A U. Connecticut professor is using online role-playing exercises to immerse students in the bardic tradition, this courtesy of an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Professor Roger Travis required students to play virtual reality games one term, and to engage with each other via Google Wave more recently, as assignments for Classics & Ancient Mediterranean Studies (CAMS) 3208, a "course about the Greek historians Herodotus and Thucydides that first ran in the Fall semester of 2009."
This blog post (on the LOTRO Reporter -- that's Lord of the Rings Online) gives a well-linked intro for those who'd like to dive in. For the rest, here's a sound-byte culled from Professor Travis's video introduction to his course: "adventure games, I realized, really did reawaken the ancient Homeric epic tradition, above all because they were participatory [...] the adventure video games allow the player to improvise his or her own course through the story in the same way that the bards, the Homeric bards, improvised their way through the stories they were telling to ancient Greek audience."
You can learn more than you might be able to digest re: Prof. Travis's practomimetic pedagogy by checking out his own blog.
I'm not optimistic about the improvised stories of university undergrads rising to levels as compelling as the tales Homer left us, but that's hardly the point. Prof. Travis is assigning exercises to predispose his students to understand an unfamiliar frame of mind, to shake loose modern sensibilities dulled by passive consumption of culture.
Travis asserts (in the CHE article): "You cannot understand Latin without understanding Roman culture. This is the best way I have ever found to actually get my students to pay attention to Roman culture."
I think this is pretty intriguing, but I have just about zero gaming experience by which to gauge Travis's claims. Any gamers out there who care to comment? Any diehard bibliophiles who want to stake a claim that technological tomfoolery can't possibly illuminate the holiest touchstones of literary culture?
P.S. Here's a propaganda break. The question of 'passive consumption of culture' gives me a great excuse to mention one of my favorite socio-political-techno discourses of all time, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander -- highly recommended reading.