September 27, 2011

Close Readings, And Lack Thereof.

There is a fundamental difference between how I look at the world and how my students look at the world, I am finding.

I assigned what I thought would be a super-easy and fun paper: play some games, including some on a list I gave you of free online games if you don’t already have access to stuff, and tell me about your experiences playing them and how those experiences reflect on the overused “are games art?” question. I went out and put together a list of art games I really enjoyed, and got a lot out of, as well as some silly stuff I put in there for fun. I was really looking forward to seeing how my students interpreted the games.

Well, I’ve read several drafts of their essays now. None of them are “doing it wrong,” really. But wow, I am not getting the kind of essays I was expecting.

When I play something that is supposed to be an art game, I play it, and then I sit back and, like I do with poetry or literature, I go “what is this trying to say? What does it say?” I look at the parts and see what kind of deeper message might be hidden there. I piece things together. I make theories. I do close readings. I analyze.

This is what I expected my students to do, but looking at things in this way just doesn’t seem to be in their vocabulary at all. They don’t read into anything: they take what is there. In a lot of these art games, there is not a whole lot going on on the surface, so they find them stupid, repetitive, or otherwise boring. This is as far as they go.

There’s nothing wrong with that. There are definitely movies, games, and whatnot where that is the level of engagement I have with them. I am not trying to find deeper meaning in Crysis 2. I am just trying to shot mans, and that’s as far as I go. However, when you present something to me and tell me it’s art, I assume this is how I’m supposed to approach it. I assume there’s something underneath the surface. They haven’t been trained for that. When I look at something like Today I Die, I see a message about how changing your outlook on life can CHANGE your life. They look at it and see a dumb game where you swap some words around for no apparent purpose.

I wonder if all my schooling and English classing trained this in me, or if it’s just something I’ve always done. I certainly can’t think back and think about myself as someone who would approach these games this way. I also wonder if it’s something I should be trying to teach my students. I mean, it’s not completely necessary to look at art like that, outside the sort of circles I roll in. Still, maybe not having that indicates a lack of trying to look through and understand any message, or how anything works. I don’t want to presume this about my students, but I wonder.

In any case, this assignment has been a seriously eye-opening experience. I’ve also been fairly impressed by how well some of the people who keep going on and on to me about “not being able to write essays” are doing, as they’re doing better than some of the people not telling me these things. I’ll keep on teaching. We’ll see what else happens.

It sounds to me like these students have the creativity quotient of.. Well, the typical gamer. Granted, I think the whole ‘games as art’ movement is a little lame… (A good example is Braid at its height a few years ago, which was so pretentious and overrated.) But yeah, how many people might recognize the actual message that game puts forward, like that Fallout:NV is a story about manifest destiny or that Halflife 2 is a eschatological messiah epic.. Instead of just ‘you shoot a lot of dudes and they die’?

Comment by Belabor — September 27, 2011 @ 2:01 am

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