When Space Monsters Try to Eat Your Future, You Don’t Let Them

I attended an education reformers love-in two weeks ago, a lengthy series of back patting and discussion about what they think reform should be while not acknowledging that reform outside that room is something very different. If you have an hour and a half to kill the video of it is here.

In that series of reformers toasting their greatness a former New York Chancellor said something very interesting. Check out what Harold Levy is talking about between 3:00 and 5:00. He talks about the individualization of education through gaming. He thinks gaming isn’t close to where it should be, but that is the direction we should go.

When I Learned to Fight Injustice

I applaud Mr. Levy for his open-mindedness, but he gives the world of gaming too little credit. Back around 1995 a game called Chrono Trigger came out. It was one of the first video games I played through. In it I took on the persona of a spiky red haired misfit teenager who, through time travel, saved the future. Sounds like a bit of escapist fantasy, and in most ways it was, but sometimes stories like that teach us something that is hard to recognize until years later. It is the ideal I think everyone needs to learn as they grow, that when faced with great adversity, you ready yourself and step up.

My father’s generation had a similar story, a movie was made of it some years ago where a little guy named Frodo faced down a big evil guy named Sauron and tossed his ring into a volcano. Well, my generation had something different. We had this (the good bit ends at 3:20):

When faced with the idea that the entirety of their future will be eaten by a giant space monster, the three heroes could have said “well, it doesn’t happen for 900 years why should we care,” but they don’t. They decide that it is their problem and use the tools they have to solve it. Conveniently, they can travel through time, but the lesson is just as potent.

To this day, I still get a chill when I watch those poorly animated sprites decide to fight. Video games have always been a great part of my life, and despite the claims that I was rotting my brain I would hold some of the narratives I played through up with Tolkien (granted a lot of games were influenced by him). Now of course there is also trash in the video game world, but there is also trash in  literature and on television and in textbooks.

Game On, Get Your Learn On

There is already a great depth of narrative to explore throughout the last few decades of gaming, and there is much that teachers can learn from the interactivity of gaming. A few game developers have actually put together video in that regard I highly recommend more teachers watch.

A major aspect of that video is the idea of Agency. Few other forms of entertainment offer more agency than video games. The main character in Chrono Trigger, Crono never speaks in order to allow the player to project themselves more fully into the story. So when the dialogue box comes up to ask Crono if he will stand up and fight, it is asking you, the player.  The game could have just had him respond and had the player be a spectator, but it makes you respond.

The world of video games is long overdue for some meaningful literary analysis, and I intend over the next few weeks to highlight a few of the more memorable games I have encountered and discuss how they could be used in the classroom.

Next week’s unit: Disillusionment and the American Dream, works to be read Catcher in the Rye, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Grand Theft Auto 4.

Donny got a BA in English, which he thought meant badass, but then he got to the real world. Now he realizes it means bitter academic. Donny did a stint in grad school with a focus on education, which made him angry enough to start writing columns. While education is still his main focus, Donny now wants to apply his academic rigor to other mundane activities.