Despite their growing influence and increasing recognition for artistic and narrative achievements, video games and education still often find themselves at odds with one another. This resistance comes both from both sides, with traditional academics dismissing the medium and many gamers resisting the authority of ‘out-of-touch’ teachers.
This is hardly surprising. Video games are just the latest in a long line of popular culture and media, from movies to hip-hop, which have found friction with intellectuals during their emergence into the cultural landscape. Furthermore, unlike its predecessors, the video game carries with it a unique set of issues to address, stemming from its interactive nature. Unsurprisingly, they rarely find their way into our modules.
Yet this very fact seems to scream all the louder for their serious study. In providing experiences unlike any other media available, not to mention their enormous audience and influence, the cultural impact of games simply cannot be ignored. Video games need to be studied; not just as throwaway add-ons, but as works of literature and art in their own right.
Progress is happening; it’s just painstakingly slow. The field of Game Studies is still in its infancy, and while publications such as the Game Studies Journal are beginning to find wider recognition, it’s still an overwhelmingly niche subject oft-relegated to its own corner.
Even where they do exist in degree modules, games are often constrained to being used as secondary sources or pitiful attempts to appear in touch with students. Much like the film-of-the-book your English lit teacher ‘treated’ you to at the end of term, games are often used as afterthoughts and gimmicks. Perhaps even more tragically, Game Studies degrees would also face the continued disrespectful stigma that Film or Media Studies degrees often encounter, looked down upon as lesser in value or integrity than the more traditional humanities.
The cultural impact of games simply cannot be ignored
In fact, while I can only sing the praises of those pioneers continuing to tread new paths into Game Studies, it’s in the modules of other degrees where I believe this war will be won. From using the phenomenal BioShock as a core text in the study of dystopian fiction in an English module, to the harrowing Spec Ops: The Line prompting deep readings of philosophical and moral theory, there is a wealth of game material waiting to be analysed and appreciated in its own right.
Using games in this way—not as secondary afterthoughts but as primary texts alongside other literature—would open up a magical box of possibilities. Comparing how an interactive game handles a cultural or historical aspect differently to a more passive medium, would provide a much broader perspective upon any topic. It is disciplines such as English and History, then, which need to actively embrace games for the value they can deliver alongside more traditional sources.
I believe the revolution is happening around us. From secondary history teachers developing their own games to teach students historical analysis, to trailblazer academics like Nicolas Trepanier teaching university modules on video games in the USA, the trickle of video game modules will soon break into a flood as games, and gamers, continue to mature.
Video games could, and should, be powerful weapons in the arsenal of tools for teachers and lecturers to engage with students and teach a plethora of theories and skills. And with studies suggesting that games engage students more successfully than other learning methods, you just might get those ideas to stick a little longer as well!