Video games and literature. As many battle-weary parents can attest, the mediums have presented an enduring clash between learning and play.
But the two can actually go – literally – hand in hand, or conversely, stand equally on their own, with their own merits and values, explains Jim Brown, an assistant professor of English and director of the Digital Studies Center at Rutgers University–Camden.
“There are many instances where video games and literature function in tandem or parallel to one another,” says Brown. “So how do we examine this relationship without giving one precedence over the other?”
Brown will examine the complex, evolving confluence of these mediums in a new course, titled “Video Games and Literature.” The course will explore a range of artifacts, including novels about video games, works of interactive fiction, electronic literature, and modern digital games that take on certain literary qualities.
“The goal of the class is not necessarily to equate videogames with novels or poems, but instead to consider the ways in which video games intersect and complicate the category of ‘literature,’” says Brown.
Brown cautions that researchers who study video games from a literary perspective may have an inclination to focus on the narrative aspects of games instead of understanding games as sets of rules that shape and constrain a player’s experience. This can be especially true when scholars approach video games that both tell stories and offer game experiences. Consequently, this leads some theorists to contend that games should strive to tell better stories and to aspire to be like great literature. However, notes Brown, doing so fails to recognize that video games function differently from literature in many ways.
“The problem with this idea is that it privileges literature, without recognizing that games are a medium in and of themselves that have their own history, culture, and subcultures that surround them,” he says. “The course aims to show that games and literature have this relationship, but we don’t have to fold one into the other.”
Throughout the semester, students will examine the depiction of games in various literary works, including the novels Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, Lucky Wander Boy by D.B. Weiss, and You by Austin Grossman. Students will also play games, such as “Thomas Was Alone,” “Braid,” and “Portal,” and even design games of their own. With no technical expertise required, they will learn how to design interactive literature using the Twine platform.
Already garnering considerable interest from prospective students, “Video Games and Literature” will fulfill a course requirement toward earning a Digital Humanities Certificate from the Digital Studies Center. The certificate enables undergraduates to develop competencies at the intersection of digital media and humanistic inquiry. The program fosters critical and practical engagement with digital media technologies in relation to traditional areas of study such as literature, languages, history, philosophy, religion, and the arts. For more information, visit digitalstudies.camden.rutgers.edu/digital-humanities-certificate.
Established in 2013, the Digital Studies Center at Rutgers–Camden is an interdisciplinary, collaborative research, development, and education center, whose purpose is to help kick-start, facilitate, support, and promote projects that are made possible by the convergence of digital technologies with the humanities as well as the arts, natural, and social sciences. For more information, visit fas.camden.rutgers.edu/tag/digital-studies-center.