Gaming and literature are increasingly entangled, both as media and as academic disciplines. Recent years have seen an explosion of "literary-ludic" games offering inventive approaches to narration, characterisation, and the construction of "storyworlds." 1 Game designers have also reimagined and written back to canonical literary texts via works like 80 Days (Inkle, 2014) and Elsinore (Golden Glitch, 2019). There is, moreover, a rapidly growing corpus of "ludic novels," "gamer novels," videogame novelizations and gaming memoirs on the shelves.2 And it is not just at the level of subject matter that games are leaving a mark on literature: the "ludic" structure of gameworlds has been a huge influence on genres like contemporary horror print fiction.3 This traffic between literature and gaming has inspired renewed attention to older playful and game-like texts, from OuLiPo's experiments with rule-bound writing to Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks. For scholars like Tison Pugh and Lynn Ramsey, these developments have underlined the intimate relationship between literature and play, revealing "the ever-present potential of a ludic experience existing concurrently within a narrative one."4  Given this, it is hardly surprising that games are becoming a fixture on university English syllabi.

At the same time, there are reasons to be suspicious of the terms on which games are entering the literature classroom. English departments are looking to games, and especially digital gaming, to "future-proof" their degree programmes and help their students acquire digital literacies and creative skills. These efforts have become more fervent in the wake of political attacks on the utility of the humanities, including comments by the current UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak about the need to "crack down" on so-called "rip-off" or "low value" degrees.5 Whilst there is ample evidence that the humanities have plenty to offer students even from a limited "economic growth" perspective, an instrumentalist approach to "employability skills" and "graduate outcomes" is shaping teaching and learning environments. In such a context it's understandable that some colleagues would have doubts as to whether games really belong on literature syllabi.    

And yet, as researchers and educators straddling the already porous border between literature and game studies, we remain keen to embed games into our literature classrooms. The experiences detailed herein occurred during our time working together as part of the Manchester Game Centre at Manchester Metropolitan University. The Manchester Game Centre (MGC) is primarily a research center, fostering collaboration between staff and postgraduate researchers across multiple departments through a common interest in critical game studies, game design, and in exploring the use of games as innovative tools for education and engagement. As researchers working within an English Department, but with an active role in the interdisciplinary work of the center, we brought our interest in game studies and game making into our classroom practice. In so doing we did not aim solely to keep courses up-to-date. More importantly, the introduction of games into the literature classroom allows students to examine the entanglement of these creative media, and the relationship between the ludic and narrative "experiences" that characterizes their cultural and social lives. With these priorities in mind, this piece explores some of the pedagogical difficulties that games present before outlining some of the strategies we have developed to deal with those difficulties. Grounded in our experiences of curriculum development and teaching on BA and MA English, Media, and Creative Writing programs across the UK, these strategies reflect our commitment to game playing, game analysis, and game making as vehicles for cultural creativity and critique, as well as our varied interests and areas of expertise as researchers and practitioners. Taken together, we hope they offer a glimpse of what literature classrooms can and should look like in a culture increasingly conversant with ludonarrative media: spaces in which students can reflexively examine their consumption of narratives and storyworlds, exploring the complex and entangled networks of agencies that congeal in their experience of "reading," or playing, stories.

Expert Difficulty

Incorporating videogames into the classroom presents multiple challenges. Some stem from the nature of the medium, and its mechanical, digital, and bodily demands. Others arise because of the norms of the commercial videogame industry, and its representational and narrative strategies. Commercial games often require expensive specialist hardware, and some games will be exclusive to certain platforms. While many kinds of texts pose "affective" and "interpretive" difficulties, videogames also pose "mechanical" difficulties like learning to move an avatar through 3D space with one thumbstick while maneuvering a virtual camera with the other.6  "AAA" videogames are also designed to be played for tens, if not hundreds, of hours. They seldom let players jump to particular sections, which makes selecting sequences for close analysis difficult. Then there are questions of culture and content. Young, white, middle-class men remain massively overrepresented in the North American and European videogame industries,7 and this is reflected in the types of games that "AAA" studios produce. Alienated by themes of combat and conquest, some students may already have concluded that videogames are not for them. Even those who do play games may be reluctant to identify as "gamers" a term that still carries reactionary connotations a decade on from the #GamerGate movement's attacks on feminists and "social justice warriors" in gaming.

