students have with each other and the world.  Growing up with Twitter and Facebook, today’s students need interaction in order to understand and make sense of the world around them.  The same is true in the classroom.  Reading a book “the old fashioned way” doesn’t offer the same level of interaction that our students have grown up enjoying; it just doesn't seem as relevant.

Over the course of the last twenty years, video game technology has also improved from the pixilated characters and settings of the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System to lush, vibrant vistas of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.  These artfully rendered games immerse players into a world that a written novel could not begin to describe.  Look at the Playstation 3 downloadable title Flower for example.  In this game you play the role of a flower petal seeking to repopulate a world devoid of color.  Using the intuitive controls, players are able to engage in a truly unique, "Zen-like" experience. 

In the end, as a teacher seeking a relevant entry point for students to engage in literature, I can't deny the power and influence of video games.  While there are many games on the market that I would not use in my classroom, there are twice as many that I would.  The same could be said for books, of course.  Regardless, I know the majority of my students are playing video games at home with greater regularity than they read books.  And with that said, it's time to start making the case for interactive fiction!

Shane A. Sullivan 

1 comment:

  1. I was reading interactive fiction when I was in elementary school like it was going out of style, though it was purely for entertainment back then. Video games were still pretty new - those were the Apple IIe days! I think you are correct that the interactive format has great potential for education; in fact, I've recently published a flight training book using that format. There's a lot of potential that exists to blur the lines between books and games, to make education more interactive and personalized. And thus more fun and effective! But still...may To Kill a Mockingbird live on for a long time!