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Research: Gamers Unite

News Story

Dyson English Professor Jane Collins learns the language of digital gaming for a Student-Faculty Research Program project.

This holiday break, while students caught up on the video games they weren’t able to play in between classes this semester—ahem—one Dyson professor was joining them. Jane Collins, PhD, has been mixing work and play for a Student-Faculty Research Program project, titled “Gaming as Literature: Assessing the Literary Value of Modern Day Storytelling.”

Collins is teaming up with English major Daniel Rubado ’14 to study the emerging field of literature in digital gaming. The topic piqued her interest while at dinner with fellow English faculty and students, when Rubado said he believes some of the most intriguing narrative work being done today is in the field of video games.

“At the time, I had been having similar kinds of discussions with my son who’s 14-years-old and who also likes gaming, and I didn’t really know much about it. I hadn’t tried to play any video games at that point,” says Collins. That’s when she encouraged Rubado to pursue the topic further, with her assistance.

The pair is doing a survey of the field by reading through all of the essential published work and sources on their topic, from start to finish, which Collins says is a “higher order of research than what usually gets done on an undergraduate level.” Rubado is compiling an annotated bibliography while they also write various essays on the subject of literature and video games. The two have had their work accepted for the 2014 Humanities Education and Research Conference (HERA) in Washington, DC, and will present their findings in late February. The pair will present their research again at the Undergraduate Research showcase at the end of this semester. If selected as winners at the showcase, they will earn funding to continue presenting their research at national conferences similar to HERA.

In the meantime, however, Collins continues to conduct primary research—playing video games. She’s currently playing the latest version of Tomb Raider, which features more narrative about the development of the main character, Lara Croft. “Just the physical literacy of holding a controller and getting the character to do the things that they need to do in the game is really difficult for me,” she admits.

For Collins, this idea of digital literacy—and illiteracy, she emphasizes—is familiar to her. She recalls living in Japan for a year during her 20s and being unable to read the language. “For the first time in my life, I knew what it felt like to be illiterate, to not be able to read. All of the signs were written in characters as opposed to letters or words, where I might be able to look them up and understand what they meant,” she says. “I simply couldn’t read anything. So I feel now, with trying to become digitally literate in the vocabulary or the literacy of gaming, that I’m having a similar experience.” Collins is focusing some of her writing on this development as they continue their research.

However, she says their research could go on for quite some time as the field continues to grow. Collins notes that a demographics gap exists between younger academics and older academics, who didn’t grow up with the digital literacy skills that younger academics had more access to. “I see it as a field of study that’s going to grow as increasing numbers of people who have experienced this literature come into the academy,” says Collins.

She also notes that, as a genre, video games are bursting with change and popularity. “Video games are evolving now so that they look more like films, and they’re having longer and deeper and more substantial story lines,” she says. Collins believes that, in time, video games will become more prevalent in literature and English studies.

Which is why she is pleased to team up with Rubado for the Undergraduate Student-Faculty Research Program and study this developing field. She says the program not only provides her a unique window into this area of her field, but also provides an opportunity to prepare Rubado for graduate-level work in the future. “He’s making himself an expert in the field, which is an emerging field, so he’s really positioning himself for a fantastic academic career,” she says.

To follow Collins and Rubado’s progress on “Gaming as Literature: Assessing the Literary Value of Modern Day Storytelling” and to view other Undergraduate Research projects, visit