Things are not helped by institutional bureaucracy and the logistical challenges that come with making games available to whole cohorts of students. Even when there is funding for kit, that does not mean there will be suitable classrooms for workshops, space available for students to play in their own time, or adequate IT support. Pedagogical possibilities are constantly being undercut by banal headaches, from creating user accounts to keeping controllers charged. Such issues are only heightened in the case of virtual reality. Universities love putting photos of students in headsets in their prospectuses, but using VR safely requires lots of space and supervision. It also presents accessibility issues: headsets can't be used by students with motion sickness or amblyopia, and don't play nicely with headscarves, ponytails, piercings, or glasses. The best VR titles transcend gimmickry, playing with space, scale and perspective in ways that draw from gaming, theatre, site-specific performance and installation art. But some of the richest conversations on the BA "Immersive Media" class Rob co-convened last year were less about the games than the kinds of users VR technologies expect, and how those expectations are baked into the hardware and software.

As we have said, there is also reason to question the terms on which videogames have been introduced onto English courses. Gaming is at risk of becoming a buzzword, invoked to make literature degrees sound more appealing. We worry that this may contribute to the further marginalization of areas of literary studies that are not such an easy sell for students. We also worry that games may be introduced onto syllabi without adequate attention to the complex contexts of game production and consumption, practical considerations around their use in the classroom, or regard for the heterogeneity of games as media. Within the classroom games often act as literary or cultural texts alongside others for comparison or discussions of adaptation, narrative, representation, and so on. But game also have unique features and affordances that deserve attention. As Tim Lanzendörfer notes elsewhere in this cluster, games are more likely to feature in our students' lives than the books we put on our reading lists. This can make them appealing to program leaders and departmental managers with their eye on (UK) National Student Survey results. At the same time, videogames are being leveraged by university management as a means to boost "employability skills," and thus their status as playful objects sits in tension with a more instrumental view of higher education. Here it perhaps bears noting that the same UK government currently "cracking down" on "rip-off" humanities degrees drew on gaming jargon to brand its economic development plan as a "levelling-up agenda."

Furthermore, any education program that looks to games as means through which to confer future-proof skills on its students must take into account the medium's ecological and carbon footprint. The digital game industry emits more greenhouse gases annually than the film and television industries, and "cloud gaming" looks set to only increase this destructive impact over the next decade.8 It is crucial that we consider these impacts, and that we ask students and researchers alike to consider how the production and consumption of games can change to meet climate goals and aid in a sustainable transition for all. Another consideration here is resisting the conflation of gameplay with consumption, and the capitalist imperative surrounding gaming as a leisure activity. In this, we are influenced by Braxton Soderman's searing critique of "flow" the state of enjoyment and attention cultivated by games as surrender to capitalist modes of consumption and gamers' alienation.9

The use of video games in the literature classroom, in short, is fraught with tensions about their status as learning "objects" or "tools" and their role as cultural texts and social actors. So, what to do? The remainder of this piece offers three suggestions: working with artgames and experimental games; reading and writing auto-ethnographic accounts of gameplay; and using game "hacking" the breaking and (re)making of games to do research, tell stories, and examine our relationship with games as media.

