Can Games Help Creative Writing Students to Collaborate on Story-Writing Tasks?

Can Games Help Creative Writing Students to Collaborate on Story-Writing Tasks?

David Jackson (Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester School of Art, Manchester, England)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/IJGBL.2017070104

Abstract

Story writing is a complex semantic and creative task, and the difficulty of managing it is made greater by attempting to write in collaboration with others. This complication can deter students from experimenting with collaboration before mastering their own practice in relative privacy. Such reticence is in spite of the fact that there are many clear benefits to collaboration. These include peer support and feedback for the student on their practice (Leach, 2014; Vygotsky, 1978), and the development of collaborative skills and experiences that are easily transferable to a range of creative contexts in future (Ravetz et al., 2013). Specially designed games have the potential to help to facilitate collaboration, by making the difficulty of telling a story as a group part of the game's challenge.
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Introduction

A playful approach to problems (Schell, 2008) inherent in gameplay can actively mitigate a sense of risk (Bateson, 2006) and mark the act of playing as a positive formative experience of collaboration. Limitations reduce task complexity too. Players have the opportunity to become familiar with each other’s collaborative working styles in an environment controlled by the games rules. However, the quality of the text produced during play is important to the longer-term role of such games in creative writing classrooms. If games cannot produce meaningful stories it is unlikely that participants will wish to continue playing them at the cost of their normal creative practice.

This paper shares research from my PhD thesis showing how my specially designed digital games helped creative writing students collaborate more easily. It makes reference to a collective case study of play-testing sessions with degree-level participants where the majority had never collaborated on a creative writing project before. In the case study, students report that games do promote a sense of teamwork between them and other participants. They also provided opportunity for self-reflection in a way that is relatively unique to collaborative practice (John-Steiner, 2000). Finally, a summary of the feedback from an expert panel on the quality of stories shows the effect of game rules on the quality and meaningfulness of the story created during the games in class.

Project Method Summary

In order to explore the possibilities of game-based story writing, I developed two web-based games that formed an online platform Storyjacker (www.storyjacker.net). These were produced via an iterative design methodology which involved cyclical phases of software development and user testing, primarily with higher education students. Design was also informed by a literature review and analysis of four other online writing platforms.

Creative writing students were tasked with playtesting two different online games (Figure 1), Game 1 and Game 2, in small groups of three or four. Game 1 (Twisted) begins by offering Player 1 a narrative outline and other cues designed to inspire them to write a story. Player 1 then types out the start of the story based on these cues. At the end of their turn they are instructed to add a complication (a twist) for the next player, such as switch perspective. The next player (Player 2) must continue the story and respond to the twist (i.e. they must switch perspective within the narrative), before finally setting their own twist (e.g. Figure 2). The game continues until one of the players elects for the next turn to finish the story.

Figure 1.

Gameplay structures of Game 1 and Game 2

In Game 2 (Bamboo), the first player is offered inspirational prompts to begin a story. Then, following Player One’s turn, Players Two and Three offer alternative continuations of the plot. Player One then chooses one plotline and discards the other (see Figure 3). Player One must continue the plotline they have chosen and Player Two writes their alternative. The winner of this second round is chosen by Player Three. Player Three and Player One will write next, with Player Two choosing, and so on. The game continues for ten turns at which point writers must finish the story.

Figure 2.

Game 1 player writes new chapter in response to challenge

Figure 3.

Game 2 offers the player two alternative story segment to choose from

Following the design phase, a selection of the stories that had been produced during Storyjacker testing were then rated and commented on by an expert reading panel, made up of four creative writing academics from higher education institutes (HEI) and two literary industry professionals. The panel’s ratings and comments inform a final analysis of the value of stories produced by the games in an HEI creative writing classroom setting.

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