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Buffalo State Experts: Understanding Importance of Play in Relation to Literature, Life

Buffalo State Experts: Understanding Importance of Play in Relation to Literature, Life

Posted: November 16, 2015

Tim Bryant, assistant professor of English, has long been interested in games. Play is a human need adults don’t necessarily outgrow, he said; it just takes a different form.

And, no, games don’t need a technological component to be fun. Despite the predictions that almost all entertainment will require a videogame controller or occur online, Bryant knows differently. Non-digital gaming is, in fact, growing in popularity.

He pointed to a recent boom in “escape room” adventures, in which a team of friends, family members or co-workers try to escape from a locked room in a storefront establishment by solving a series of puzzles. These physically challenging games focus on problem-solving and team-building. Some have a spy theme or take visitors into “haunted” houses, basements, or elevators.

“When you get rid of the online environment, which seems expansive, you find the human environment is more expansive,” Bryant said.

Two such escape rooms opened in Western New York this fall— the Perplexity Escape Room in Williamsville and Escape Room Buffalo in North Tonawanda. Both charge around $25 for a one-hour experience.

Bryant said this popular trend is just one example of games that tap into the desire for social interaction. And it’s nothing new, he said, if you look back on longtime forms of adult recreation such as historic re-enactments or bar hopping.

“While the bar scene will always be around,” Bryant said, “a lot of people grow out of that and are looking for other ways to connect.”

Other evidence of a desire for real-life connection is reflected in the proliferation of stores and public events that feature board games, card games, and others of the old-fashioned variety. Several comic book and game stores have opened recently in Western New York, which Bryant said is indicative of the need for interactive play from childhood through the retirement years.

Bryant believes play can contribute to learning as well. For instance, in his American novel course, he challenges students to make metaphoric links in Mark Danielewski’s experimental novel House of Leaves while also playing the block-stacking game Jenga.

“It increases motivation,” he said. “Through this exercise, I’ve seen students make the best analysis of literature I’ve seen. When you get students involved in play, they lose some of their anxiety, especially in the context of a classroom led by a literature professor.”

Bryant also has created his own game, Monocle, a combination of Monopoly and Clue that requires players to figure out literary points of view from passages in Robert Coover’s short story “The Babysitter.” During a recent interactive gaming workshop held at The Humanities and Technology (THAT) camp at D’Youville College, seven conference participants played Monocle during a two-hour session.

“I thought it went well,” Bryant said. “They were amused, shocked, and intrigued at different moments.”

To continue to study the cultural and educational significance of play, Bryant is designing a course on literature and play he hopes will be incorporated into the curriculum by fall 2016.

“Plato said you can learn more about a person from one hour of play than from a lifetime of discussions,” he said. “As an educator, I believe students are more apt to take chances and share ideas when it’s under the auspices of play.”

About Tim Bryant
After earning his doctorate in English from the University at Buffalo, Bryant joined the Buffalo State English Department full time in 2012. His areas of expertise include American literature, American Indian literature and ethnic literature, graphic narrative, and speculative fiction, along with the depictions of Jesus and other religious figures in American popular culture since the Civil War, the pseudo-secular self-help movement, and alternate religions often deemed cults. Prior to his teaching career, Bryant worked as a faculty research librarian at the University of Northern Iowa.  

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