Strategy 1: Exploring Experimental Microgames

Rob has been teaching sessions introducing students to artgames and experimental microgames for almost ten years now, and in that time it has only become easier to find thought-provoking videogames that are short enough to set as "readings"e or to play in class, free or very cheap, and playable on most smartphones or laptops. In many cases these titles invite consideration of videogames as medium while also centring marginalized perspectives. Robert Yang and Eleanor Davis's We Dwell in Possibility (2022), for example, is a "queer gardening simulator" with a title that references Emily Dickinson and an interface reminiscent of The Sims (Maxis, 2000). Players are tasked with tending a space that quickly becomes overrun by AI-controlled "peeps" bearing fruit trees, tents, sofas, boomboxes, coffee kiosks and statues of divisive historical figures. Disputes quickly emerge, and with them dilemmas. As former PhD student and now full-time member of the MGC, Jack Warren argues, the game requires us to recognize that players inevitably "bring their politics and desires" with them when they enter virtual worlds.10 Is it legitimate to weed out behaviors we find objectionable if our ultimate goal is to cultivate a "queer paradise"?11 Or is that just an alibi for authoritarianism? A recent playthrough as part of an online postgraduate seminar organized by researchers from the University of North Carolina's comparative literature faculty used these talking points as a way into bigger questions, from the interpretation of interactive texts to the nature of authorship and agency in a world where humans share the sociopolitical playing field with algorithms and automated bots.

Many artgames are made with free, user-friendly software like Twine or Bitsy, tools that do not require any programming knowledge to use. Resources like these also allow students to quickly start making their own games. One way to read such games is as a kind of "minor literature."12 Minor literatures subvert dominant representational strategies and defy conventional heuristics; offering a multiplicity of paths and entrances, they invite readers to embark on journeys with no fixed destination; voicing the perspectives of the colonized and the displaced, they sully the purity of national languages. At the risk of taking Deleuze and Guattari too literally, the minor literature is a suggestive framework for articulating what's happening when a student uses Twine to create a multicursal autobiographical poem witnessing her connections to the Lebanese diaspora (as one of Rob's students at Royal Holloway did). Anna Anthropy proposes another way of viewing such microgames: as digital zines, inheritors of a progressive DIY publishing tradition.13 Here software like Twine becomes the contemporary equivalent of xerox machines and PVA glue. Such tools have their limits, however, and students wanting to create more complex games will quickly find that the market has been cornered by corporate platforms like Unity which recently tried to exploit its monopoly by implementing a controversial runtime fee. While the company was forced to back down, such incidents only underline the value of non-profit alternatives like Missionmaker, a 3D game-authoring toolkit created by researchers at University College London for use in schools workshops, in which participants have produced short games based on texts like Beowulf and Macbeth.14

Strategy 2: Reading and Writing Gameplay

A second pedagogical strategy we've explored is to ask students to read and write first-hand accounts of gameplay. One precedent for this kind of writing comes from David Sudnow's 1983 text Pilgrim in the Microworld.15 An ethnographer and social psychologist, Sudnow had already produced a monograph about learning to play jazz piano when he became fascinated by videogames. Providing forensically acute, entertainingly florid accounts of what gaming feels like ("palms wet, pulse racing, mouth dry, nerve endings interfaced in nanoseconds, the knob itself throbbing, electronic reflections going straight for my spinal cord"), Pilgrim's tone is generally upbeat.16 But Sudnow also betrays discomfort with the way that videogames construct players as "just bundles of programmable nerve pathways" rather than conscious subjects.17 Here Sudnow anticipates more recent works of life writing by Oli Hazzard, Michael Clune, Tom Bissell and Narcissa Wright, all of whom use gameplay to pose questions about embodiment, autonomy, identity and subjectivity.18 Such texts provide a basis for students to produce their own first-hand accounts of play, and to reflect on the technical and conceptual issues those accounts raise. What kinds of metaphors do students find themselves deploying? How do they situate themselves grammatically in relation to their avatars? Do the affective and physiological states they describe correlate with concepts like "immersion" or "flow"?

