I was recently on an ACERT panel on games and pedagogy, in which I discussed a pedagogical game I designed for students in an upper-level English course called “Doing Things with Novels.” The project transformed Herman Melville’s novella, Billy Budd, into a role-playing game using the Ivanhoe theme for WordPress recently developed by the Scholar’s Lab at the University of Virginia.
In the 1970s, Roland Barthes famously promoted a “writerly” mode of reading, in which readers no longer consume texts by simply reading them, but “play” texts like (in Barthes’s metaphor) amateurs gathered around a piano performing a score. In my experiment, students played Melville’s novella, in Barthes’s sense, choosing roles in and around the text (e.g., characters, like Billy Budd or Captain Vere, Melville himself, editors, critics) and performed a version of the text collaboratively. The experiment generated increased engagement and fun, to be sure, but it also encouraged students to develop more sophisticated skills in the discipline, as they collaborated with librarians to incorporate significant literary research into the play, examining literary critical, biographical, and cultural historical sources to enhance their play.
My work on this project will be featured as part of a “digital panel” at the American Studies Association conference in early November. Even if you won’t be at ASA in Chicago, check out the panel and comment on the paper, which is annotatable via the indispensable hypothes.is.