In recent months, my Shakespeare paperbacks have started to look, well, stodgy. (And I say this as a holder of an English literature degree.) And who can blame me, when today’s best media experiences traverse not only the page, but platforms and devices as well? I can spend hours augmenting my comprehension of Ridley Scott’s recent film Prometheus by diving into its viral marketing extensions: One could, for example, engage with the Prometheus tie-in HTML5 games and personality quiz, framed as assessments for recruitment into the film’s fictional Weyland Industries. Shakespeare, unfortunately, lived four centuries too early for transmedia.
While older students may have cultivated the patience and taste for engaging with older texts, it’s a hard sell for a new generation of children who have been brought up on screen-tapping. It’s been no secret that schools have struggled to promote classic literature. How, then, to reignite an interest for the classics?
Oxford University Press is now trying their hand at making Shakespeare relevant again. Partnering with game developer SecretBuilders, the publisher will be promoting their “50 Great Reads Before 15″ initiative with a series of web and mobile game extensions. Laura Pearson, General Manager of Oxford’s American English Language Teaching Group, explained the intention to make the likes of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Macbeth into interactive learning experiences for kids under the age of 15:
Oxford University Press has…most recently has placed significant emphasis on offering digital versions through a variety of platforms. We look forward to innovating the learning process and making our timeless classics more accessible to the coming generations of digitally savvy kids.
Lewis Carroll’s mad novel has the privilege of being gamified first: Alice in Wonderland – Spot the Difference, available for Android devices, has players spot the difference in a puzzle game featuring color illustrations and audio narration.
We haven’t given the game extensions a go yet, but the puzzle approach certainly seems to be a good thematic fit for Alice. Though we should ask the question: Will these games enhance the thematic, narrative, and learning considerations for the texts themselves? Is it alright for the games to teach skills and emphasize play that are unrelated to the original lesson? On one hand, it’s a way to broaden and enable new learning opportunities. But one might also argue it distracts from the skills being taught and conversations being had with a purely literary experience. We’d love to see if and how these games are deployed in tandem with actual reading in a classroom.