Traditionally when we think of literature, we think of it in the form of stories that are written in a book. We have linked our idea of literature to a written format. But we can find good stories in more than just books. Video games are a platform where we can find amazing stories with incredible worldbuilding and character designs but we rarely consider them as a form of literature. Professor Meagan Nyland recently spoke about considering video games as literature during a panel at CCBC’s Tech Expo on “Immersive Technologies: The Power to Share and Build”. Alongside Professor Nyland on the panel was Rachel Henderson, award-winning senior communications professional and the Vice President of Warschawski, Sophia Moshasha, the Vice President of the VR/AR Association of the DC chapter, and Lual Mayen, a self-taught game-developer working with Junub Games.
While on the panel, Professor Nyland spoke about the creative side of game writing and story telling. Game writing is like any other kind of creative writing, it has many of the same key concepts that make them valuable. “The elements for story telling are the same regardless of the platform you are using; having a character you care about and relate to, an interesting plot or situation, a fully established world,” Professor Nyland says, “It all comes back to the human element of creating a relationship between the reader and the story.” Video games are able to invoke a great deal of empathy in people therefore making them value as educational tools. However, educational games need to be about more than just earning points. Earning points makes them feel like exams. Educational games need to be meaningful, fun, and create an immersive story.
Genuine story immersion comes from being “smart” with writing. One of the best immersive video game techniques is providing the player with choices throughout the game. Video games with choice allow everyone to end up at the same scene, but depending on what choices they have made they gain something different from another player. This makes the choices feel more real. The most meaningful choices are those that affect how characters feel about the player. “If you don’t have that element of reality it breaks the illusion, seeing what you do actually matters.” The immersion of the player comes from not making clear-cut good or bad choices. These immersive games give us “a chance to really explore ourselves and see what we what to experience.” These technologies have an advantage over the novel. The novel doesn’t allow for the reader to identify with the main character as “I”, whereas the video game positions the player in the first person.
One of the most important things to consider when making these games and the immersive technology they use is that not everyone will have access to it because of the cost of equipment. Virtual reality headsets can run as high as six hundred dollars, in addition to the cost of the game console. We need to not only be creative in the creation of content, but also in how we give people access. Taking advantage of systems already in place, like public libraries, is the best way to provide that access. Libraries have access to digital databases where they could access the games for free. Companies could donate gear and updated computers and licenses for software like Unity.
In addition to Professor Nyland’s panel, two Stevenson University English majors, Jennifer Steward, a current senior and Hannah Humphries, an alumni, showcased games that they have created.
Jennifer used a platform called Twine to tell an interactive story. She created it at this year’s Global Game Jam where the theme was “home” and what that meant to the developer. Her concept was how people make their home around their friends and family. The premise is that the player has recently lost a significant other so they are building a robot to replace them. The player programs them to be like their significant other. It is emotional, funny, and touching with clear writing and a fun concept.
Hannah’s game was also created during Global Game Jam where her concept was feeling at home within your own body and mind. It is a side-scroller set on an intentional loop. The player goes through one level until they reach the then and then restart. Each time you restart you learn new stills that allow you to interact differently with the surroundings. The character is trapped within their own mind and need to find a way to get healthy again.