Games as Vehicles for Culture

This week some of my students will begin the process of designing their own video games.  Using the Learning Games Network’s Design Tool Kit as a our guide (and with help from Dr. Andre Denham at the University  of Alabama), students will work together to draft a design document and pitch their ideas at the end of the school year.

As a language arts teacher, the design tool kit – and the game design process in general – hits many of my instructional buttons.  Students must research, develop a narrative with fleshed-out characters and setting, offer explanations of gameplay, and build sound arguments for their choices in order to “sell” their game.  This week, though, since we’re in the countdown to spring break and just beginning this process, we’ll focus on games we already know and love by discussing genre, considering what good games can teach us, and examining those games as texts.

That last point (games as texts) was on my mind this morning as I watched the video below for the forthcoming game Remember Me.

It’s a fairly long video, but the main point of interest to me is around 4:10-4:35 when one of the developers discusses the cyberpunk nature of the game.  He notes that, while cyberpunk has been readily accepted by Japanese audiences for decades, it has only recently become easier to sell cyberpunk to a wider western audience (beyond those who grew up on Akira and Ghost in the Shell).

So, just as texts we explore in class can lead us to insights about their cultures of origin, so too can the games that we play and the games that we design reflect cultural identity.  That idea, and the fact that games are participatory texts and are becoming collaborative on an increasingly larger scale, leads me to a couple of questions.

How do games compare to more traditional texts in their ability to serve as cultural artifacts?

Given their digital nature and the undocumented social interactions that are an integral part of MMOs and other games that allow for collaboration, how can we preserve these parts of our cultural record?

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