Work and Play

Roughly every three months, I have to write 40-odd comments, one for each student I teach, on the quality of their work so far. Then I comment their potential for the future. Finally, I offer some advice on how to translate where they are now into where they could be with hard work, dedication, interest, personal responsibility, and other fantasies. Every time I go through this ritual, I am reminded of how utterly futile it seems.

One of my students handed me a short story, about 8 pages long, which is a good example of this. It’s long-winded, full of fantastic little details, and utterly lacking in compelling story. How do you tell a student that his writing suffers from a lack of characters and a distinct lack of plot? His writing shows, if I dare say it, a lack of exposure to other people’s writing. That is to say, this student does notread. He knows how, but he chooses not to read. Video games are more important, apparently.

My own colleagues in the English department barely believe me when I cite Stephen King’s advice, “Write to read; read to write.” How can I expect my students to follow that advice? His other advice, write first drafts with the door closed, and revise with the door open, is also virtually impossible in school settings with our emphasis on grading and assessment.

Also, I like this piece on the writers’ strike…

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  1. As a gamer and a (pen-and-paper) game designer, I don’t want to underestimate the value of games. They are sophisticated and valuable. And I already think of them as a legitimate art form.

    I think my frustration is about the confusion of one art form with another. Your poems may be inspired by video games. You may be influenced by video games. But you are not writing video games. You are writing poetry or short stories or essays or novels or other text. And you practice the craft of writing within a context of inspiration from video games.

    This kid, in particular, spends 20 hours a week playing video games, maybe more. His 8-page short story, on the other hand, shows signs of being a first draft by a non-writer. If he took 2 hours away from video games to write each week, he’d improve markedly and in very short order. If he spent those same two hours a week designing a video game and learning programming, he’d also become a future game designer.

    As it is now, he is failing both Math and English, because at least some of those 20 hours a week are supposed to be spent on homework rather than writing a bad novel or a playing video games.

  2. I hear what you’re saying, but also, do not underestimate the value of video games– a lot of my writing was influenced by video games– and especially lately, some of them are growing fairly sophisticated. I think video games are right now on the border between casual entertainment and having value as a legitimate artform.

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