• Arts and Humanities
  • Students
  • Department of English
  • Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences
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These Pitt English classes used a video game to teach interactive fiction

Students in rows of desks watch a video call on a projector

Amanda Tien, a graduate student teaching assistant in Pitt’s Department of English, took a creative approach to teaching her fall 2022 writing classes by incorporating video game storytelling.

Night School Studio, a developer which Netflix acquired in late 2021, donated copies of its critically acclaimed 2016 game “Oxenfree” to Tien’s Seminar in Composition and Introduction to Fiction Writing courses.

Tien, an MFA candidate in creative writing at The Writing Program in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, used the game to help teach interactive storytelling. Tien designed the course to incorporate classic works such as “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austin and “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin with modern stories.

“Video games are a great way to see how modern audiences are responding to and finding fiction in other mediums besides the written word. Gaming asks ‘readers’ to be active participants in the narrative,” Tien said. “With a game like ‘Oxenfree,’ players can truly shape how the character and plot evolves. Dialogue is heightened in mediums like gaming, television and film, and that can help new writers hone their skills with writing more realistic and engaging conversations.”

Students explored the game’s themes of loss and mourning and studied the developer’s creative process. Those who participated in the course said they felt inspired by the game and its characters.

 “The dialogue of the game was funny and light-hearted and made me want to bring that into my own writing. Playing ‘Oxenfree’ was a great way to analyze creating personalities for characters and exploring how they could interact with each other,” said Ava Limegrover, a second-year student in the Dietrich School.

Tien added that she saw adding the game to her curriculum as a way to give students a unique classroom experience.

“The past three years have been hard,” Tien said. “I knew I could make my class a curious, playful and enthusiastic space, and I thought a game might help with that. I feel honored that they trusted me and tried a new experience.”