Kyle Bryant, Dr. Jarom McDonald, Digital Humanities, and Dr. Derek Hansen, School of Technology
Researchers like James Gee, culturists such as Henry Jenkins, and educators such as BYU’s own Derek Hansen and Jonathan Ostenson agree that video games can be a powerful educational tool; capturing both the users attention and imagination, something that the educational system is struggling to gain even one. Sir Ken Robinson points out in his 2014 TED talk “Changing Educational Paradigms” that to children, school is very dull compared to the exciting world of technology available at their fingertips.
Early 2014, I set out to prove a theory: that video games could be a boon to education. Not the typical ‘educational games’ of the 90’s, which claimed to blend learning with video game fun, yet delivered the equivalent of chocolate coated broccoli to youths of elementary grades. The idea was to create a video game that was first and foremost fun to play, yet could be used in the classroom to further teaching. We learn best when having fun, so why not create a fun Role Playing Game1 based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet?
The creation of the game took much more time and money than expected, and much could be written about the successes and pitfalls of multi-disciplined large group projects. For this synopsis, it is sufficient to say that projects on the scale of a video game (even a 20 minute demo) require artists, writers, programmers, users, and managers to come together to create something amazing (and that costs money). While not the main goal of this ORCA project, I learned much from the creation and management of this project and have grown from it.
Late October, the video game demo was complete. In “Hamlet: A Player’s Tale,”2 the user takes the role of a Player (the actor that appears in act 2 and 3 of Shakespeare’s original play), thus giving them the freedom to explore the world of Hamlet, while still following the plot of Hamlet. To prove or discredit the point of this project, 20 participants were asked to play the game and then complete a survey consisting of demographic questions and high school short answer questions based on Hamlet. They were also asked to rate their enjoyment of the experience and record the average amount they play video games each week. A second group of testers were then asked to read the first act of Hamlet and complete the same survey.
Both readers and players of the game scored nearly identically on short answer questions and survey responses. It is interesting to note that the average enjoyment of both the text and the game are the same, though the median enjoyment for the game is much higher. With such a small survey size, one person’s biased responses (such as one who gave the game a zero, and one who ranked 10 on time spent playing videogames) created outliers in the data which could heavily influence the results. However, it is easy to see that those who played the video game had a greater enjoyment than those who read it.
More interesting than the survey numbers was the short answer responses. Both groups answered sufficiently and correctly identified the plot and themes of Hamlet and supporting characters. However, those who read the text gave very generic answers while those who played the game gave their answers in relation to themselves and why it mattered. Those who played the game, related the experience to their lives and often listed possibilities of how or why something occurred; that level of application was not found with those who read the text.
This project succeeded in proving the application of video games for educational uses. In today’s world of ever faster technology and advancements, we could capture the attention of our youth with video games, and use them to spark an interest in learning, be it the classics of literature in video game form, or improving math through game mechanics. Video games have the fun and engagement often lacking in the classroom, and should we invest in creating more games that happen to be based on literature’s classics, it could be the renaissance needed to get young students back into the classics they are based on.
1 abbreviated RPG, a video game genre where the player controls the actions of a protagonist immersed in a fictional world often including developed story-telling and narrative elements, player character development, complexity, as well as replay-ability and immersion.
2 Demo available at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9NWtBdV4hvjMlh1N1FPYlVCWk0/view?usp=sharing only for windows.