Finals week at Millikin University recently came to a close, and as a culmination to the fall semester, a group of literature majors took the opportunity to present their Capstone research projects to an audience of fellow students and faculty on Dec. 13.
This past semester, five students — Emma Hoyer, Brittany Larsen, Sam Miller, Amberlee Seitz and Brittany Walsh studied various forms of "Digital Literatures" under the guidance of Dr. Tony Magagna, associate professor of English at Millikin. As part of their Capstone research and analysis projects, each student explored a topic related to the literary study of video games and other forms of interactive, digital narratives.
The Digital Literatures Capstone course at Millikin looks at how new media and digital technologies have evolved in the last decade, and how storytellers have begun to explore new ways of crafting narratives. Artists and authors have increasingly embraced the new media forms as a means to engage audiences with complex themes. Digital tools have allowed the most innovative of these storytellers to craft narratives in ways not possible in printed form, immersing audiences in their works and in their themes.
The event on Dec. 13 was in the form of a "mock" academic conference, with each student given 15-20 minutes to present their research.
"Overall, I was so pleased with the presentations from our senior literature majors," Dr. Magagna said. "There was a wide breadth of topics, from close-readings of individual digital texts, to genre analyses, to contemplations on the new opportunities for storytelling offered through digital media and video games."
Brittany Larsen, an English literature major from Maple Park, Ill., opened the event by sharing her research on the legitimacy of fan creation in the digital age. Through a web comic titled "Check, Please!" Larsen explored how fan ideas and creations about a work can shape the work itself, and how what is "real" in a text exists far beyond what the author initially imagines.
Emma Hoyer, an elementary education major from Champaign, Ill., made a strong pedagogical presentation on how to expand writing opportunities for students through the use of the free digital, branching-narrative tool Twine.
Dr. Magagna added, "These were thoughtful, complex presentations, and did a wonderful job representing the hard work these students have dedicated both to the study of digital literatures this semester, but also to the study of all literature over the course of their majors here at Millikin."
Sam Miller's research looked at the role of immersion in horror video games and how the horror genre is evolving. During his presentation, Miller, an English writing major from Maple Park, focused more in-depth about gamer response theory and explored the survival video game "Until Dawn" to identify the new direction of the horror genre.
Amberlee Seitz's presentation explored the relationship between choice and immersion in video games. Seitz, an English literature major from Decatur, Ill., researched "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, "Gone Home," and "Life is Strange" as specific examples of narratives that give readers a choice in how the story progresses. She explored whether the number of choices offered helps or delays player immersion, and that true choice builds a connection between the player and the game.
"This was an excellent Performance Learning opportunity for them," Dr. Magagna said. "As seniors – several of whom are either headed into the classroom as teachers or as graduate students – this was a fantastic chance to practice the profession of literary scholarship by formally presenting their work in a mock conference environment."
Brittany Walsh's research focused on gender representation and the gaming culture. Walsh, an English literature major from Roselle, Ill., looked at how the narrative of a video game is a reflection of the culture in which we live, and how it can endorse harmful stereotypes of certain marginalized groups. Walsh used the video game "Grand Theft Auto V" as an example of a narrative with storyline elements that eliminate positive female representation in the gaming industry.
After each student presented, a panel discussion was held with all five students.
"The questions from those in attendance both challenged the students to expand upon their previous presentations and to clarify their points, as well as allowed them to place their work into the wider context of literary scholarship and the digital humanities," Dr. Magagna said. "This is exactly what happens in classrooms and conferences for professionals every day, and the students got a taste of it first-hand."