Computer games and Literature have more in common than we might first think. Complex narratives, immersive escapism and compelling characters are often the most appealing elements of the books that we read and computer games often offer these in abundance. Far from the passive act of watching television, gamers are highly engaged with their activities applying problem solving skills, weighing up moral conundrums and working out successful strategies in tense and fast moving situations. Am I trying to convince you that all computer games are intellectual pursuits? Of course not but there is an awful lot for us to tap into here (explored with more academic rigour in Ki Karou’s blog post here)
The wonderful thing about so much of English Language is our ability to teach skills that can be applied in any context. As ‘Fortnite’ is the game of the moment, this lovely summer term, in which there is time to experiment with approaches, seems the perfect opportunity to tap into something that so many young people (interestingly of both genders) are so fascinated with. Its addictive blend of fast paced cartoon violence and ruthless competition has inspired widespread joy and a plethora of near hysterical journalism about the corruption of the next generation; This presents us with the perfect opportunity for some really engaging reading and writing work.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to have played it at all to use these resources. Though as we are all exhausted and crawl toward the end of term, a bit of post-exam virtual massacre might be just what you need…
These are just a google image search away if you haven’t invested in the game yourself. Using a single screenshot as the basis for a piece of writing has lots of potential. Modelling taking a dramatic scene like this one and transforming it into an atmospheric piece of descriptive writing is a powerful and satisfying activity. I always enjoy beginning a class paragraph on Word using contributions form the class and live editing it before letting students take their own version forward gets amazing results at all ability levels. If you have enough enthusiasts in your class, you could ask them to bring their own screenshots in to use for this (they’ll easily be able to take them on their phone)
‘Fortnite’ begins with a dramatic drop sequence in which all one hundred players fling themselves from an airbus and plummet towards the game arena. The first minute or so of this video captures the start of the game. You can find the link here. This would be great to watch a few seconds at a time to inspire some ‘slow writing’ or as a prompt for GCSE students to create the opening of a narrative.
Similarly the cinematic trailer found on EpicGames website is full of drama and atmosphere that could inspire some impressive writing.
Explore Instruction Videos
YouTube is brimming with videos offering advice on surviving, building and tracking down other players to ruthlessly end their game. Find a good example of an instructive video and have a detailed discussion about how language is shaped for the specific audience and purpose. Ask students to capture effective lines on post-it notes and look for patterns in what they write down. Students could follow this up by writing their own instructive video script for playing the game of their choice; this could be a board game or sport for non computer game enthusiasts.
Although popular, critics are divided on the quality of the game @willgompertzBBC writes a great three star review here which is rich in cultural references, sarcastic premodification and a range of rhetorical devices used to good effect. Students can explore the art of forcefully promoting opinion, switching register and the power of comparison before taking on the difficult challenge of writing about something that was mediocre rather than particularly good or bad.
Whether you’re a newbie, pro or a concerned parent, all the broadsheets have produced guides and tips on getting started. I really like this article in the Guardian on ‘How to survive in Fortnite if you’re old and slow’ available here. Guide students through audience positioning, the power of word choices and use of tone to explore the importance of knowing who you are writing for. You could have some fun in giving students different audiences to fashion a guide for e.g. grandparents or specific celebrities.
Looking to the Future
This article available here analyses the rise of ‘Fortnite’ and explore possible reasons for its success. Why not combine a creative activity like coming up with an idea for a multiplatform game with a written piece imagining it’s success (or lack of success?) written in an informative and analytical style?
Rights and Wrongs
Fortnite has sparked a lot of interesting debate. The gratuitous violence presents a moral quandary as it’s innocuous graphics are somewhat at odds with the murderous goals of the game. There are many articles full of hyperbolic claims about it’s danger that would be fun to explore but surely some of these issues are perfect for some formal debating?
· Is the violence of Fortnite more acceptable in cartoon form?
· Does the game format really promote teamwork?
· Are computer games mindless fun or intellectually taxing and worthwhile?
· Is Fortnite revealing the sexism of the gaming world?
As ever, students probably know more than us so it would be great to see what they came up with as well.
Computer games come with an impressive collection of field specific lexical terms and hard to penetrate colloquialisms. It would be fun to look at the vocabulary of Fortnite and look at word formation. You could explore origins of terms; whether they are euphemistic or direct; word formation e.g. compound, neologisms and blended words or investigate the way terminology and colloquialisms include and exclude audiences.
Real World Crisis
There was an outcry in my school last week when a (false) rumour circulated that school had filtered out ‘Fortnite’ so it couldn’t be accessed on the premises. Create a real world situation by persuading your headteacher to appear in a video saying it will be banned and offer students the opportunity to make an argument to express their views.. Students could write letters either in support or challenging the views put forward.
You can also find a link here to a clip from ‘This Morning’ here in which the addictive qualities of the game are explored in a nice accessible three minute introduction. This could form the basis of a debate or a careful piece of writing in which students experiment with the success of adopting different tones when offering parents or teachers advice and guidance on dealing with an addicted child.
Not always students’ favourite skill to rehearse but giving them two reviews with lots of obvious places to try out their inference skills is a winning class activity or homework task for GCSE students. The positive review here and negative review here would be perfect for practising this crucial Paper 2 skill by asking students to summarise the differences in the attitudes toward the game.
Douglas Kiang’s comments here on ‘Using Gaming Principles to engage Students’ are well worth a read for taking the construct and appeal of computer games a step further. There is definite potential for taking more from the world of gaming than just some interesting source material; this is definitely an area I intend to look at in more detail in the future.
We would be really interested to hear how other people have used computer games either as source material or utilised the principles in lesson design. Please feel free to add any ideas in the comments below.