Two courses offered at UTM, ENG279 and ENG276, take a crucial look at two unconventional literary models: Video Games and Fanfiction. While UTM started offering Video Games in the summer of 2017, the campus began offering Fanfiction more recently in the 2018 winter term. Siobhan O’Flynn, an undergraduate instructor in U of T Mississauga’s Department of English and Drama, taught ENG279: Video Games in the fall and is currently teaching ENG276: Fanfiction this term.
The Video Games course focuses on studying narratively rich games in which players, either in second or third-person perspective, are essentially dropped right in the middle of the story. “You can view games as holistic systems that are designed to communicate something highly immersive,” O’Flynn states. Games are designed to be highly immersive to the extent that the player of the game is not only immersed in the effect (in the sense of what they do in the game) but also affect (in the sense of emotional resonance) of the game.
As the course syllabus reads: “This course will introduce students to seminal arguments across a range of critical models: narratology, ludology or game studies, game theory, and emerging inter- and trans-disciplinary approaches to the study of video games.”
Not only do students learn the theoretical aspects of video games but they also learn to critique games by playing them, designing their own games, and having those games critiqued by fellow students. “The assessments will look at how games are designed to que you through mental models,” O’Flynn remarks. “Students will have group discussions where they will think about game designs and about how games are not like stories but do, in a way, use narrative elements.” Students even have an option to design a second game in the place of a final examination.
The Fanfiction course concerns reading fanfiction critically from a variety of different frameworks. Students not only read fanfiction but also study the impact that story worlds have on the devotees of those texts. “This course,” notes O’Flynn, “integrates the history of fanfics and fandoms as well as course studies.” Students will write a short critique, test, and final essay in addition to writing their own fanfiction. Both courses are exceptionally hands on, with students not only learning how to read fanfiction and study video games critically but also how to write “good” fanfiction and design their own games.
When asked why it is important to study such unconventional literary models as video games and fanfiction, O’Flynn responded, “Why aren’t we studying video games? It’s the largest revenue generating industry and almost everybody plays some kind of game. So, the fact that we’re not studying these things is kind of crazy. Fanfiction is also one of these supposedly niche areas of production and yet it is highly participatory and includes very important interactions. Individuals find fandoms that change their lives, lots of fans start gaining all kinds of online and digital skills by being a part of fandom communities and find ways to creatively express themselves online.”