Having only assumed the role of English teacher fairly recently, I typically have to read for the very first time, the text I am about to teach, for the very first time, a few weeks before the term starts. Being on the school leadership team comes with many privileges however you are expected to ‘fill-in’ and teach where you are needed most.
Although I have been introduced to established GCSE Goliath such as ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘The Woman in Black,’ and reacquainted with ‘Romeo and Juliet’ some sixteen years after I taught the play as ‘second-subject’ unit of work on my PGCE. (I even remember organising a Y9 trip to the cinema to see the flourishing Leonardo DiCaprio embrace a fragile, sweet Claire Danes. Time flies…) My first subject is Physical Education in case you were wondering. Anyway moving on, although I have indulged in various collections of poetry and spent too long learning the context and content of these collections, musing over the poems meaning or meanings, reading and learning the text is definitely a professional challenge. So, I am not sure why I thought preparing a video-game scheme of work for developing literacy would be any easier?
For the record it is not, if anything, it is in fact even more challenging. Not only do you have to research the content and context, explore the narrative and design the learning tasks, you need to be the expert, you need to be authentic. It is no different with a video game script, only to be authenticate you also need to have played the game. (Not an easy sell to my wife.)
If the literacy hook fails to inspire them, then the game truly will.The Xbox is a fantastic gaming platform and the experience of gaming, and gaming with literacy in mind, captured the students imagination (more of that in future parts…) though you do need an appropriate title. That is basically code for no overt gender stereotyping, absolutely minimal profanity and violence however it must be exciting for the students. There really is no need to make it difficult for yourself. Alan Wake was perfect.
Our protagonist, Alan Wake, isn’t initially an action hero rather he is a popular fiction writer attempting to escape the pressures of fame and creative expectation vacationing (Americanism) in Bright Falls. After his wife’s mysterious disappearance his search to find her is swiftly diverted into the realm of the paranormal, heavily influenced by television shows like Twin Peaks, X-Files and Twilight Zone with a good Stephen King horror splash (no blood). The tangled, swirling tale occasionally sputters and stumbles, but offers enough scares and thrills (and unnerving soundtrack) to keep you uncomfortably hooked.
The episodic gaming isn’t particularly original however it provides useful, almost enforced pauses, and literacy opportunities; how the story unfolds, differences within and between episodes, story-line forks, character development and effectiveness of monologue. There is also plenty of reading and listening opportunities as well. Wade collects his own strewn manuscript pages, posters and information signs direct visitors through the parks. Detail is regularly delivered through radio broadcasts and the Twilight Zone-esque television shows as well large amount of extraneous character dialogue that’s worth hearing.
Let’s not forget that Alan Wake is a psychological thriller, a game that exploits fantastic lighting effects and contrasts in night and day. Moonlight pours from above, streetlamps and construction bulbs indicate the way forward, and Wake’s all-important flashlight is not only a weapon, it is a tool for exploration. As a consequence of restrictive viewing, you are more aware of your vulnerability which heightens the game-play. In tight spaces, you are primed and ready to be shocked. In wide open spaces, the enemies can attack from all angles, leaving constantly shifting the angle of the camera from one side of the screen to the next. Both equally unsettling. Even more so if you allow yourself to be unsettled by haunting score and supernatural sound effects. I definitely hope to explore how the game makes the students ‘feel’ and whether or not they can write about this?
Just because there’s such a focus on story and presentation doesn’t mean the game lacks a responsive and satisfying combat system. In fact the more you play, the more variety is added to the combat culminating in a handful of thrilling sequences. I a sure this will keep the students hook – but how many students and for how long?
Games website ‘How long to beat’ suggests the main story requires 10 hours of game play. I am currently half an hour into Episode 4 and logging approximately 10 hours (guess I am not an accomplished gamer). However that does includes significant pauses to make teaching notes, read all the manuscripts, read all the signs, posters and listen to all the dialogue. Even replaying the odd section here and there to explore my own questions. Finally as I was playing the game I was trying to record English curriculum teaching opportunities, of which there are many. Some ideas are straight forward, response, reflective, and some are a little… left field. Some make sue of the fantastic bonus material available from the Humble Bundle download.
