“Let’s Study” Video Essays
In my teaching, I am a strong proponent of branching out beyond the traditional written assignment. This very blog is home to a variety of student projects that fall outside traditional assignments, from blog posts (which I insist always include visual aides) to video essays and even some wonderfully GIF-enhanced scholarship.
I also practice what I teach. Video-based critique and analysis has undergone a meteoric rise in the sphere of popular game criticism. For years, the medium of videogames suffered from a dearth of popular but serious criticism, leading organizations such as Critical Distance to investigate the question, “where is all the good writing about games?” Today, the answer seems clear: much of the serious criticism of the medium skipped over the written word altogether. Instead, the medium’s most adventurous and insightful popular critics are working in the medium of YouTube “Let’s Play” videos or Twitch streams.
I am a firm believer that if academic scholarship is to maintain its relevance, it must keep pace with such popular developments. Public humanities projects and other attempts to address general audiences in our work cannot be limited to the occasional public lecture or film introduction. Their reach will be much greater if they legitimately engage with popular forms, particularly those that can be readily disseminated via digital platforms.
So far, my experiments in this area have consisted of a series of “Let’s Study” videos, a hybrid form taking cues from the “Let’s Play” genre, alongside traditional video essays and video criticism. These works of long-form video criticism focusing on a single game incorporate voice-over narration, animation, and extensive use of b-roll to draw critical parallels.
Traditionally, the creation of game guides or “walkthroughs” has been considered a fan practice. As I continue to experiment with and refine techniques in game pedagogy, however, I have come to realize the practical value of educator-created walkthroughs, offered as either a supplement to or replacement for traditional play. Over the course of doing my own research and class prep, I have created video walkthroughs for The Company of Myself (2DArray, 2009), Problem Attic (Liz Ryerson, 2013), and Sym (Atrax Media, 2015) as well as an image-heavy reference guide for Gone Home (The Fullbright Company, 2013).
The game walkthrough is not an analytical form. It is probably best analogized to something like CliffsNotes: a tool designed to help people through a tricky text. But although walkthroughs should not be classified as scholarly output, they do serve as potential student study guides, research guides, and as archival resources (particularly in the case of Flash games, which are becoming increasingly difficult to view in-browser with the passing of years). I typically create walkthroughs for small, independent games that lack the devoted fan communities of big-budget fare, which gives extra weight to these sorts of archival contributions. My walkthrough of Liz Ryerson’s Problem Attic, for instance, was praised and promoted by the creator herself as a long-overdue intervention. I have also subsequently used footage captured during the course of creating walkthroughs as visual aids for genuine analytical work, such as my blog post on Problem Attic and Sym here.