Playful Shakespeare: games, drama and literature in education

Lead Research Organisation: Institute of Education
Department Name: Culture, Communication and Media


This project is a collaboration between the Institute of Education, Shakespeare's Globe, and Immersive Education. Its main objective is to develop an authoring tool which children and young people can use to make their own 3-D computer games adapted from Shakespeare plays. The purpose of this is threefold. Firstly, it provides the possibility for young people to encounter Shakespeare in a cultural environment familiar to them. Secondly, it offers new ways to approach the teaching of Shakespeare, building on recent research which identifies similarities between computer games and educational drama. Like theatre (and Shakespeare's Globe in particular, perhaps), games construct an imaginary world, peopled with fictional representations of human agency (avatars), whose movements and actions can be structured both around narrative sequences and around player choices. The alternative routes available to players will allow the young game designers to consider how choices (social, moral, strategic) are open to Shakespeare's characters: should Prospero visit revenge on Ferdinand, or allow him to love Miranda? Should Hamlet kill Claudius at prayer or defer his revenge? Should Oberon release Titania from her cruel enchantment, or enjoy her misfortune a little longer? The authoring tool will allow young designers to construct something very like a theatrical interpretation of the play, with characters, sets, script and actions; but a play which its audience can interact with.

This project is a short pilot, using The Tempest as the basis for a trial. A pack of assets will be created for the game authoring package Missionmaker (Immersive Education). It will be tested by an Advanced Skills Teachers in English, Drama and Media, with a group of students from a Year 8 class in a secondary school. The results of the trial will be presented by the students and debated by teachers, Shakespeare specialists, researchers, publishers and game designers, at a seminar at Shakespeare's Globe. The outcomes will be published as an academic article and an article for the professional journal of the National Association for the Teaching of English.

If successful, the team will explore the possibility of further game-authoring kits for young people to make adaptations of other Shakespeare plays, as well as other works of English literature which might benefit from this approach, such as Beowulf, Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and Tennyson's Lady of Shalott.

Planned Impact

The impact of the project is envisaged in four sectors.
1. The Shakespeare education sector. Theatres and heritage projects seek to engage young people in the work of shakespeare through practical engagements with the physical and artistic work of theatre. Technology already plays a role in theatre. Computer games have many points of similarity with theatrical form and narrative, and this project provides a new approach to engaging young people, with a range of practical possible consequences (eg game designs projected and played at the Globe, the RST and other theatres).
2. English, Drama and Media teachers. This approach allows for a practical exploration of the fictional world of Shakespeare plays through the virtual worlds and avatar-based action of computer games. It allows for innovative exploration of traditional themes: narrative, character, location, language; but prompts reading 'against the grain', from a ludic perspective. At the same time, it revisits traditional areas of the Drama and Media curricula from a new perspective.
3. Publishers. The Cambridge Schools' Shakespeare already pays close attention to film adaptations of Shakespeare's plays, alongside notable theatre interpretations. To add computer games, a cultural form which has exploded in popularity over the late 20th century and early 21st, would allow for new questions about meaning, structure, text, drama, and culture to be explored.
4. The games industry. Game developers and publishers have often been criticised for adhering to safe popular formats and scenarios, such as contemporary urban warfare or gangster themes in shooting and adventure games, or Tolkien-themed worlds and narratives in role-playing games. In doing so, they may be missing the rich possibilities contained in the 'back catalogue' of English literature. This project opens a space for discussion of the cultural, even commercial possibilities of such a move.
The routes through to such impacts are planned into the project in the form of advisers, partners and invitees to the dissemination seminar. Representatives of research, education, publishing and the games industry are included in this way.
Furthermore, the Institute of Education is a member of the Knowledge Exchange consortium Culture Capital Exchange, and a partner in the AHRC creativeworks London Knowledge Exchange hub. These mechanisms will enable specific pursuit of future collaborations in London.


10 25 50
Description That the use of a game-authoring software to make games adapted from Shakespeare's Macbeth provided new insights into the narrative, characters and themes of the play for teenage students.
Exploitation Route Schools might use the approach adopted here in literature courses, particularly those featuring Shakespeare texts.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description They have been used by educators in secondary school settings for the teaching of Shakespeare.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

Description Software development collaboration 
Organisation Immersive Education Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution I collaborated with Immersive Education to develop a game-authoring software for Shakespeare plays as part of this project.
Collaborator Contribution The company developed the software tool.
Impact The company went into receivership in 2013, and my university acquired its assets. Since then we have built on these assets to develop new versions of the software in further R&D work, including the Playing Beowulf Digital Transformations project, 2015.
Start Year 2012
Description Creativity, Literacy and the Digital Rhapsode 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Keynote talk for CREATE centre for research in creativity in education, University of Sydney.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
Description The Digital Rhapsode: Literature, Creativity and Game Design 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact National Association for the Teaching of English Annual conference, November 2020, keynote address: 'The Digital Rhapsode: Literature, Creativity and Game Design'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021