“A cutscene or event scene (sometimes in-game cinematic or in-game movie) is a sequence in a video game that is not interactive, breaking up the gameplay. Such scenes could be used to show conversations between characters, to the player, set the mood, reward the player, introduce new gameplay elements, show the effects of a player’s actions, create emotional connections, improve pacing or foreshadow future events.”
One of my favorite cutscenes of all time comes from the first-ever Ninja Gaiden, released for the original Nintendo Entertainment System way back in 1988. For those of you who’ve never played the game before, here’s 75 seconds of game-inspired Professional Development:
ALL. OF. THE. FEELS.
And if you’ll kindly allow me to walk you these same 75 seconds as seen through the vivid memories of a six-year-old child:
“Whoah! It’s night time!” (0:05)
“And these guys are RUNNING!” (0:07)
“Red Guy is running and Grey Guy is running too!! They’re angry!” (0:12)
“OH MAN THEY’RE JUMPING NOW!!! IS THIS HOW NINJAS FIGHT!?!” (0:16)
“AAAHHHH BRIGHT FLASHING SCREEN!!! THIS GAME IS SO COOL!!! I WANT TO BE A NINJA!!!” (0:20)
“Why is this music sad?” (0:23)
“THE RED GUY FELL DOWN!!!! NOOOOOOO!!!! I LOVE THE RED GUY!!!!” (0:27)
“GREY GUY IS A BAD GUY!!!” (0:28)
Can’t quite understand all of the words on the screen (“whom,” “duel,” etc.)… but I see the word “father.” And music sounds really sad… (0:29 – 0:39)
Blue guy is reading a letter. No idea who blue guy is. No idea what it says (I’m six, remember). (0:39-0:44)
More words I can’t understand. Close up shot of ninja dragon sword. “THAT’S COOL I WANT ONE!!!” (0:45-1:08)
“OH MAN BLUE GUY IS ANGRY! BLUE GUY IS ME?!?! I HAVE A SWORD!?! WHERE IS THAT GREY NINJA!?! (1:09)
Look at how powerful a simple combination of moving images and well-selected music can be at hooking a new player’s attention. Seventy five seconds, and I’m completely sold on this game. No idea what I’m supposed to do, but eager to play the role of blue guy ninja with his super cool dragon sword and thrilled at the prospect of spending countless hours, days, or WEEKS of my time chasing down the Grey Guy ninja who killed the Red Guy ninja that even my six-year-old brain could tell you must have been my video game dad.
In the classroom, then —
The simple fact of the matter is that 21st century teachers are constantly competing for kids’ increasingly shortened attention spans in a 24/7 world of extraneous noise and information overload. While there’s something to be said for old-fashioned instruction that rewards patient, deliberate work over time — how much would it really hurt to lose 2 minutes or less at the outset of a new activity, course, or unit of study to help help “hook” our students’ interest?
(For the gamification naysayers: I will be the first to admit that it’s both alarming and incredibly elementary that teachers are forced to compete for our kids’ attention. But a paper-based version of this very same edutainment approach already exists in those big, splashy pages of images that you’ll typically find at the start of each new chapter in printed textbooks. Or in the standby teacher trick of color coding all of the handouts for each new entire unit of study in the same color).
So why not take advantage of some totally free and easy to use technology to introduce a new “chapter” or “unit” of your class with a tailor-made cutscene or trailer of your own? Way back before smartphones could do the same stuff even better and for free, I remember spending hours tweaking a homemade trailer using my Macbook and iMovie for a half year Film Studies elective course I first had the privilege of teaching in the Fall of 2013.
By pairing striking visuals with a good mix of mystery and the familiar, the trailer takes the audience on an emotional roller coaster before the course has even begun — and goes a long way in winning a skeptic’s good graces and buy-in, even if they aren’t exactly sure they’ve understood everything they’ve just seen.
Today, 21st century technology makes creating your own mini-movies as simple as drag-and-dropping photos into your smartphone in literally five minutes or less. And if five minutes worth of time spent creating a trailer that’s enough to win the sustained attention of 20+ students for the duration of a three week unit?
John Meehan (@MeehanEDU) is an English teacher and school instructional coach at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia. He began his teaching career in 2010 as a career switcher through The New Teacher Project, after spending five years working in social media and event marketing. He is a 2017 ASCD Emerging Leader, and an alumnus of the 2016-2018 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council. In 2016, he was named one of Arlington, Virginia’s “40 Under 40” by the Leadership Center for Excellence. He is a past presenter and regular attendee at educational conferences throughout the United States, including the annual conference for National Catholic Education Association, ASCD Empower19, and the Play Like a Champion Today: Character Education Through Sports summer conference at the University of Notre Dame. He’s an avid runner who’s completed more than three dozen marathons, half marathons, long-distance road relays, mud runs, and obstacle course races. John lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.
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