• Zack

My Video Game Class: The Walking Simulator

Updated: Oct 13, 2019

What's going on everyone?


So starting this September I will be teaching an elective class in addition to my normal Social Studies class. I will be treating this course as an English Language Arts class, at least for the first semester. However, this isn't just any typical ELA course- it is going to be my very own video game class. Over the course of the semester, my students will play through two video games as the main texts. We will be playing Gone Home and What Remains of Edith Finch- both of which I already have lessons for on this site. They are respectively developed by The Fullbright Company and Giant Sparrow.


I've created curriculum for a 30 day unit dubbed "The Walking Simulator." You can find the unit including a full curriculum plan and daily lesson plans/handouts here. I will discuss the progress of the course here on Hey Listen Games as we make our way through the semester. There are very few teachers who have had the opportunity to teach with video games, so I hope my work here will act as a guide for any educator out there interested in the educational value of video games.


The rationale for this class is to prepare my students for the New York Regents Exam in English Language Arts; specifically Part 3 of the exam. Part 3 of this test asks students to closely read and determine the central idea of a text. They then need to analyze how the author’s use of one writing strategy (literary element, literary technique, or rhetorical device) develops this central idea. Examples include: characterization, conflict, denotation/connotation, metaphor, simile, irony, language use, point-of-view, setting, structure, symbolism, theme, tone, etc.


Written stories do not need to be utilized as the main texts when learning how to write a text-based response. They certainly work, but there are other mediums like plays, TV, movies, comic books, and video games that can easily be supplemented into the curriculum to receive the same results. Video games in particular can be an effective resource for learning because they let students physically engage with the narratives of the stories being told. Just like in a typical written text, video game narratives often incorporate a number of literary techniques and rhetorical devices into the gameplay.


This unit will utilize two video games as the main texts to be “read.” These games will be supplemented with various fiction and non-fiction articles/texts as students progress through the unit. The two games as mentioned earlier, are Gone Home and What Remains of Edith Finch. Both games are in the genre of “walking simulators.” A walking simulator is an adventure game focused on gradual exploration and discovery through observation, with little emphasis on action. The gameplay focuses solely on telling a story. This unit will help students think about and notice writing strategies in places they have not considered before. In a typical text, a student needs to try and read through the lens of one author. Video games are created by full teams of people collaborating to create a final product. The students will need to take into account the vision of the team instead of the vision of one person.

Gone Home is an interactive story simulator. You arrive home to an empty house and a letter from your sister telling you not to try to find her. As you work your way through your house looking for clues about everyone's whereabouts, you begin to discover a much more personal story about your sister Sam. There is no fighting, no violence, no puzzles; only story and self discovery. 

This is a game about coming out and some of the many challenges faced by the LGBTQ community. These themes are largely absent from video games and Gone Home would be a perfect introductory lesson in a classroom about discrimination and homophobia. It is not just a great game, it is one of the most important pieces of media made in the past decade. 


I don't think I've ever played a game What Remains of Edith Finch. The storytelling in  Edith Finch is among the best I have ever seen in video games. You play as Edith, a girl trying to learn how each member in her family tree met an untimely death. You simply walk throughout your house investigating for secrets and knowledge. This is a very narrative driven game, where even the dialogue interacts with the player and environment. 

Where this game shines is when you learn about each death in the family. You are transported to the moment they died, but each story is told through a completely unique perspective and uses completely different storytelling devices. If you ever wanted a perfect visual to show students the many different and creative ways to write, this is the game to play. 


A number of the students in my school do not find their elective classes interesting or fruitful. This is partly because it's a small school and there is not much variety in the classes they can take. My hope is that this course will hook some of these students while also preparing them for the English Regents. This specific test is the biggest hurdle for my students (all of which are English Language Learners) to reach graduation. I will have both 11th and 12th graders in this class, many of which still need to pass the Regents exam.


Once the school year starts I will make a new post about the progress of the class about every two weeks or so. Please feel free to subscribe to stay up to date on my video game class, or for updates on new lessons and materials. It's all free!


Thanks for reading,

Zack


Next week's post can be found here.

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