Whilst I struggled on – playing on the home PC, I knew that I would be costing up and Xbox for two. Or looking to beg and borrow an Xbox solution for the launch in the not too distant future. As soon as I found who took my wife… in the game that is.
Episode 1: Nightmare
You think you’re God? You think you can just make up stuff?!
Explore the script. How is the game presented?
How is the game introduced and rules conveyed?
How would you present Alan Wake? Which Hollywood actor would get the lead role? (Alan Wake Visual Identity Guidelines and Alan Wake Cardboard Cutouts – Bonus Material).
Once in the lighthouse a women’s voice whispers, “He’s here.” Where is here? Who does the voice belong too? Does it matter that its female?
Woken by Alice – calm – approaching Bright Falls. Write a describe of Bright Falls.
“Oh Deer Diner” – Why is Cynthia Weaver unnerving? Why is she even in the storyline?
Who is the women all-in-black – what is her role?
How do you feel when Mr Stucky comes out of the diner with your keys? (Dramatic irony)
What is in a name? Bright Falls, Caldron Lake and Divers Isle.
Light vs Dark – what is a psychological thriller. Watch XYZ movie.
Why Alice setting Alan up to write? Whom is Dr Harrman (The Creators Dilemma)
Is Alice Dead?
How would you describe Alice and Alans relationship? Take 1
Why send car crashing over the cliff? What is symbolism?
What’s happened to Mr Stucky – Taken? (at this point players do not know what or who The Taken are.)
Once at the Gas station, Sarah Breaker arrives. Alan decides not to tell her about the encounter with Stucky because “she wouldn’t believe him and partly because he didn’t want to lose her help finding Alice.” – What does Alan Wake mean?
When can you (Alan Wake) not tell the truth? Gas scene. What is the power of you (Alan Wake) and the audience knowing the same thing? Or the other characters not knowing?
Write your own “Night Springs” Episodes (fictional TV show).
Create the soundtrack – What tracks would you select and why?
Episode 2: Taken
Flashback – How would you describe Alice and Alan’s relationship? Take 2 How would you describe Alice and Alan’s NY apartment.
Clicker story – what is the place of urban legends.
How is a conversational tone created – writing conversations. Alan Wake with Dr Nelson
Why is your agent Barry Wheeler such a sleaze ball? How is this created?
How would you describe the hunting lodge?
What should you do when given the three options – Sheriff, FBI or rescues mission – persuade me?
Alan lands on the floor, and spots Taken heading towards him. He tries to reach for his flashlight, but the Taken block his path. It is not before long when a man kills them all and saves him. Meeting the kidnapper – describe Rusty.
How do you feel inside the old water mill? What is the impact of an enclosed space?
When is language appropriate – ‘Lazy Bastard,’ When using flares – ‘ keep those bastards away.’ (do we need to discuss this language with parents and carers).
Write an emotional report on how you (the player) feel, following a prolonged attack by the Taken.
How is sound used to unnerve you?
How does darkness add to the game play?
Alan Wake is literally bursting with literacy and there is even more to find in the amazing bonus content.
- Early Alan Wake Demo Videos
- Harry Garrett Show (in-game video of Alan Wake being interviewed)
- ”Making of” Videos
- Alan Wake “Writer in the Cabin” clips
- ”Night Springs” Episodes (fictional TV show)
- ”Balance Slays the Demon” Music Video
- Alan Wake “The Movie” (full playthrough of the game)
- The Library of concept art and production photos
- Alan Wake Wallpapers
- Night Springs Comic Book
- Psycho Thriller Comic Book
- Alan Wake Visual Identity Guidelines
- Alan Wake Cardboard Cutouts
- Alan Wake Score Sheet Music
- Alan Wake Screenplays
- The Alan Wake Files Book