Lesson Plan: Teaching Research with Sam Barlow’s Her Story

Distorted image of the main character from the game Her Story.

Usually when video games appear in the college classroom, they are objects of analysis. We critique them as if they were a book or a movie. But, in teaching their content, we rob them of their pedagogic potency. Games facilitate play, and by offering teachers new and unfamiliar decision spaces, games can be used to support and expand how we teach writing and research.

This lesson uses Sam Barlow‘s 2015 game, Her Story, to help students master the core skills of research. The game presents players nothing more than a database of short, fragmented videos drawn from several police interviews. Players have access to a simple search engine that answers any query with only five entries. This technical limitation forces players to carefully construct their research questions in order to piece together the game’s narrative.

Learning Objectives

This lesson hopes to provide students with a crash course in research fundamentals without boring them to tears. By the end of the experience, students should be able to synthesize huge amounts of data, form research questions, and deliver an argument supported by specific evidence.

Along the way students will develop several important research skills:

  • Time Management
  • Effective Note-Taking
  • Executive Decision Making and Delegation
  • Assignment Length

    Four 50 minute sessions or three 75 minute sessions.

  • Required Materials

    One computer and copy of game for every group of five students.

  • Skills Necessary

    Students and teachers must have the ability to install the software and store save game files from one session to the next.

Access and Adaptability

Her Story includes English subtitles. The play of the game is “turn-based” which lends itself to collaborative play. The game does feature some descriptions of domestic violence.

Screen capture from the game with subtitles displayed.

Assignment Description

Over the course of four sessions, students will play the game Her Story in small groups. They will be asked to synthesize a huge amount of information which will force them both to take notes and to constantly adjust their note-taking process while improving their research technique.

Skills Workshop

This lesson plan offers teachers a way to easily integrate a digital text into their course design without requiring extended skills workshops or elaborate deliverables. That said, instructors may wish to expand their engagement with Her Story by incorporating supplementary lessons and software. Two options are presented below.

Depending on the classroom resources, teachers may be able to offer instruction in note-taking software such as Microsoft’s free note-taking program OneNote, Evernote, or even Google Docs.

Her Story provides an ideal proving ground for students to test their mastery of note-taking software. Instructors could even assign each group a different program and then compare the usefulness of each.

A sample of a student's notes taken while playing Her Story.

Assessment Suggestions

Instructors can create a wide range of capstone assignments to this lesson. In the past both formal papers and in class debates have been productive.

Her Story ends with two questions. Each group must answer these questions by the end of the final session. Then pair off each group against one another and have each group trade answers with its partner group.

Before he next class meeting, groups will prepare both an opening statement and a list of evidence in support of their position as well as a short list of rebuttals for the group they were paired with. In a series of short presentations, each group must present their argument and be questioned by the opposing group.

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