Lord of the Rings Online is the subject of a college-level online course that follows Tolkien's narrative across three mediums.
Video games pop up in the world of academia every now and again, being used as tools to teach anything from creative art to Norse folklore. Now you can add narrative studies to that list, as Professor Jay Clayton of Vanderbilt University is teaching a class revolving around Lord of the Rings Online. The six-week class is titled "Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative." It's offered part of the free online education hub Coursera, so while students won't earn any recognized college credit, the course will include university-level lectures from the professor, online seminars, and in-game interactive assignments.
Professor Clayton is a gamer as much as he is an educator, and his lectures reflect that. "I'm a literature professor so I've always been teaching English classes in relation to digital culture," he says. "I believe I began with Myst as the first game I put into an English class." As video games have evolved, so too have his studies: "Online Games" reflects on the strengths and limitations of the novel, film, and video game by observing how Tolkien's story has shifted to fit into each medium.
The course currently ongoing, with more than 40,000 students registered. Not all of those students are likely participating to the fullest, but Clayton doesn't mind. "I'm not so concerned about people mastering a skill or coming away with a specific comprehensive set of knowledge," he says. "It's a class about enhancement. People take the class voluntarily to think more and reflect more."