Mystery at the Library: Middle Georgia State English Grad Pens Educational Video Game Script

Author: Sheron Smith
Posted: Friday, February 12, 2016 4:00 AM
Categories: College of Arts and Sciences | Students | Pressroom

Macon, GA

The sign above the outside door - "Edison Library of Finer Arts and Science" - is surprisingly intact, considering the damage the fire left.

Parts of the building's blackened roof are caved in. Smoke curls from the rubble. Inside, shelves are emptied of most books, desks and chairs are overturned, computers are smashed.

Who is the perpetrator?

It's up to Middle Georgia State University students engaged in a video role-playing game now under development to find out.

Jamila Brooks of Macon, who graduated from Middle Georgia State last spring with a B.A. in English, is the primary author of the game narrative, designed to help students learn how to use library resources. In rich, goosebump-raising detail, the storyline leads players on a hunt for the vandal/arsonist/book thief: "It was a chilly evening," the script begins, "and the Edison Library of Finer Arts and Science was crammed with students studying for finals. Little did they know that beneath them there grew an anger born from an age-old wrong."

As they encounter a distraught librarian, sinister otherworldly figures and secret rooms, students learn how to search for information via keywords and evaluate research sources, among other things.

At Middle Georgia State, Brooks, 24, is a pioneer in the increasingly interdisciplinary art of creating role-playing video games. She is also Exhibit A for anyone looking for examples of how tech-world career options are opening up to liberal arts majors. In game development, IT majors know the technology but often struggle to come up with narratives. That's where storytellers like Brooks come in.

"Information Technology students focus on graphics and programming," said Dr. Myungjae Kwak, assistant professor of IT, who is mentoring Brooks in various game development projects. "Somebody needs to think about the overall story. Jamila’s work shows that creativity can be used anywhere.”

A writer since childhood - she pens poetry and plays and completed a novel at age 18 - Brooks came to Kwak's attention through the recommendation of Dr. Karmen Lenz, associate professor of English.

A couple of years ago, Brooks took one of Lenz’s literature classes. An optional creative project was to develop a role-playing tale based on characters in J.R.R. Tolkien's "Simarillion." Brooks took on the challenge and built a story around Aredhel, the brave mother of Maeglin.

"She made changes to the storyline to heighten Aredhel's heroic characteristics that ring true with literary tradition," Lenz said. "I was and continue to be impressed with Jamila’s creativity, her flexibility necessary for artistic collaboration and her professionalism."

Brooks was close to completing her English degree when Lenz recommended her to Kwak to assist with game development. She continued to participate after her graduation, working script-writing around her assistant director's job at a daycare center and her plans for graduate studies at Iowa State University.

"It's a fabulous experience, something I never thought I'd be doing," Brooks said. "It's challenging and makes you use a different part of your brain. You're writing a story for somebody else to analyze. You have to keep the programmer in mind."

Take the library game script. It’s 24 pages of well-developed storyline that, as described in a summary, includes "character commentary, detailed rules for mini-game activities and a play-by-play of what occurs in each act."

Collaborating with Brooks on the game are Kwak; Dana Casper and Chris Nylund, both Middle Georgia State librarians; and Sarah Hollifield, Caleb Talmage and Joshua Holland, all students or recent grads in IT who are doing the programming. The teamwork has proven so successful that Brooks and some of the others have presented papers on the project at regional and national conferences.

According to Lenz, Brooks has taken the lead coordinating the growing collaboration between the English department and the School of IT. She is even mentoring a current Middle Georgia State English major, Taylor Paul, who is writing a script for a Georgia history role-playing video game aimed at middle-schoolers.

Brooks remains interested in a conventional writing career. But she is grateful for the opportunities new media is giving her to practice her craft.

“No matter what,” she said, "it's still creative writing."