How computer games can spark writing ideas

There’s that old cliché we often hear when established writers give advice to budding authors and playwrights: write what you know. It stands to reason, then, that the source of inspiration I always find most evident in my Primary 7 pupils’ stories is, of course, computer games. In the past, I would always try my best to steer pupils away from the endless Minecraft and Halo references they would always be desperate to include in their work. This year, though, I tried the opposite approach.

This year, I brought my Playstation 3 to school.

My first introduction to using computer games within writing lessons came in teaching college. We were shown a clip of a practitioner called Tim Rylands working with his pupils, using a PC game called Myst 3. The pupils, utterly captivated throughout the lesson, would be asked to provide a ‘running commentary’ as they progressed through the game. This was a fantastic opportunity for the children to explore their narrative voices and to work on adding enhanced detail to their descriptions.

I loved the idea of the children providing a running commentary as they played through a game

The way I used the Playstation in the classroom was, in some ways, similar to the methods exemplified by Tim Rylands. I loved the idea of the children providing a running commentary as they played through a game. Moreover, I felt that the same approach would be perfectly suited to the game I had chosen for the children, a unique and compelling adventure called Journey (pictured above). In Journey, the player controls a faceless, mysteriously shrouded character as they explore a range of landscapes: from scorching deserts to treacherous mountain paths, via eerie caverns hidden deep underground. The game features no words, neither spoken nor written. We know nothing definitive about the character or the quest he (or she) must complete. It is up to the children to give this character a voice and to capture his thoughts, emotions and observations as he wanders through the rich, detailed environments the game provides.

As well as providing a narrative voice as we played through Journey, the children also worked on pieces of writing inspired by their experiences of the game. Each week, I would set the children a writing task based on the section of the game they had just played. As we encountered a deadly creature in its underground lair, for example, the children were asked to write short paragraphs describing the monster and its behaviour. The children also wrote short stories inspired by the mountain ascent at the end of the game. Hearing the howling wind and seeing the devastating blizzards first-hand enabled the children to create vivid, enhanced descriptions as they developed their own work.

There are games out there that can spark the imagination as effectively as the best books

So, would I use the Playstation during writing lessons again? Absolutely. The children, naturally, loved the novelty of using a games console in class. Not only did they enjoy playing the game, but they showed the same level of enthusiasm when it came to the follow-up writing tasks and the development of their own ideas. My experience of using Journey in the classroom showed that, rather than limiting children’s ideas, there are games out there that can spark the imagination and stimulate the children’s creative thinking as effectively as the best books can.

This is one in a series of blogs on exploring narrative through computer games

Jed Gilchrist

Jed Gilchrist is a classroom teacher at Hanover Street Primary in Aberdeen.