While some people play video games to distract themselves from school work, students in the Videogames and Storytelling course (English 2090) are playing to study.
Alf Seegert, assistant professor of English, has taught the course for the past three years. The focus is on the interaction of game and story in videogame media. This year, Seegert is teaching in the second half of the summer.
The cap for the class is 75 students per semester and it typically fills up two weeks after registration. Due to the high demand, Seegert will offer an intensive six week course this summer, which is still open for registration.
Seegert wanted to teach a course that would appeal to a wide variety of students, and because it counts as general education towards a humanities credit, Seegert thought it was a good match.
The idea came from a conversation Seegert had with English professor Katharine Coles about producing English courses that might bring in a wide variety of students from all majors. Seegert has played games his whole life and is a board game designer, so he developed a course and received approval to teach.
Zach Johnson, U alumni in English, took the course the first year it was offered and is now a teacher’s assistant, grading papers and exams.
Johnson played video games when he was younger, but was told they were unhealthy and a waste of time. When taking another class from Seegert about virtuality, a discussion about videogames made him realize how it can be artistic. Johnson became interested in games, took the course and continues to play in his spare time.
From the course, Johnson learned how to better analyze and relate to the media.
“It feels like there is more depth when I approach a game,” he said. “I have more of a context for the games I am playing and an appreciation for where games came from and where they are now.”
Seegert focuses on games that are not mainstream, such as Thomas Was Alone, where the characters are quadrilaterals, but still have personality traits. Players learn to care about and recognize the character’s unique personalities.
Seegert said he hopes students walk away understanding that photo-real graphics are not necessary to have a connection with a game and the story-telling can be complex.
“Story can emerge through our interaction. It doesn’t have to be just unveiling an existing story line,” he said. “The story emerges through our own choices, and through our own imagination.”
Students in the course are required to play games as their homework, along with reading and responding to group discussions.
Christian Hansen, a sophomore in English, is currently enrolled in the course and said he puts in two to four hours a week playing games. Hansen also plays as a hobby, but despite what some think, playing for the class does require a lot of attention.
“It’s just another homework. It’s like, I’ve got to read x-many pages out of my biology textbook. And, oh, I have to play x-many hours in this game now,” Hansen said.
Hansen said he enjoys the broad range of majors in the class, although most students are in the entertainment arts and engineering program.
From this course, Seegert was recently awarded the Faculty Teaching Award for Innovation in General Education. In the future, he hopes to add a course specifically about games developed from literature.