As this suggests, gameplay foregrounds our implication in larger infrastructures and ecosystems. To read and write accounts of play is, as such, to consider where the humanities shade into the posthumanities. This question is central to the work of Seth Giddings, who has coined the term "micro-ethology" to describe his ethnographic descriptive method for accounting for the playing of a text. Micro-ethology reorients the study of games to consider the myriad of actors that emerge in the act of play, including more-than-humans. It is, in Giddings' words, "a nonscientific, improvised, opportunistic approach to recording, describing, and analyzing brief moments of every-day technocultural activity."19 Giddings' concern is with connecting interpretive methods (analyzing games as texts) with sociological methods (analyzing gamers), but in so doing to move away from anthropocentric practices in both methods, towards a "description of the behaviors, affects, and mutual becomings of a microworld", one that might include  "fingers and thumbs, mushrooms and data projectors, algorithms and aptitude, playing bodies both human and nonhuman."20 A micro-ethology of a game, as deployed in the classroom, reorients study away from games as "texts," in a static, objectified, or calcified sense of that word, toward the experience of play. To ask students to attend to play in this way is to ask them to recognize its contingent, networked, more-than-human character. Charlotte Gislam, a former Manchester Game Centre PhD student who deployed the auto-ethnographic model in her thesis, for example, became interested in the plastic controller in her hand and examined its origins in the petroleum industry and its historical relationship with environmental disaster, connecting these reflections to the ecological themes with which her player avatar was engaged.21 And there is an added benefit here: in an age of ChatGPT hysteria, the prospect of using micro-ethology to frame summative assessments, such as asking students to produce a piece of auto-ethnographic writing of a particular play session, also has virtue of making such assessments not only AI-proof, but authentic in the sense of appealing to students' lived experiences, every-day lives, and personal relationship with games, media and technology.

Strategy 3: Hacking Analog Games

A third strategy is to encourage students to break games, to peer inside the "black box" out of which the gameworlds, narrative and play experience emerge. Paul and Chloé have done this through game "hacking," which they first developed as a method for doing game research around youth climate action. The hacking method came out of a project that considers board games as both a tool for climate education and as a means for young people to explore and communicate their ideas about climate change, social transformation, and possible futures.22 In this project, the focus was very much on analog games and we demonstrated how board games offered productive ways in which to explore the idea of system change. In board games it is the players that "run" the game, and who subsequently need to be able to understand the interactions of rules and component parts. The system of the game is no longer a "black box," but open to being changed, or hacked, by players who want to "tinker" with it to create different game outcomes and alternative stories. When we talk about hacking, then, as a method for working with games, we do so with a positive understanding of the term as a means for rethinking and (re)creating the parameters of production and play. Games are not simply consumable products even though they are often presented to us in this way. As Anna Anthropy argues, in their exhortation for players to disrupt the consumer logic of the games industry, "the rules themselves aren't the game, the interaction is."23 Hacking takes as its subject this interaction, and asks players to change the rules, propose different winning conditions, create alternative characters, representations, and art work, take out or introduce components into the game system, breaking and remaking the game into something new though not necessarily a new, playable game product. Indeed, the method of hacking reveals that games hold the promise of anarchic forms of play that question the relation between games (as product) and players (as consumers). We contend that hacking games, and not playing them according to the rules, is key to the kinds of radical, critical, and socially transformative engagement imagined by play scholars.24 Hacking a game also draws players' attention to the different and multiple actors in game design and play, and to their interaction in creating particular stories and experiences (game pieces, rules, art, game maps and boards). We have since developed aspects of the hacking methodology for use in the literature and creative writing classroom, seeing its potential to unlock the "black box" of the game and move students into a space where not only do they develop procedural literacies around what kind of texts games are, and how they are made, but that gives them the confidence to resist their positioning as passive consumers.

