Commentary: May 2012 Archives

Big Bang Star Wars Divide

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One of the more vigorous and interesting debates at last week's Game day wasn't about games but how important it was to see Star Wars. This may seem like a trivial pop culture debate, but it actually points to an interesting communication issue within educational gaming.

My History with Star Wars Mania

For the record, I HAVE seen Star Wars...many many times. I was about 9 when it came out so not only do I remember the movie from a relatively young age, but also the lunch boxes, the t-shirts, the trading cards and action figures, the special effects special and especially the disco version of the theme song. I also saw the Star Wars Holiday special, Gonzo dressed as Darth Vader on the old Muppet Show and may have even seen the Stormtroopers dancing on the Donny and Marie show.

As a result, not only did I learn all about the characters, but even my parents and aunts were forced to learn about them because we all went to the movie one July 4 when it was raining (best July 4 ever BTW). It was so huge that even if you never saw the movie, you had an idea of the key motifs (outer space, bad Darth Vader, good Jedi, etc).

My youth was so saturated with Star Wars, that many of us developed a habit of using Star Wars as a short hand for a lot of metaphors (e.g. Yoda=guru, Darth Vader=evil boss). Even the Reagan administration co-opted the term "Star Wars" for their system of military satellites able to shoot down nuclear missiles (until Lucas sued for copyright infringement).

I would compare it to having an idea what Survivor, CSI or Lost might be about without ever having seen an episode (that would be me folks - although I did get hooked on CSI: Miami.)

Alas though, it is no longer 1977 and it is no longer safe to assume that everyone has been equally exposed to Star Wars. Some of my students have expressed confusion about my point and concern that this might be considered required viewing in my courses.

And My Point Is...

So how does does my pop culture consumption relate to instructional design? For one thing, I have to re-think all my Star Wars references in class (sigh) or maybe update them to Harry Potter (yes!).

A more serious issue for the gamers is that EGC staffers tend to think in terms of other games (like Halo, World of Warcraft (WoW), Guitar Hero and other names that escape me because I haven't ever actually (ahem) played them. I would agree that If our instructors haven't played them, it may be a good idea to remember that when trying to communicate about gaming. It is noteworthy that many game authors do try to summarize plot points of the game when trying to explain their significance to education.

So maybe the key for me 1) think if that Star Wars or Star Trek reference is really important and 2) if it is, expanding my short hand a little more. And play more games.

On the Other Hand...

I don't advocate forcing anyone to consume media/entertainment they don't want to, but I have to confess that if I hear a lot about something and haven't watched/played it yet, I sometimes turn to Wikipedia for the answers. Very helpful and yet time efficient.

It has saved me many hours of actual TV viewing time while helping me understand and enjoy what those obscure references on the Big Bang Theory are all about.