Survive or Thrive, high stakes in Mr. Swindells’ classroom


Aidan Simon

Students in Mr. Swindells’ classroom participate in a classroom activity with a long standing tradition.

TOWAMENCIN – When you were a kid, everything in your life was filled with imagination; perhaps you had an imaginary friend or two or made up random characters simply for the fun of it. Sometimes, we have to remember that school doesn’t have to be all work and no play, or that our imaginations have to leave us as we mature. In the English department, in the backdrop of all the hard work, many students gather to write and imagine for the fun of it.

In Creative Writing and English teacher Mr. Scott Swindells’ classroom, students showcase their writing talents by competing in a game called Survive. The challenge is to write the most exciting character story, and to survive being voted out of the game by fellow students. Often the stakes are a few weeks or months of good writing, but the stimulus of the game is a reward all its own.

“Survive is a group writing activity where students participate anonymously as characters in a shared story. No one knows which character is being written by each student. A chapter is due every other class day, after which the students vote for the strongest and weakest characters,” Swindells explained. 

The Survive game then continues into the next day. 

“Then, on the following day, the winner of the chapter writes a wrap-up, tying together any loose ends from the individual characters’ different perspectives, ending the chapter, and possibly introducing some material that will be considered canonical for the storyline. In the wrap-up, the strongest character writes the death of the weakest character(s), who is(are) eliminated from the game and then must reveal their identity(ies) to the class. The game continues until there is only one winner voted by the class, and that person gets to write the final wrap-up, ending the game as the champion,” Swindells said.

Many players team up during the game, with their characters forming some kind of beneficial relationship. These secret alliances that are hidden from the general class can easily be used to generate stronger stories for each player. 

t has an incredible creative outlet not just for writing, but any other artistic form. We have made songs, drawings, memes, photo edits, videos, puns, and raps within the game.

— Kathleen McGill, NPHS senior

It has an incredible creative outlet not just for writing, but any other artistic form. We have made songs, drawings, memes, photo edits, videos, puns, and raps within the game.  Oftentimes I struggle with writer’s block, but in Survive, the possibilities are endless. Yes, there’s times it’s stressful…you almost get eliminated, you discover a ton of plot holes, or the class gets bored of your character, but it’s always possible to find a way around that,” North Penn senior Kathleen McGill remarked.

The game’s origin goes back to 2007-2008 when Swindells had asked if he could find a use for Wikispaces for an assignment in his Creative Writing class, when former NPHS student Dan Sackett had come up with the first rules for Survive, many of which stand today. Swindells’ class then slowly developed Sackett’s ideas further as a group.

Today, with changing technology, the game has moved to Google Sites, with the students voting for characters on Google Forms, and it has been played every year since.

On the best part of the game, Swindells brought up the many different playstyles of each class, and how each one had a unique way of writing their characters, incorporating details from other characters, and voting off potential threats.

The best thing about Survive is all the connections formed, both with the class and within the story. As everyone is anonymous (for the most part) all our writing could be shared without any feeling of judgment or fear. Through collaborating with other characters, you get to talk to other people you have rarely talked to before, and afterwards, the entire class becomes much closer, and Survive allusions are inevitable for the rest of the year,“ McGill mentioned.