What do Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite have in common?
At first glance, they appear to be award-winning first-person shooter games for the Xbox, Playstation or personal computer systems, intended for gaming audiences above 17-years-old.
In actuality, these games are core teaching methods in Dr. Amy Green’s Bioshock, Bioshock Infinite and World Literature course at the University of Nevada.
A lifelong gamer – playing her first games on Coleco Vision and Atari – Dr. Green combines the study of video games with the study of literature. She believes video games tell rich, complex stories, and advocates the addition of “digital storytelling” to post-secondary curricula.
“We use many of the same techniques I teach to study literature in our study of digital storytelling,” she explained via e-mail. “That gets expanded upon because digital stories have unique features, like the agency of the player and immersion.”
In Bioshock, Bioshock Infinite and World Literature, which Dr. Green cites as a popular course, students play both games and read a variety of texts from the 18th Century to the modern day. To create cohesion between materials, the course groups these games’ thematic elements with literary themes identified in assigned readings.
The first unit is on moral and philosophical thought: students begin by playing Bioshock, and then analyze Ayn Rand’s Objectivism by reading an excerpt of Atlas Shrugged. They also examine other viewpoints, similar to thinkers from the European Enlightenment era.
“I think students gain additional knowledge about why storytelling is important and what stories teach us about our common humanity,” Dr. Green reflected. “Plus, they benefit from studying seriously and with care something most of them come into my courses already enjoying!”
“I find my students in my hybrid gaming/literature courses are better writers and better critical thinkers than in my literature-only courses. My only explanation for this is an increased investment in the material. They enjoy these courses and I love to teach them!”
On May 3, 2014, Dr. Green delivered a Ted Talk on the existence of storytelling in video games. She demonstrated how games such as The Last of Us contain literary themes similar to those found in novels, plays, poems, etc. In this example, “nature versus oneself” is prominent throughout the storyline, as the lead character must answer an arduous question. With humanity deteriorating from a virus known as the “infected,” one child holds the key to a cure. Should this child be sacrificed for the rejuvenation of human life? Or should she be spared out of love, putting the future of society in jeopardy?
“The storytelling element of games has allowed video games, as a medium, to really emerge as important artifacts worthy of serious study,” she’s learned throughout her life. “My inspiration, then, lies in my own love of gaming and my many experiences of being lost within a great video game’s story, much as I would be lost in a great book!”
Most recently, Dr. Green has founded a Rebel Raiser campaign entitled “Support Digital Storytelling through Gaming.” The goal, as stated on its website, is to increase access to digital storytelling for students, and to gauge interest and success of having gaming equipment available to them at the University of Nevada’s campus.
This pilot program, made possible through the help of UNLV’s Lied Library, will allow the placement digital gaming equipment – consoles and games – on course reserve for English Literature classes.
The objective is to purchase the following items:
- 2 new Playstation 3 consoles;
- 2 new Playstation 4 consoles;
- Extra controllers, as these tend to take the most wear and tear;
- Extra sets of connecting cables to facilitate ease of use;
- Carrying cases for the consoles and controllers for ease of checkout and to protect the equipment.
As well as the following games – the intention is to save costs wherever possible by purchasing used copies of the games. Two copies of each game would be purchased.
- BioShock Infinite (comes with BioShock);
- BioShock 2;
- The Last of Us;
- This War of Mine – The Little Ones;
- Life Is Strange;
- Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture;
- Telltale Games’s The Walking Dead first season;
- Silent Hill HD Collection;
- Dishonored Definitive Edition;
- Mass Effect Trilogy.