Swapping textbooks for video games

On the required reading list for a mandatory radio and television arts course: video games. (Arti Panday / Ryersonian Staff)

On the required reading list for a mandatory radio and television arts course: video games. (Arti Panday / Ryersonian Staff)

Instead of sifting through readings in a textbook, Brian DeSousa, a second-year radio and television arts student, is playing The Walking Dead video game — not just for fun, but for class.

Video games are becoming popular teaching tools for professors around the world. Earlier this year, a religious studies teacher at a secondary school in Norway incorporated The Walking Dead video game into his curriculum to teach students about ethics. At Ryerson, Prof. Laurie Petrou is also using the game, but to teach students about storytelling in her media culture course. The course is a mandatory class for all second-year RTA students.

“Non-linear storytelling is a whole other way to create compelling stories,” said Petrou. “It’s a good opportunity to expose students to these kinds of storytelling.”

As a media teacher, Petrou has explored film, television and web series as storytelling platforms and has now decided to use video games as well. Students had to choose from a list of seven recommended games, including The Walking Dead, The Stanley Parable and The Novelist.

Like any required readings, students are responsible for purchasing the game and exploring it on their own time. They will submit a paper based on the game they explore and can write about a range of topics including gender in the media, racial representation, gaming culture and sound design.

In lectures, the games act as touchstones for students to refer to when talking about narratives and points of view. Petrou said by playing the games, students also gain skills such as problem-solving, communication and concentration, which are beneficial in and outside the classroom.

DeSousa read The Walking Dead graphic novel and occasionally watches the show, so choosing to play the video game seemed like a logical choice. He said the game taught him a lot about making ethical decisions. For example, he refers to a scene in the game where two people are being attacked by zombies and he must pick whom to save.
“You’re making decisions based on what you think is right or wrong,” he said.

James Webster, another student enrolled in the course, chose to play The Stanley Parable and said his experience has been very positive.

“The games on the list broke the boundaries on the perception of what modern video gaming is. They aren’t your typical shooting games,” he said.

“Video games have been around for a while and I think people haven’t evolved from thinking that they’re children’s medium. They are evolving into something that is more mature and respectable and that can be examined in class just like films and books.”

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on February 12, 2014. 

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