I’m about to start teaching Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte to my Year 12 Extension English class. It is the first time that I have ever taught this novel. I remember reading it when I was a senior in high school. I’ll confess that I was one of those girls who fell in love with the very bad Mr Heathcliff. I reread it at the end of last year, and I’m rereading it again now and I’ll confess again, I still favour Heathcliff over Edgar. Oh, I got off track … moody Gothic novels will do that.
Last Tuesday was my first double period with EE1 – so I turned to YouTube to teach my lesson for me (Oh. My. God. I am so ‘flippin’ trendy!) and I found this great series on the Brontes – In search of the Brontes. We’ve only got through three of the videos so far, but finding out about the early life of the Brontes really got me thinking about young people and creativity today. Those Bronte kids were sheltered from the outside world by a hyper-anxious but well-meaning father. They were super educated, highly literature and extremely creative. I was particularly intrigued by the private imagined world that they created and shared with each other. It was a make-believe world that consumed them … even into ‘adolescence’. Not only did they write stories and tell stories about their two worlds (Angria and Gondol) but they also produced plays, drawings, tiny, tiny books made from wall-paper and sugar bags and enacted the drama in their narratives using dolls and objects found outside of their home on the moors.
These imagined worlds engaged the Brontes even when they were not living at home. It got me thinking about my own children. Characteristic of me, I began to fret that I had not given my boys sufficient time or resources or encouragement to create their own imagined worlds. Why were my highly literate children (both adept at turning a tale in writing – I know, I’ve seen them come home from school … long pages of tiny intensely descriptive writing) not teaming up to create their own worlds in which to play and challenge and experiment? The Brontes spent all of their free time in the minds of their imagined personas … much to the concern of their father. He knew that young girls must prepare for a life as a wife, mother or governess and young boys for a life in the military, academia or the Church. So what do my boys spend their free time doing? Playing Minecraft.
And that’s when I got it. They have created an imagined world where they can play and challenge and experiment and author their own epic narratives.
If you don’t know what Minecraft is, you’d be wise to search it up on YouTube. Here you will find hours and hours of videos in which young children (I have had the experience of mining with a four year old American girl who could barely write yet she had mastered some of the basic Minecraft commands) share their secret imagined worlds, all created using a pick, diamond sword and some blocks. It’s not just the settings they are creating – they are authoring grand narratives as they build. And it’s not just kids doing this, although admittedly childhood is often the genesis of most gamer-lives … check out this Minecraft epic authored entirely within the imagined world Israphel. Don’t forget to see how many views the series has received!
Currently my boys are completely consumed by the evolving narrative of Hungermines on the Massively Minecraft server – a story based on the popular young adult fiction series The Hunger Games by Susan Collins. As a team of (up to) 300, these young miners (between the ages of 6-16) have not only built Panem – including all districts, the Hunger Games arena and the Capitol – they have created the characters and storyline for their own narrative. We adults look on and say ‘they are playing that game again’ but really they are creating an imagined world where only select adults are invited to be participants. It is what most would call a ‘video game’ … but yet it is so much more. The devotion my boys have for the game terrifies me – I try my best to encourage them to create videos of their builds, to write blog posts, to complete the guild quests but they are not interested. They look on my with pitying eyes … as though (as an adult) I am incapable of understanding them and their world. This is their world. This is their story. And it is important.
I am convinced that if the Brontes were alive today they would be just as creative as they were in the early 1800s – their creative output just as startling and considerable – but it would simply take a different form. Narratives are not about the pen and the paper. They are about the imagination, the possibilities, the experimentation, the power, the emotion … Sand-pit games like Minecraft give power to the imaginations of young people who may be limited in the traditional literacies and those who are not. Emily, Charlotte, Anne and Branwell would certainly have found a comfortable home in video games … and I imagine MMOGs would be their favourite.