Interactive Narratives for Digital Humanities Gaming

As I witness my 6 year old’s engagement in games like Zombie Farm, with its complex rules and scenarios, I reflect on the tremendous cultural holdings of libraries, museums and archives and wonder how can we engage the next generation in this material? How can we make learning using archives and collections something that can meaningfully compete with traditional gaming narratives stemming from fantasy, horror and science fiction? What are the constructive elements that take content that is scientific, relates to premodern folklore or modern day fears…and translates it to an engaging game?  For decades the gaming industry has rested upon the work done by the pioneers of table-top gaming (D&D, etc.) and arcade games.  In the meantime, educational interactive gaming has not caught up, reamaining trapped in tired metaphors of flash-cards and treasure hunts.

A number of creative and analytical things are on my mind right now….I am in the initially messy stage of compiling issues, factors, observations, possibilities and visions. I am spurred on first by the amazing work of Game Researcher Jane McGonigal who persevered through recovery from a brain injury by creating a game out of it…a game that could prove useful for anyone dealing with recovery (from quitting smoking to perhaps behavioral plans for children with special needs): http://blog.avantgame.com/2010/07/superbetter-ignite-talk-and-kickstarter.html

I am additionally moved by Ali Carr-Chellman’s TED talk about how to re-engage boys in learning through interactive gaming:
http://www.ted.com/talks/ali_carr_chellman_gaming_to_re_engage_boys_in_learning.html

It then occurs to me…the metaphors in video games are similar to sports, scouts and to martial arts. They are about ‘leveling up’ (belts, badges, etc.), having ‘allies’, defeating opponents, working with teams, engaging in strategic thinking.

The narrative archs as stated before deal primarily with mythos from European-folklore based fantasy, East Asian folklore, space operas and martial-arts based dramas, Lovecraftian horror, Vampire fiction, Zombie fiction and military scenarios.

Contemporary app. games are gradually deviating from these, but they still in part stem from the original objectives set up in the age of table-top gaming development: mystery-solving, puzzle-solving, collaborative problem-solving with teams.

These are all things that are not found in our school system or museum and archive exhibits.

How can we successfully carry these over to games involving content in historical or cultural archives? How can we make such games familiar in template, engaging and meaningful?

Lastly, because the following videos struck a cord in me that I have yet to completely process in terms of its relevance and application:  The following 4th grade male teacher in Japan uses team and literacy activities to develop social and emotional empathy among children: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=armP8TfS9Is

Can we develop games that encourage use and understanding of the materials of cultural heritage while also developing social and emotional literacy? Can we do this through games and activities?

Lots to chew on.

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