Text adventures have completely dropped off the radar, as far as gaming is concerned, although there is still a hard-core of devotees out there. I always liked playing them as a kid, and as part of my research for the Centre for Digital Humanities at Brock, I’ve been looking at them again as teaching tools.
I now have two versions of the Interactive Fiction aka Text Adventure project in two different classroom settings. One is as a club activity at lunch time at a local high school, the other is formally integrated into a split grade 4/5 classroom. Both have been interesting experiments so far…
I wanted to see if the process of building a game could help foster historical literacy amongst high school students – more on that later. Another teacher I know (the 4/5 teacher) became interested and wanted to see what would happen in her classroom – her students have reading and writing problems, and she hoped that the making and playing a text adventure would help improve her class’s general literacy.
She told her students “we’re going to be making a video game” – to great cheers – “and it’s going to be a text adventure” – to great moans. But as it turned out, her students had no idea what a text adventure was. She has a smart board, a digital white board, installed in her classroom. She loaded up the small demonstration game that we had built and put it on the smart board. Then, as the class read the text aloud, she selected students to go up to the board and type in commands. The kids love going to the smart board, so the chance to do so is a very useful management technique for her. As different kids tried to put in commands, others in the class would offer suggestions, or corrections, to the kid at the board. Pretty soon, the whole class was deeply engrossed in the game.
Today she told the class that the game they would be making would be for a more junior class. This has the advantage that her kids get to feel important – they’re helping the teachers teach the smaller kids! – and it allows her weaker kids not to be embarrassed by their own level of literacy since as a class they’re aiming at the younger kids (and so weaker readers/writers). The kids are mapping out rooms (the adventure will take place in their school), they’re creating characters, and they’re planning out puzzles. The software for making the game is itself probably too advanced for these kids, so we will either take their ideas and put them into the game editor, or else work intensely with some of the more advanced kids (so that they get to stretch their minds too!).