Teaching with Interactive Fiction

I and some collaborators have a paper on using Interactive  Fiction in the classroom, for promoting straight-up literacy (not to mention computer literacy) skills. Hopefully, it’ll be coming out soon (ish). In the meantime, Jim Aikin has been using Inform 7 in his teaching: one to watch!

From his blog:

My first three-month adventure teaching interactive fiction to kids has come to an end, and a new class is scheduled to start next week. It’s tricky to generalize on the basis of one group of eight students; maybe these kids (ages 11-14) are unusually intelligent or motivated. But my impressions so far are completely positive. And I think maybe I understand why they enjoyed the process.

With interactive fiction (IF), it’s not just the end product — the text-based computer game — that’s interactive. The process of game development is also extremely interactive. That may be the key ingredient. If you’re, say, 12 years old, writing a conventional story may very easily look like drudgery. You may have some neat ideas. You may write a few paragraphs, or even a few pages. But then the stuff you’ve written will just lie there, on the paper or on the screen, staring at you. It’s static. It doesn’t come alive.

When writing IF, you can create a few rooms and a few objects and then take your work for a test drive. You can walk around in the little world you’ve imagined and experience it as a participant. The computer responds to you, and what you’ve written also responds to you. All this makes the process of creativity more involving.

If there are bugs in your code (and there will be…), you have a little puzzle to solve. You can make changes in what you’ve written until it works as you intended. You’ll go through this cycle over and over. This fosters a feeling of mastery and control that isn’t readily available to the author of static fiction. With static fiction, the question of whether it works is not just subjective but altogether murky […more…]

Jim’s thoughts mirror many of my own, when it comes to the value of Interactive Fiction for teaching. IF for historical literacy – now that’s my longer-term goal…