To give an example of hacking in practice, "Remaking Games: Creativity, Play and Communication," a class offered on our Creative Writing MA, tasks students with making a game, or an element of a game, that explores a research topic of their choosing. Drawing on prior work on games and play as a mode of critical practice, and on games and communication,25 the unit focuses on method rather than on the creation of polished games. The class aims to promote the dual use of game design as both a research method and a means of disseminating research findings, asking students to

  1. Develop the ability to explore a new creative work, existing narratives (such as a novel), or research theme or topic, through the medium of games;
  2. Understand and apply principles of game design, playtesting, and evaluation in a media of their choice;
  3. Develop communication skills in order to engage a variety of audiences with a research question, topic, or creative idea.

The students on this unit come from a variety of academic backgrounds from across the humanities (none of which, incidentally, included game design) and as such the assignment brief, like the unit's outcomes, was written to accommodate a range of expertise (we had keen game players and students who rarely played games), and to be as open and as flexible as it could be. Students were asked to "create an original piece of game design (such as a game prototype, a set of rules and example components, or a complete game)" along with "a 2000-word commentary on the design" to introduce the topic being explored, explain the rationale for the design choices, and offer an evaluation of the game itself. The inclusion of this reflective element ensured that partially produced, flawed, or unplayable games offered students fertile ground for discussion.

The class was taught over a period of twelve weeks, with the fortnightly seminars interspersed with informal meetings in which students met to playtest work in progress. While students were given the option to make any kind of game (analog or digital), workshops focused on the analog, recognizing the low bar to entry this offered to new game designers, the ease of rapid prototyping, and the practical considerations of providing materials in class. The projects that students embarked upon varied wildly, addressing topics ranging from military history, to Thai folktales, to memory and curation.26 They also varied in terms of focus, with some students creating fully-playable prototype games, others focussing on a single element such as the 3D design and printing of a Tafl board based on research into the Norse game. Reflective work submitted alongside these creations allowed students to contextualize their work, drawing on a range of critical sources and methodologies dependent on the backgrounds of the individual students and their projects. This class does not require game design experience on the part of the students (though enthusiasm is key). It does however require expertise on the part of those facilitating it and it was essential to the success of the unit that both tutors were both keen game players and had themselves worked on commercially published games. It is also a labor-intensive class in which the staff-student ratio is a significant factor (and so perhaps best suited to postgraduate rather than undergraduate teaching).

All of which really just goes to underline what we've been saying: that bringing games into the literature classroom opens up exciting pedagogical possibilities, even as it poses daunting logistical challenges. Nevertheless, we think it's a worthwhile endeavor. Engaging critically with ludic systems doesn't just illuminate gaming's status as an important means of creative expression; it also brings a range of other benefits not least equipping us to recognize and resist the insidious forms of gamification and platformization that are reshaping higher education, just as they are other domains of contemporary life and work.

Rob Gallagher is a Lecturer in Games and Immersive Media at King's College London. He is interested in how digital games articulate and inform understandings of identity, embodiment and subjectivity. Rob's research has appeared in journals such as Game StudiesGames and Culture and Big Data & Society. He is the author of Videogames, Identity and Digital Subjectivity (Routledge, 2017).

Chloé Germaine is a Reader in the department of English at Manchester Metropolitan University and co-director of the Manchester Game Centre. She researches the environmental impact and potential of games, with a specific interest in tabletop and analogue games. She is co-editor of Material Game Studies: A Philosophy of Analogue Play (2022), and co-lead of the Horizon-UKRI STRATEGIES project, which supports the European game industries to meet Green Deal goals. As a game designer, she has published roleplaying games for Cthulhu HackThe BetweenThe Gauntlet and Hedgemaze Press

Paul Wake ( is Reader in English Literature at Manchester Metropolitan University and a co-director of the Manchester Game Centre. He has published on literary representations of casino games, 80s Adventure Gamebooks, and game design for communication. He is co-editor of Material Game Studies: A Philosophy of Analogue Play (2022) and co-lead of the Horizon-UKRI STRATEGIES project, which supports the European game industries to meet Green Deal goals. He also designs, uses, and plays games to start conversations about important societal topics.


