Video Games, Textuality, and Community: This Post is Not Self-Indulgent at All

In the spirit of Henry Jenkins’ collective intelligence, I’m posting cumulative thoughts about video games and pedagogy based on discussions I’ve had in the past year with several people (including Kory, Nathan, and others).  Their ideas, along with my own, have become so wiki-fied in my head that I find myself not being able to formally attribute them to specific entities.  Huzzah.

James Paul Gee and Ian Bogost seem to be so hopeful in terms of using video games as effective learning tools that I find myself wanting to step back to tend to the reservations expressed by crusaders of conventional pedagogy.  Gee (the person, not the exclamation), in his introduction, does touch upon what he acknowledges as tired debates over sex and violence in video games (10-11).  To his own arguments, I would add that, at certain historical moments, other “new” media such as the novel (17th-18th centuries), film (1920s), and comic books (1950s) went through a similar baptisms of fire that have since subsided.  There have also been many proponents who advocate more scientific support for video games in their usefulness in honing our sensory and motor skills.  What I’d like to address is video games’ less talked about (at least in mainstream media) aspects of textuality and community.  For this purpose, I will be using games to use specific examples–playing these games has taken a great deal of time, but I am willing to do so in the name of research.

Perhaps the most unspoken concern we have over video games is in its textuality.  What I mean by textuality here encompasses what Gee refers to as semiotic domains, or “any set of practices that recruits one or more modalities to communicate distinctive types of meanings” (18).  We have, until very recently, been conditioned to be receivers of messages and consumers of texts.  Our anxieties, then, come in the video game as dynamic text.  When we read or watch Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, for instance, we must accept [spoiler alert!] their suicides [end spoiler].  On the other hand, when we play a game like Five Minutes to Kill Yourself, we have choices in what happens to the protagonist (an avatar of ourselves).  Do we staple him in the chest?  Do we put his head in the shredder?  Or do we not commit in any act that would lead to his suicide?  The choices are potentially limitless when it comes to interactive texts, and that’s what scares us–the demise of our fixed-text fetish, in which we can no longer canonise, nor be literally or figuratively “on the same page.”  But instead of treating this evolution of textuality as the impending doom of culture, perhaps what we should do is figure out a way to change culture.

Community (and Learning)
Gee also identifies the idea of affinity groups, in which participants “recognise certain ways of thinking, acting, interacting, valuing, and believing as more or less typical of people who are ‘into’ the [particular] semiotic domain” (27).  As I’m playing the game Final Fantasy XIII, I frequent the Gamefaqs online message board wherein the community participates in several heated debates that may be mistaken for a waste of time.  But these debates have real world analogues.  Perhaps the most prevalent debate is on whether or not this series has changed too much over the years, with one camp calling on producers to bring things back to the way they were, and the other embracing radical changes–much like the direction of real world politics in the polarisation of society.  Hence, much of it is nonsensical celebration or disdain, but every now and then there are those who come in and make the rhetorical move of “hey, let’s talk about this seriously.”  Here, community members not only engage in civic discourse, their voices also impact the producers actions–arguably less or more than real world lawmakers.  There are more direct lines of learning too, in social justice issues that arise from the game, such as religion, class, sexual orientation, and discrimination thereof.

I could go on and on, but I think that’s enough for this space.


One comment on “Video Games, Textuality, and Community: This Post is Not Self-Indulgent at All

  1. Great notes on community! I absolutely agree. I had a friend in college who become close with his buddies from WoW, and he even drove to Arizona to hang out with a few people he met online. I especially like your point about civic discourse; guilds often have a code of conduct and a hierarchy that mirrors exclusive public spheres of academic and legislature. Of course, all I know about guilds is from Felicia Day’s genius webseries, The Guild, but I enjoy how everyday peeps get to play politics and civics in a way only the elite do.

    P.S. I don’t know how to do hyperlinks without the button, so here’s the link to the series:

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