Home > Digital Games in the Classroom, Video Game Research > How Can We Study Game Content in the Class Room?

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.

I digress.

The airport massacre is easy to find since it comes at the beginning of the scene "No Russian."

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.

Alan Wake now playing on YouTube and perhaps in a class room near you.

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.

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  1. February 4, 2011 at 17:54

    Hmm interesting! I’m co-teaching a Game Studies class at the University of Oregon, and we’re lucky enough to have a large circulating collection of console hardware and software available through our library. So we don’t use cinematics or Youtube at all; we play relevant games in a weekly 2-hour lab, and our students borrow games and consoles as necessary for their homework. Most of our playthrough/timesink issues are solved in this way.

    Still, we end up with cases such as you describe (wanting to use a portion of a game in the lab that is well past the beginning), I’ve taken playing through to the relevant point as part of class prep. You’re right, it’s limiting: I can’t use much of Mass Effect, because I don’t have the time to play through to the end. I yearn for an Instructor’s Edition of video games, that would allow us to skip levels, view cutscenes, etc., on demand.

  2. February 4, 2011 at 23:57

    I’ve been considering doing some really in-depth design analyses, but part of what’s holding me back is precisely this issue. Short of engineering something or springing for a third-party solution like a capture card, I’ve come at having to mount a camera on a tripod pointed at the television. Not ideal.

    Perhaps, at the very least, when you’re playing through a game (if it has sufficient save slots) you could stagger saves? That way, at the very least, you would be forced to replay a minimum to get to the point you need.

    Also, simply putting cutscenes on the disk or in a separate library, as many older PC games used to do, is not enough. Many aspects you’d want to refer to come out of the core gameplay / emergent narrative – not cutscenes. Plus, now that more and more games seem to be moving to in-engine scenes and not FMVs, that would become even harder to produce as a separate product.

  3. JLJ
    February 5, 2011 at 00:57

    This is true, David. And as game narratives grow into their own unique form and leave film further behind, it will become increasingly difficult to capture every important element. For right now though, I believe it is still possible to use the cut scene method (either FMV or in-engine) as most non role-playing games still limit narrative to those specific points. For right now at least. However if Alan Wake and Splinter Cell Conviction are any indication, then the time approaches when the entire single player experience will have to be captured.

  4. JLJ
    February 5, 2011 at 01:00

    DB: I admit I am jealous that you and your students actually have a lab that allows you to game as part of the class. That is so cool!

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