An elective offered at Tipton High School is giving students a new perspective on the traditional literature class while also getting to play some of the most iconic video games.
John Robertson is living one of his dreams by creating and teaching a class he describes as 50% video games and 50% literature elements smashed together.
“My philosophy on school is you should learn things … but it doesn’t mean it should be stuffy, boring and worksheets all day long,” he said. “We can do fun and interesting things, learn and grow.”
When creating the class, Robertson looked at the English standards that need to be taught and also looked at the structure of film studies classes. Throughout the class, students explore themes such as conflict, character development, how games relate to classic literature and even civil rights.
Current events also play their way into the class. While discussing Mario Brothers, the class explored the topic of gender roles and how it’s Mario and Luigi always who save the princess.
Personally, Robertson hopes the class can help breakdown barriers in the gaming community as well.
“One of the things I want to do is break down the stereotypes of who can be a gamer,” Robertson said. “Girls can game just as well as guys.”
The class isn’t all games though. Robertson also uses material from pop culture to help get lessons across. One such way is learning about conflict from viewing an episode of “Stranger Things.”
The class has been working its way through generations of gaming after using what Robertson calls a “God of War” frame work. In the game “God of War,” the player begins with all their powers and amazing strength, then they lose it all and have to progress through the game in this weakened state. This was integrated into the class by letting the students begin by playing virtual reality games and then dropping them all the way back to 8-bit games such as pong.
Creative writing was worked into the class by developing plots and stories for 8-bit games such as “Frogger” and “Space Invaders,” which have little to no narrative. When talking about character development, the class looked at “Street Fighter” as one of the first fighting games to give its characters depth.
Each student will begin work on an individual study. They will get to select a video game to journal about. As they play through the game, they will take notes about how much they play, what happened in the story and pick out the elements they’ve learned during the class. The end product is a three-to-four page paper dissecting the game’s literary elements.
When Robertson’s dad worked at Delco, he would often bring new technology home. One of the earliest memories he has is playing “Space Invaders” with his dad as a kid. Eventually he got a Super Nintendo system for Christmas and his love and passion for games only grew from there.
“I played basketball, I was a skateboard kid for a while but video games have always been a part of what I want to be,” he said. “I love getting lost in them.”
Sophomore Ashleigh Fairfield, an avid gamer, wanted to take the class after other students had recommended it. She feels that diving into the literature builds interest in the character which gives those playing a greater interest in the games.
Sophomore Sierra Leggert has enjoyed the more relaxed nature of the class while learning about something she is passionate about. She, along with the rest of the class, have just wrapped up a paper about what makes a hero a hero while examining “Legend of Zelda” protagonist, Link.
“I love it,” Leggett said, holding her Nintendo 3DS system. “Just last year I was getting scolded for playing this in one of my classes.”
Robertson, who also coaches Tipton’s esports team, said his goal is for students to be able to absorb their media differently because of the deeper understanding of narratives they learn in the class.
Western High SchoolTipton High School is one of just many local schools embracing the rise of esports. Western High School recently hosted its first ever “Super Smash Brothers Ultimate” invitational which was participated in by multiple schools.
Jonathan Underwood and Philina Martinez serve as the co-coaches for Western’s esports team. The team formed last spring but became an official team during this semester. The team started out just playing “Smash Bros.,” but will be adding “League of Legends” to their lineup with hope for more expansion as time goes on.
“I think it’s been awesome to see so many kids who have told us they didn’t have a lot of friends before, and they’ve met some of their best friends for the first time with a common interest,” Underwood said. “They’re like ‘Wow, I have something to do now that I’m interested in.’”
Martinez describes the team as a “beautifully diverse group of students” and is glad to see people from all walks of life coming together to enjoy games.
The team has gone to Kokomo’s First Friday event multiple times to demonstrate esports and help raise community awareness about the growing trend.
In addition to the team there is now also an esports club with roughly 40 members and 20 on the team.
Jorge Hernandez is one of the original members of Western’s esports team who got involved when the interest in gaming arose in the school’s chess club.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people now that I never would have otherwise that share the same passion …,” he said. “Sports around here like tennis and football – that’s just not for everyone sometimes.”
Underwood is thrilled by the sportsmanship he saw during the invitational such as fist bumps and hi-fives.
“Everyone is here to play the game and have fun,” he said.
When looking five years, Martiniz hopes the team will be a self-sustaining trend and stays up with current trends. She also hopes the students will be able to benefit from it even more than they do now.
“It’s really exciting to hear that kids from other schools have got scholarships for this, and I would to see some of our students going to college when that wasn’t an option before because they earned a scholarship …,” she said.