Who am I?
My name is Jarod Hoeflich and I am a rising Junior at UNH studying English. I have always had a passion for the humanities and English in particular, but I started my time at UNH as a Computer Science major. Having been around computers since I was young, I had a particular interest in coding. I began writing code in my Junior year at Portsmouth High School and decided I would like to pursue it further in college. Nevertheless I found that Computer Science was not a fit for me; while I enjoyed coding and writing my own programs I found the class structure and schedule requirements did not mesh well with my ideal academic experience, prompting my switch to English. At the onset of my college career I had the plan to swap CS for English if I found myself unhappy with the program, which is why I am currently an English major. One of the first English classes I took at UNH was ENGL 657: Shakespeare with Dennis Britton. Having been convinced by two of my friends to switch into the class (and to escape a technical writing course that required I make a resume) I emailed Professor Britton and asked to be let in to his (full) class. I was allowed in to the class and found that I enjoyed it greatly, as both ENGL 657 and my Poetry workshop played key roles in my transition to my current major.
What's my project?
As a part of my ENGL 657 class, students were tasked with selecting quotes from any of Shakespeare's works (that we had read in class) to relate to the UNH student body. The assignment, called "How Now, Widlcats" saw Shakespeare students take their ideas and pitch them to other students in small groups, with the "winning" quotes to be used in a project by said small groups. Those projects created the literary quote decals around the walls of Hamilton Smith (and I'm proud to say that my quote was picked).
My project is an extension of that initial assignment. Professor Britton emailed me towards the end of the semester and asked if I would like to contribute to a 21st Century Shakespeare reference guide; a website to host student submissions and videos relating Shakespeare to the 21st century. It was suggested that I work with the Digital Projects Institute to develop a submission to the website that would go live sometime in the fall of 2019. While working with DPI I developed a Merchant of Venice choose your own adventure game, developed using the program Twine.
Why a game?
The concept for my project went through several iterations, but eventually I landed on some form of game. Originally I had the idea of making an interactive game in a VR setting, but we ran into issues of development time and accessibility. This lead me to Twine, which is a simple HTML-based game creation software that would be accessible to anyone with a web browser.
Shakespeare is often seen as a dense, dry body of literature, with many students begrudgingly forced to read Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet in High School. I wanted to present the information in a way that was accessible to people, providing a new medium for interaction with Shakespeare's text. Video games are an excellent way to engage audiences because the content is brough into the control of the user. Rather than reading the lines from a page the user is able to actively participate in the text; they are steering the narrative in the direction they consider fun. Not only does this serve to democratize the work, it encourages active engagement. Presenting old content in a new format changes the perspective of the audience and enables users to engage with the content how they please.
Choice is central to the body of Shakespeare's literature, with tragic, comic, and even historic plays driven by the choices of characters. Video games interact with choice in an interesting way because it they introduce the idea of controlling choice and time. Putting the choice in the hands of the user introduces a new layer to a text that has been analyzed countless times. While historical context is important in understanding Shakespeare, modern media can introduce new avenues for understanding. In a virtual context one understands the process of the characters, engaging with the text through the eyes of a character rather than an audience.
The Merchant of Venice in particular engages with this idea in an interesting way. The three caskets embody the idea that appearances can be deceptive, as the external does not always align with the internal.