From the beginning of my teaching career, right up until present day, I’ve repeatedly encountered the same problem within the realms of creative writing. How do we teach children, mostly boys it has to be said, whose imagination seems limited only to story-lines relating to XBox or Playstation games?
Time and time again, I’ve excitedly climbed up story mountain with my pupils, only to be confused and disappointed when the main character suddenly pulls a sub-machine gun out of his pocket, murders everyone brutally before living happily ever after.
Sidenote: I realise that I am bypassing the issue that games like Call of Duty: Black Ops and GTA 5 are certificate 18 games, and no doubt shouldn’t be played by eight year old children who aren’t mentally prepared for the content of these games. Regardless of how I feel about this issue, the fact is that it’s happening. It’s happening in high school and it’s happening in primary school. Like it or not: the kids are hooked.
So what can we do here? It’s pretty obvious really. Use the games’ characters, settings and storylines as creative writing stimulus.
Bring the game to them.
We’re told often that the more relevant topics are; the more our students can relate to the characters and themes; the more engaged they’ll be and the better outcomes we’ll get. It’s only natural then that a story based around Lara Croft will produce better writing than one based around Snow White.
Just to note: it’s not that these particular students have a lack of imagination. Writers write what they know about – they use their own life experience – so for kids who spend an hour a day in an alternate games reality, this is what they know.
With this in mind, I’ve attached a little writing stimulus, based on the game scenario from Ark: Survival Evolved. As it happens, the game (like many others) has a pretty good story line. The main character is stranded on an island, inhabited by dinosaur-like monsters, and has to find ways to survive and escape. This has the makings of a great action story!
The creators of Ark, like many other games’ developers, have successfully created an entire cyber world, providing even more scaffolding for children who struggle at coming up with their own ideas. Visit the website and see for yourself: there’s gameplay clips and pictures which make great stimulus for students who both have and haven’t played the game, and there’s a huge, detailed glossary of creatures that inhabit the island, like this description of the ‘Glowtail’ below. Providing students with ready-made creatures like this can be just the inspiration that some need to just start writing. Plus, they’ll develop reading comprehension skills along the way!
As a teacher, it can be incredibly deflating to see your students struggle to come up with ideas, and even more so when they continuously repeat the same predictable action scenarios.
But remember: it’s pretty rubbish for them too. Many students are actually desperately excited to come up with a good story. It’s just that sometimes, it’s too big of an ‘ask’ to have them create characters, a setting, a story-line; all of this before they’ve even thought about how they’re going to write this, punctuate it, spell it and make it grammatically correct. Even when we do provide a ready-made world for our students to write in, it’s often a place that some students just can’t see in their heads. All things considered, it’s no wonder that some students liken ‘Big Writes’ to an exercise in torture.
If left uninspired and unsupported, your struggling writers will only worsen in confidence over time, developing that ‘can’t do’ attitude. Why not harness the good feelings that they have in relation to their game-play and fold this into their literacy work? Give them a ready-made canvas, on which they can comfortably and confidently paint their ideas. Bring what they know to them so that they might explore what they don’t in safety, unleashing some creativity (and even enjoyment) along the way.
Agree/disagree? Have you encountered XBox imaginations in your classrooms? Are you already an expert in game-based storylines? I’d love to hear your ideas: