Playing to Learn: Clemson’s Gaming Across The Curriculum Initiative

By Jan Holmevik and Cynthia Haynes

In the spring semester of 2009, the English department at Clemson University launched a research project with the goal of finding examples of how games are inflecting our pedagogical landscape.* Building on the proven value of writing across the curriculum (WAC) and Clemson's national reputation as a leader of the WAC movement, we suggest that it is as important to understand that not only do we learn by writing, we learn by playing. Thus, gaming across the curriculum (GAC) is the next logical framework within which a powerful learning tool may be implemented across the curriculum. The linchpin of our initiative is delineated in the following operational definition:

"Gaming Across the Curriculum (GAC) is a scholarly initiative that will identify current uses of computer games and virtual worlds in academia, as well as suggest avenues for further research into pedagogical gaming."

We have made contact with most departments within the university, and have contacts with other universities in the U.S. and abroad (including IT-University of Copenhagen, Georgia Tech, University of Bergen, Norway). In addition to learning about what types of games/virtual worlds are being used in academia and how they are being used, another one of our primary goals is to help cultivate scholarly interdepartmental dialogue on the subject--to help facilitate productive discourse on the subject. Examples of GAC practices include:

English/RCID/Professional Communication

  • Visual communication classes at undergraduate and graduate levels have sometimes involved Second Life, World of Warcraft, and other games for the purpose of studying avatars, designing and recreating historical spaces (Virginia Woolf world in SL), social interactions in games, collaboration, and procedural rhetoric.
  • The RCID PhD program conducts a twice-monthly colloquium on Serious Games during which members give game demos, discuss research projects, read scholarship in games studies for discussion, collaborate on game design projects, create machinima videos, and so forth.
  • Cynthia Haynes taught a course in RCID in Serious Design, sections of which dealt with gaming. Jan Holmevik taught a course in Game Theory and Design in RCID.
  • Cynthia Haynes delivered a talk on "Avatar Nation" at Clemson in Fall 2008 (this was based on her invited lecture at Univ of Texas-Austin in October 2008).
  • Jan Holmevik is guest editing an issue of Pre/Text journal on "Serious Games, Rhetoric, and Virtual Worlds" due out fall 2010.
  • Some sections of ENG 103 are taught with a theme of "Rhetoric of Entertainment: Sports, Music, and Gaming." And some will be pilot sections focused on teaching argumentative writing using role-playing games.
  • Haynes and Holmevik spoke (in February) to the Teaching with Technology Community facilitated by Barbara Weaver.
  • Haynes and Holmevik launched a GAC Blog, which adds to the Serious Games Blog and Facebook group already established. In addition, they established a Special Interest Group (SIG) at the annual CCCC (Conference on College Composition and Communication) in 2008, and announced the GAC initiative at this year's conference on March 13, 2009.
  • Plans are in the works for a Clemson GAC meeting in Spring 2010 to gauge interest at Clemson and involve campus projects and faculty currently teaching with games.
  • Haynes and Holmevik have been invited to guest edit a special issue of Currents in Electronic Literacy, an online journal published by the Digital Writing and Research Lab (DWRL) at UT-Austin. The call for papers is below this article.

Health Education and Human Development

  • Template-type games are being used to facilitate class discussions and team-based research. These games are also being used as reinforcement for the concepts being emphasized in-class.
  • Professors are building new games based on established models like as Jeopardy, Monopoly, Let's Make a Deal, Who Wants to be a Millionaire.
  • Some subject matter being delivered through these games: community health nursing, psychiatric nursing, research methods, nursing theory, and transcultural nursing.
  • Some online applications are being used to instruct in triage theory.
  • iClickers are being used for audience-participation (class-participation) games.
  • Instructors at Clemson have been selected to present at national academic conferences based on their implementation of games in health care instruction.

Chemistry & Engineering

  • Interactive flash-based applications/simulations are being developed at Clemson under an NSF grant for online instruction in the sciences.

Biological Sciences

  • Professors are having their students use Stella software to model metabolic reactions, population genetics, and thermodynamic reactions.
  • Students are using software to experiment with/model their own individual metabolic processes, including various weight-gain/loss simulations.
  • Students are using gamelike simulations to help the students understand the menstrual cycle.
  • As a "rainy day" substitute for an outdoor lab, biology students use an interactive simulation on predation-where they get to play the part of a shark!-to assist in their understanding of coastal ecosystems in South Carolina

Forestry & Natural Resources

  • Population biology simulations are being used in class instruction.

Excerpt from the RCID Blog (

On Tuesday, October 20, 2009, a group of 11 RCID students, 2 MAPC students, Jan Holmevik, and Cynthia Haynes, attended the much anticipated reprise of the 1999 Digital Arts and Culture Conference debate between Espen Aarseth and Janet MurrayIan Bogost of Georgia Tech organized and moderated the session, which included talks by Aarseth (IT-University of Copenhagen), Murray (Georgia Tech), and Fox Harrell, Assistant Professor of Digital Media in their School of Literature, Communication, and Culture. The debate, billed as "How to Think about Narrative and Interactivity," revisited the historical conflict between narratology and ludology launched at the ‘99 DAC conference at Georgia Tech. Aside from Aarseth and Murray, Haynes and Holmevik were the only other attendees present at the ‘99 event. View the video of last week's roundtable session (note how the RCID contingent filled half the room!). See the post on Ian Bogost's blog about the event.

Jan Holmevik and Espen Aarseth at Georgia Tech colloquium  Clemson RCID students at Georgia Tech colloquium

Jan Holmevik (Clemson University) with Espen Aarseth (IT University of Copenhagen) and the Clemson RCID contingent at Georgia Tech's colloquium on How to Think about Narrative and Interactivity.

For more information on the Gaming Across the Curriculum initiative, contact Cynthia Haynes at or Jan Holmevik at You may also find the below links interesting and helpful:

For those interested in possibly submitting a paper proposal for Currents in Electronic Literacy, the Call for Papers follows:

Currents in Electronic Literacy (ISSN 1524-6493) solicits article-length submissions related to the theme below. Submissions are due by February 1, 2010. Please consult our Submission Guidelines

Spring 2010 issue: "Gaming-Across-the-Curriculum: Playing as a Way of Learning"

"Gaming Across the Curriculum (GAC) is a scholarly initiative that will identify current uses of computer games and virtual worlds in academia, as well as suggest avenues for further research into pedagogical gaming" (GAC Blog

This issue of Currents in Electronic Literacy will feature games created by students and faculty, best practices of the use of computer games in teaching, articles that theorize play and pedagogy, innovative approaches to cross-disciplinary collaboration using computer games, frameworks for GAC white papers, and so forth. The editors solicit articles, games (with instructions and background), GAC curriculum designs, and other forms of scholarly treatments of "gaming across the curriculum."

It is the policy of Currents in Electronic Literacy that all published contributions must meet the W3C accessibility standards. While all Currents articles are accessible, readers are advised that these same articles may contain links to other Web sites that do not meet accessibility guidelines. All submissions should adhere to MLA style guidelines for citations and documentation. Currents reserves all copyrights to published articles and requires that all of its articles be housed on its Web server.

Contact: Guest Editors for GAC issue: Jan Holmevik ( and Cynthia Haynes ( or

(*) Portions of this report were compiled by GAC Team members Sean Callot and Mike Hovan.

Jan Holmevik is assistant professor in the Department of English at Clemson University.

Cynthia Haynes is associate professor in the Department of English at Clemson University.

Sean Callot is a recent graduate of the Department of English Professional Communication Program and continues to help with the Gaming Across the Curriculum initiative.

Mike Hovan is a graduate student in the Department of English Professional Communication Program.

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