Thinking IF and language
Now, I know, you know, that I know, that IF has considerable educational potential but unless I leave my job and pursue the research full time I am going to find it tough get beyond the anecdotal evidence which I could bleat on about all day long. We have some time sampling data that shows specific students engage / read the game titles for longer than they do their normal reading titles and I have some loose progress data to show that the one or two students that have pursued an interest in IF have benefited. That said, it is a research endeavour one needs to pursue.
What I will say is, that in the 20 months I have been exploring IF for literacy, I now have a more clearer understanding of how and where IF can contribute to literacy development and computational thinking. I have a much clearer separation of reading/playing and designing/writing and whilst the first experience is rather easier to define and describe than the second, I am more passionate about the narratology design/writing phases than ever before. More importantly that I can confidently support that statement having invested a conservative 80 hours toil, sweat and reloads, writing my first serious game title, one that should be complete with a further ten, fifteen hours. And still, I stumble into conversations with colleagues who I meet who have depth of knowledge of IF that astounds me, Dr Mike Reddy and Dr Silva for example.
WHY? Why learn about IF and its community? Why write a game, a modest game at that? And why try to promote IF to the ‘hard to convince’ audience of English educationalists?
- The very first question is simple. IF will reach some learners, more traditional literature misses.
- The second question is a little more difficult to answer apart from the fact I enjoy learning, it is about credibility and integrity. I am often impressed by the depth of knowledge / passion my colleagues have for their subject, I feel that I need that credibility even more so when trying to win over this audience. I do not read doctoral projects and journal papers on the topic of interactive fiction for the pure enjoyment of it.
- Writing a game is as much about the personal learning journey as about the future teaching journey. It has been intensely challenging and rewarding in equal measure (here I must thank Alex Warren for his technical support and apologises to my students whom I regularly ask to test sections of the game). How can one really be an excellent teacher without having experienced exactly the frustrations you are about to put onto your students? And finally, because I really do believe that IF has significant and substantial application to one of my current professional focus, being an outstanding English teacher.
- The last question is answered by the first question.
With that in mind, I have tended to focus my thinking and learning on narratology and tended to put to one side the programming / computational advantages. The final question therefore is why should English Departments take up and wrestle with IF ? IF has to offer
something more something considerable more than the curriculum they are currently delivering, given the effort they may perceive is required to lead on IF. The value for me is in the process. IF playing, design and writing demands a level of thinking and planning that is significantly more computational. A learning environment where failure is fertiliser, and where winning/success is motivational, and yet not more task complicated, than linear reading/writing. As a result, the writing outcomes are more sophisticated and students achieve beyond their linear reading/writing abilities. Now I know I need to expand upon that rather bold conclusion and I will…. as soon as I have them peer reviewed by some of the fantastic English teachers that have supported me this far.