  1. Astrid Ensslin, Literary Gaming (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014), 44-5; Marie-Laure Ryan, Avatars of Story (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006).  []
  2. Doug Stark, "Video Game Novels," in Encyclopedia of Video Games, 2nd ed., edited by Mark J. P. Wolf (Santa Barbara: Greenwood, 2021), 1104-1107[]
  3. Chloé Germaine Buckley, "Gameful Interactions: The 'Ludification' of Zombie Fiction," in Death, Culture & Leisure: Playing Dead, edited by Matt Coward-Gibbs (Emerald, 2020), 139-154.[]
  4. Tison Pugh and Lynn Ramey (editors), Teaching Games and Game Studies in the Literature Classroom (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2022), 1.[]
  5. Nimo Omer, "Tuesday briefing: What Rishi Sunak's plan to cut down on 'rip-off' courses actually means," The Guardian, 18 July 2023.[]
  6. Patrick Jagoda, Experimental Games (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020), 193.[]
  7. Trevor Coppins et al., "Developer Satisfaction Survey 2021: Diversity in the Game Industry: Regional Snapshots" (International Game Developers Association, 2022).  []
  8. Ben Abram, Digital Games After Climate Change (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2022); projections indicate that the carbon emissions for the global gaming industry will rise by 29% before 2030 if current trends in cloud gaming and streaming continue: see Matthew Marsden et al., "From One Edge to the Other," Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on ICT for Sustainability (2020): 247-254.[]
  9. Braxton Soderman, Against Flow: Video Games and the Flowing Subject (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2021). []
  10. Jack Warren, Role-Playing Reality:  Queer Theory, New Materialisms, and Digital Role-Play (PhD Thesis, Manchester Metropolitan University, 2022), 150.[]
  11. Jack Warren, Role-Playing Reality, 150.[]
  12. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, "What Is a Minor Literature?" Mississippi Review 11, no.3 (1983): 13-33.[]
  13. Anna Anthropy, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: Hope Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Dropouts, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You are Taking Back an Art Form (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2012).[]
  14. Andrew Burn, Videogames, Literature and Learning (London: Routledge, 2022).[]
  15. David Sudnow, Pilgrim in the Microworld (New York: Warner Books, 1983).[]
  16. David Sudnow, Pilgrim, 43.[]
  17. David Sudnow, Pilgrim, 45.[]
  18. See Rob Gallagher, "The Uses of Ludobiography: Reading Life-Writing about Gaming," in Ready Reader One: The Stories We Tell About, With, and Around Videogames, edited by Mike Sell and Megan Condis (Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2024).[]
  19. Seth Giddings, "Events and Collusions: A Glossary for the Microethnography of Video Game Play," Games and Culture 4, no. 2 (2009): 149. []
  20. Seth Giddings, "Events and Collusions," 151.[]
  21. Charlotte Gislam, Artificial Intelligence and Dynamic Spatial Storytelling in Digital Games (PhD Thesis, Manchester Metropolitan University, 2023).[]
  22. Chloé Germaine and Paul Wake, "Imagining the Future: Game Hacking and Youth Climate Action," in Ecogames: Playful Perspectives on the Climate Crisis, edited by Laura Op de Beke, Joost Raessens, Stefan Werning, and Gerald Farca (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2024), 483-503.[]
  23. Anthropy, Zinesters, 44.[]
  24. See, for example, Mary Flanagan, Critical Play: Radical Game Design (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013).[]
  25. See Samuel Illingworth and Paul Wake, "Developing science tabletop games: 'Catan'® and global warming," Journal of Science Communication 18, no. 4 (2019): A04; "Ten simple rules for designing analogue science games," PLoS Computational Biology 17, no. 6 (2021).[]
  26. Examples of student work produced can be seen on the Manchester Game Centre website.[]