Teaching Classic Lit Helps Game Designers Make Better Stories


Whether you’re a game writer, developer, or you just love playing video games, the classics are the earliest and best way to learn how to tell good stories, ones that you want to return to over and over again, discovering new things within them, reflective of where you are in your life. 

My students know my passion for literature. Usually, my classes at LTU don’t exceed 15 students, so I really get to know them. Before this class, I loved teaching two required courses: World Masterpieces I and World Masterpieces II. The first began with the Epic of Gilgamesh, included Homer, the Tao, and went all the way up to Shakespeare—I usually taught Hamlet. World Masterpieces II, which was my favorite, began with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and included Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, as well as Faulkner and Yoknapatwapha County, all the way up to the present day. Faulkner’s famous county was truly masterful world-building with memorable heroes and villains, so all the while I was teaching these classics, I was being prepared to teach newer ideas fused with older ones. 

Both courses included the visual arts, which, in retrospect, helped inform the trajectory of my current teaching. After all, without strong visuals, a video game would tank. I made sure to let students know, too, the story behind the stories—Mary Shelley’s personal life and how it influenced her work, beginning with her mother, Mary Wollestonecraft, and the brilliant feminist work she wrote. This also allows students to see that a work often is reflective of its times, and our society usually underpins the world they create. 

As in the parable of Jesus and the mustard seed, those books—the classics—helped seed the fertile field for storytelling in every form, including video games. To quote my former student Rachel Devine, “Building a game that players can relate to, with believable characters is imperative, and flawed characters are more relatable.” Devine referenced the hero’s journey and how it showed the development of the narrative arc in Star Wars Battlefront II. “The main character, Iden Versio, starts fighting on the side of the Empire—and thinks she’s fighting for justice and peace. Soon, she realizes she’s on the wrong side and winds up changing course. Although she doesn’t leave home in the traditional sense, she does leave the Empire and is transformed,” Devine told me. 

She reminded me how important it is to see the viewpoints of others with both respect and compassion. Even more importantly, I recalled the attributes a great leader needs to serve effectively, and the way Gilgamesh grew into a man worthy of true leadership, with empathy and genuine humility.

Devine, too, always had a drive to help others, and she admires that the Iden Versio character has the strength to take the leap and fight for what is right. Could a character’s choices in a video game influence the player so much that she made a life-altering decision? 

When I asked, Devine chimed in, “Absolutely!” Devine is 21, and she acknowledged that, although Iden Versio’s decision wasn’t the only factor for her, it was a main one in Devine’s decision to change her major. She saw how Iden Versio made a courageous choice, and that, in turn, helped fuel her own courage. Devine had been studying game design and is now going into cybersecurity. 

She enjoyed game development but felt the call to serve was larger. It makes sense that Iden Versio’s trajectory helped strengthen Devine’s resolve, much the same way Nora Helmer from Ibsen’s A Doll’s House continues to influence generations of women. 

Devine also noted that she developed a skill set from both her knowledge of designing video games and studying the classics that could be adapted to creating unique solutions for evolving problems in her new field. As Devine became the hero in a story she was still writing, a video game helped change her trajectory.


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