My fellow teachers:
I am penning this letter to voice my vehement opposition to the adoption of the video game “World of Wollstonecraft” by the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District. This product, developed by Norton Critical Editions Interactive, purports to be an “educational aid,” one that “makes reading eighteenth-century proto-feminist treatises fun again.” But having spent several days (and nights) playing it, I can report, unequivocally, that it is none of these things.
“World of Wollstonecraft” posits players in a vividly rendered, albeit deeply anachronistic version of eighteenth-century Europe. Equipped with a wide array of tools such as books, quills, composing sticks, and, improbably, enchanted one- and two-handed axes, students must battle their way toward various scholarly and/or occult objectives.
When customizing their avatars, players can choose from among any number of eighteenth-century classes and professions — rural peasant, laborer, urchin, pauper, serf, and Grand Master Alchemist to name only a few — along with a variety of races, which, again, tend to defy historical authenticity as least as far as the presence of Night Elves goes.
The gameplay itself is strangely violent. Players frequently find themselves engaged in gory, soul-rending PvP combat. Granted, the epoch in question saw the fighting of several bloody continental wars, to say nothing of the French Revolution, but the Army of the Back Dragon? The unholy conquests of Archimonde the Defiler? None of that shows up in any reputable military history of the period.
And more to the point, what does any of this have to do with Mary Wollstonecraft? As near as I can tell, the author of Thoughts on the Education of Daughters appears only once in the entire game, and commanding the Shadowtooth Dark Trolls during the Battle for Mount Hyjal at that. The subsequent cinematic in which she issues a “Vindication of the Rights of Orcs” has no literary merit whatsoever.
Another issue: regarding the team quest “The Infernal Dungeon of Paine,” I have it on good authority that Thomas Paine had neither an infernal dungeon, nor the ability to cast a “Common Sense/Mind Flay” spell.
And while I’m back on the subject of historicity, I might add that minarchist philosopher William Godwin would not be that hard to beat in real life. It took me like five times.
Some of my fellow educators have tried to convince me that the use of Wollstonecraft-like games in schools is becoming increasingly common. Fran Levy, who teaches English at Strath Haven High School, told me she’s been using the game “Virginia Woolfenstein 3D” for years to help illustrate both the interwar flowering Modernist literature as well as the shootability of Nazis. Whatever happened to a little thing called teaching?
One cannot deny that “World of Wollstonecraft” is engrossing in its own way. (Though after one spends ten straight hours organizing a raid on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein fortress, one’s wife may try to make such an argument.) However, its entertainment value is undeniably spawned, as it were, by its lack of educational substance.
In the end, it may be the case that today’s teenagers simply do not care about Enlightenment-era literature the way that our generation did. They seem to feel that the works of luminaries such as Voltaire and Hume don’t feature gratuitous amounts of grisly, sorcery-fueled violence. Maybe they’re right. But as long as I’m an English teacher — as long as I have the power to foist my own personal sense of the canon of English literature on the lives of apathetic young people — I will continue to fight these so-called educational video games with everything I have.
At least until “Grand Theft Ottoman Empire” comes out. That looks pretty sweet.