Playing Into Video Games and the Composing Process

My first experience playing a video game started out as being fun, then exploratory, then pitiable. I honestly do not know how old I was when I played Crash Bandicoot (1996) for the  Sony Playstation, but I do remember rage quitting and crying with frustration whenever I troll_8.jpgcould not get passed the second level; I used to have nightmares about the main character Crash dying.  Looking back, I guess my constantly trying to get passed the second level and the subsequent rage quit indicated how
immersed I was in playing the game.

I found Colby and Colby’s (2008) article and Alberti (2008) article interesting because of the recurring topic of play, which I think is the core purpose of a video game. These authors write about play and its application to reading and writing pedagogy.  Alberti seems to lean toward play and reading, but Colby and Colby’s article attracted me the most because of their theories on play and writing pedagogy in particular.

Colby and Colby suggest that “gameplay becomes an important part of the invention process” (310). When I was playing video games, I had to go through lots of discovery, trial, and error in order to build a gameplay learning experience.  In relation to the authors’ aforementioned claim about what gameplay entailed, it occurred to me that part of the invention process when beginning to write something is the playing involved.  That is, students have to formulate, adjust, and go through trial and error with their ideas.  During the process of invention, students are discovering things—what works, what does not, and what needs to be done in order to progress.  While I did not have to go through an invention process, in my conquest to get through the first level of Crash Bandicoot, I had discovered many things: square holes in the ground meant that I had to jump over them to proceed otherwise I would die, boxes held “wumpa fruit” that I could collect and if I collected 100 I could earn an extra life, enemies would be in my way, and I had to time my spins or jump on them in order to kill them or else I would be killed.  While I could have just read through the instructional booklet (I did not do so before playing), now I do not regret it because going in blind allowed me to discover, explore, and fully immerse myself in the game (until I started rage quitting.)  I feel that I had a richer learning experience this way.  I can imagine that “going in blind” in a video game is similar to the state student writers go through when first given an assignment prompt because going in blind forces students to go through  the processes of invention and discovery—they need to play—in order to proceed.  Playing then, in the world video games and composition, is a tool players and students use as a way into the task before them.

Alberti claims that there is a “game of reading and writing” (p.268) and within the game of reading and writing, there has to be some sort of play involved.  Colby and Colby illustrate what it would be like to incorporate WoW in a complex curriculum, and play is definitely involved; in fact, if students who have never played WoW went into this class, they would have to go through an extensive version of my discovery process due to WoW’s immersive world and gameplay.  I cannot really see WoW as the most ideal video game because the complexity of the game’s world almost requires students to be familiar with the game and everything that it entails before the first day of class otherwise precious time will be spent trying to learn the game’s basics.  As future teachers of composition who value diverse content, I wonder, though, what other video games or video game genres besides the MMPORPG could also bring about student (or even teacher) learning experiences that Alberti and Colby and Colby discuss and envision?  Since we would be dealing with different video games, what and how might these other video games shape reading and writing pedagogies in the classroom?


3 comments on “Playing Into Video Games and the Composing Process

  1. Hey Michelle, thanks for sharing! I’ve had similar responses to playing videogames. I did do a lot of videogame playing as a child on handheld gaming machines: pacman, simon, star football, martians attack… and then I played despite any frustrations, but as a grownup I shied away from playing video games altogether precisely because of the frustration and embarrassment of not being able to get through the most basic game levels. I suppose the fact that these games were now on a computer or attached to a TV made a difference; I was never intimidated by handheld devices and even if I lost, I said it was a stupid game anyway, but a game on a computer was a bit more mystifying or” intelligent.” I suppose the better you get at a game, the more “benefits” you get from the experience, but even at the basic levels of level-entry mastery there are many benefits, like hand-eye coordination, motor skills, even some mental math calculations.
    But, reading about gameplay in relation to composition studies is new to me, and I reserve the right to just shut up and listen to all that I can learn on this new subject. I will say that I really thought you were right on with your comment (3rd paragraph, I think) that states something to the effect that “invention” in the beginnings stages of a writing process can be very playful if the writer allows it. This is an invaluable lesson to impart to students who have trouble getting started with assignments.

  2. If you were ever to teach a class about or involving video games, I think your perspective would be an excellent way to connect with your students and highlight the purpose of the material for them. You really seem to understand the points discussed by the authors, and your connections to your own gaming experience not only support their topics, but present the opportunity for new discussions as well.

    As a child, my reading habits were directly influenced by playing Banjo Kazooie. The game characters did not speak in any language, but spoke in a gibberish (I went through a phase where would pretend to speak this gibberish for hours at time, much to my mom’s frustration). If you wanted to understand what was going on in the game you *had* to read. The screen would present you with a line of text, and when you were ready for the next line, you pressed a button. As my reading skills developed, I was able to read the lines more quickly. My reading speed increased to much to the point where the game could not keep up with my demand for faster text. I would play the game for a few hours, then read the latest Harry Potter book twice as fast as any of my other friends.

    I personally don’t think fast reading is necessarily a good thing, however my speed reading skills developed by playing Banjo Kazooie played a huge role in my academic life.Though high school and college, I read things much faster than my schoolmates. Even now, as a graduate student, I frequently employ what I call “power-skimming” when I’m overviewing a text.

    I mention all of this because while I think that the topics of play and discover are incredibly important to discuss in our classrooms, there are many other interesting intersections of video games and composition, such as cognitive development.

    You may or may not be interested in pursuing this idea in your own class!

  3. Hey Michelle,

    Crash Bandicoot was also one of the first video games I got heavily invested in as a kid! I breathed wumpa fruit everyday of my 1st grade life and I remember my friends coming over and we would have a contest with each to see who could get through the most levels without dying. I would always come second to my friend Michael. (Warning: Story time about Stefano’s youth) Michael never really did well in school and he was actually diagnosed with dyslexia that year. Despite his dyslexia, Michael actually knew all the ins and outs of every video game he played, even the more text heavy role playing games, like Pokemon, the Legend of Dragoon, and Final Fantasy VII. He was even able to pronounce a lot of the character names that I couldn’t. I knew he could read, but he never really showed it in the classroom. I always wondered why. Our teacher, Ms. Nelson, was supportive, but she did always speak to Michael differently compared to the rest of the class.

    Now going back to the context of the reading, I never thought of the connections that composition and video games had. I agree with you that it is important for students to experiment and discover within their writing and video games are definitely a good way for students to practice this sense of discovery. I also agree that WoW is a pretty complicated game to get students to play and can be overwhelming for many of them. Its always been a dream of mine to somehow incorporate Pokemon to a class. It’s text heavy and it is customizable enough that players are allowed to make choices for their character. The biggest issue that comes to mind when incorporating video games is always availability and access for students.

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