How Can We Study Game Content in the Class Room?
In this information age college departments encourage instructors to incorporate different media into classroom teaching sessions. So we strive to mesh more traditional class discussions, group activities, and lectures with relevant web sites, television and film clips and anything else we deem appropriate. You will notice I didn’t mention anything about games and that is because none of my old instructors or present colleagues use video game clips in their classes. At least that I know of. A few years ago, a professor mine mentioned the Medal of Honor series in a lecture about World War II, but that is about as far as it went. Of course as a video game researcher, I have used game clips in my classes on many occasions. In communications classes it is a bit easier. However non-mass com texts too often refer to video games as only violent, addictive, and popular.
Still, recently I have even begun to use them outside of communication classes, which presents special challenges. Those other media are fairly easy. You can always record television programming on a digital video recorder, pull the program off of network website, use Hulu, YouTube, and so on. Likewise you can rent or buy a DVD or use Netflix in order to play a film in class.
Games are no so easy. Yes, you can find clips on YouTube. However those clips may or may not be what you need for the class. So what you could end up with is a selection of cut scenes from various games and some segments of game play. Again, that may not be what you need. Likewise, you can search the Internet for other clips from games. Good luck finding that part you need. There are, however, a few studious gamers who have recorded not only the cut scenes, but the play through sessions as well. I found an entire play though of all episodes of Alan Wake on YouTube. They were great quality with no player commentary. Sweet.
Compare that to movies. Last semester I showed most of Spike Lee’s Bamboozled from YouTube. This semester YouTube pulled the clips due to copyright infringement. I have yet to see a video game clip removed for that reason, though publishers have every right to do so.
If a teacher wants to use game footage in the class room and cannot find what he or she needs on the web, then the alternative is to play the game (or have someone else play) and record the sessions, something I did for my dissertation. This presents another set of challenges. If you wanted the class to watch the airport massacre scene in “No Russian” (Modern Warfare 2), then no problem, since that is at the beginning of a level. However, what if the scene you want resides in the middle of the game? Are you willing to play for hours just to get to that section? Probably not. If the scene footage were unlocked during game play, then perhaps you can go into the features section and play in again while recording. However, there are only a limited number of games that provide this feature (Alan Wake for example).
There has to be a better way.
If consumers can buy or rent DVDs of their favorite films and television shows, why can’t they for games? Obviously the first hurdle is that except for PCs, most games contain a single disc that is not compatible with standard DVD players. They only play in game consoles. Publishers could sell a separate disc for cut scenes or it could be included with the limited or special edition sets that are frequently available.
It may seem like I am asking a lot, but games are texts that have just as much cultural value as television, radio, and film, yet the bulk of those texts are lost to the player after the game ends. How can I go back and view a section of Alan Wake I played last night? I can’t unless I replay it. That’s not good enough. There is so much value to viewing cut scenes and game play. For example, I played “No Russian” for my writing students this past week and asked them to free write about it. The week before that they wrote summaries of a YouTube clip about the controversy over Six Days in Fallujah. There is no reason even assignments such as summaries, synthesis, outlines, and essays cannot be based on video game texts. Those texts just need to be available.