Experience Shakespeare in video game form with Play the Knave, part of the UI First Folio! activities

Play the Knave Game Installation

University of Iowa Main Library — Wednesday, Sept. 7 at noon

Videogame Shakespeare: Collaboration and Creativity in Play the Knave

University of Iowa 109 EPB — Wednesday, Sept. 7 at 5 p.m.

Play the Knave -- image courtesy of the designer
Play the Knave — image courtesy of the designer

“Alright, class—we’re going to read Shakespeare.” Most English teachers have said these words; the more jaded ones brace for the groans and complaints likely to follow. Why? If you look at the basic elements of any Shakespeare play — sex and violence set to well-written poetry — it should be fairly engaging for your average teenager. Viewership numbers on Game of Thrones suggest that sex and violence are still in, and, if skill at putting together a brilliant rhyme was something that only impressed old white men, hip-hop would be as dead as the dinosaurs.

The problem stems from the fact that students spend too much time reading Shakespeare and not enough time doing Shakespeare. Shakespeare is actually surprisingly easy to act, and, when they get up and try it, teens often have a lot of fun and the nerves disperse. Cue Gina Bloom, associate professor of English at the University of California Davis, and her interactive Shakespeare game, Play the Knave.

Play the Knave is basically Shakespeare karaoke. Like other video games, players costume an avatar and pick a background, controlling the motions through a digital camera. Unlike other video games, iambic pentameter comes up on the screen for the player to read aloud. The innovation is useful because it alleviates the fear of looking foolish by diverting attention to the wildly declaiming cartoon figure on the screen.

It also draws in the player’s focus with the narrative illusion of inhabiting a fictional character; rather than feeling self-conscious, students can play with living through the characters. How does King Hal feel when bolstering his discouraged troops before the battle of Agincourt? How does Lady Macbeth experience her own downfall when she finally cracks under pressure? What is it like for Romeo to see Juliet for the first time? We can sit in the classroom and try to divine these things from the text, but, for many students, stepping into the character’s shoes is a lot more useful.

The curious will be able to Play the Knave for themselves on Sep. 7, when Bloom visits the University of Iowa. The installation will begin at noon and open play will run until 5 p.m. Bloom will also be giving a talk on the educational applications of the program, titled Videogame Shakespeare: Collaboration and Creativity in Play the Knave. The talk begins at 5 p.m. in room 109 of the University’s English-Philosophy Building.

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