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May 20, 2019

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UNLV professor’s idea for new library material is a real game-changer

UNLV Video Professor Amy Green

L.E. Baskow

Amy Green, a UNLV assistant professor, has launched a crowdfunding campaign for a video game library/archive that students can use for research.

From books, films and music to manuscripts and old copies of newspapers, students typically have access to broad array of information at their local campus library.

And if a UNLV faculty member gets her way, you can add video games to that list.

Amy Green, an assistant professor at the college’s English Department, is midway through a crowdfunding campaign to raise $2,500 to make a handful of popular video games available at the university’s Lied Library for students to check out.

But it’s not just for fun and games, it’s for academics.

Green, 41, has been a die-hard gamer most of her life. But she only recently started including video games as a way to explore the themes in her classes.

It started in 2013, when Green first played "BioShock Infinite," an action-adventure game that puts the player in the shoes of a detective navigating an early 19th century floating city called Columbia in search of a young woman.

Players are quickly confronted by the city’s dark underbelly of slavery, cult worship and poverty, and are forced to grapple with difficult themes of racism, class struggle, religious fanaticism and the consequences of American Exceptionalism.

And despite the game’s uncomfortable themes, it was widely popular and critically acclaimed, going on to sell more than 11 million copies.

After a year of consideration, Green decided to include the game on the syllabus for her world literature class. In her office, a "BioShock Infinite" poster sits right next to her computer. Her desktop background depicts Geralt, the sword-wielding protagonist of the "Witcher" series of books and games.

“I think for a long time people were sort of ashamed of being labeled as gamers,” she said. “It took a lot for me to actually say, ‘You know what, this is worth talking about, and I’m going to risk myself professionally by going out on a limb here.’”

Green joins a growing trend of college professors who want to explore the world of video games from an academic standpoint. And it’s easy to see why. Video games are one of the largest and fastest-growing industries in the world. In 2013, game sales doubled box office revenue for the movie industry.

More importantly, the industry has wide appeal to a younger generation of students who have grown up with games, consuming them with the same voracious appetite and enthusiasm as older generations did for books or films.

Green has since become a sort of evangelist for taking video games seriously. She gave a TEDx talk at UNLV on the subject in 2014, which was viewed 43,000 times.

Now, she uses video games in a number of her classes. In a class examining horror themes in literature, for example, students play a game based on the popular TV series, "The Walking Dead." In a seminar for freshman liberal arts majors, students play "Kentucky Route Zero," a magical-realist adventure touching on themes of the American South.

The video games haven’t replaced textbooks, though. Green’s classes still feature a lot of reading, but students are also regularly assigned “levels” to complete in a video game. Then, in class the next day, Green and her students discuss what they encountered.

“I think digital storytelling is the next inclusive iteration of how we study storytelling,” she said. “It’s a useful and critical part of the pedagogy of the class, rather than something frivolous thrown in for no reason.”

But she quickly ran into a problem. Video games are often expensive, and though her students were able to get around it by playing the games together or letting each other borrow equipment, that has limited the kind of games she teaches. Green wants to expand her gaming repertoire, and is designing an upcoming mythology class that incorporates popular new games like "Fallout 4" and "The Witcher 3."

“In good conscience, I can’t assign a game that’s only playable on a console and say to students, ‘Good luck with that,’” she said. “This is a diverse university socioeconomically.”

This is where her crowdfunding campaign comes in. The $2,500 will cover two Playstation 3s and two Playstation 4s as well as a handful of games, controllers and extra cables. Just like films or books, students will be able to check them out for a few hours to play inside the library.

As of Monday, she had raised $900 toward the goal. The campaign ends next week.

When Green first brought up the idea of using video games in her classes, she was well-received by administrators, who gave her the freedom to experiment. But playing video games for a college class is still a new concept, and some of her peers have been hesitant about following her lead.

“Our hope is that this will spark interest and that there might be more professors on campus who might be less intimidated to use games if they can see that there’s a way,” Green said.

For more information on Green’s crowdfunding campaign, visit UNLV’s ‘Rebel Raiser’ website.

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