Read Between the Pixels

There has been a time and a place for all of us, spread out over generations, where we have heard our parents say, “Quit playing that game and do something productive.” For me it was The Sims, and choose your own adventure type games.  But now those players are now introducing the important connection of literacy and involvement.

Video games are everywhere; in our homes, on our phones, and floating across the web. Somehow I feel that is distraction or time passing activity is much more embedded in our future of education that it was ever meant to be. To be honest, before this class I never thought of this concept, or really cared for playing video games.  Now, I am highly intrigued about the process.  How does this change our future as educators?

I love the concept of “multimodal” use in the classroom. When implemented properly, I believe that we can reach out to a range of learners.  We are familiar with the basic learning styles; visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. This multimodal platform and the use of video games can incorporate all of these styles in one arena.

Out of all the reading this week I really connected with Gee’s Semiotic Domains: Is playing Video games a “Waste of Time”? The defense for multimodal is valid; “ the images often communicate different things from the words. And the combination of the two modes communicates things that neither of the modes does separately. Thus, the idea of different sorts of multimodal literacy seems an important one” (14) It also implies the pursuit of one of the English Teachers mantras, “Better readers make better writers.”

Over Spring Break I visited my family in Southern California and did a little research. (I played video games with my six-year-old cousin, Jo.) Mind you, I have not picked up a controller for over five years. I forget the name of the game but it was a first person run around and pick up the items to get to the next level type of deal. I was astounded with the hand eye coordination, map, and reading skills were for his age. He was reading everything on the screen out loud and told me where I needed to go next on the map. After we were done, I asked Jo if he wanted to read a book to me.  He replied, “I don’t like reading.” I then told him he just read to me from the video game.  He replied, “Oh ya.  I guess I do like reading!”

Although Jo’s mom though it was a sneaky way of teaching a six-year-old that he is a good reader, I do believe that video games should be incorporated into curriculum to portray the importance of multimodal learning.

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3 comments on “Read Between the Pixels

  1. Kudos to you for being open-minded enough to try playing a video game after years of not even touching a controller! It’s amazing how our perspective on something can change when we’ve had the chance to step back for a moment and later return to it. I also am impressed by your ability to re-frame your cousin’s resistance to reading. Perhaps Jo claimed he didn’t like reading because he thinks of reading as an academic/school chore. Unfortunately, I think Jo’s initial reaction is indicative of many people’s opinions on reading: reading is something done only in the context of school – it is difficult, boring, and disembodied. As a teacher, I feel like it’s my duty to show students that not all reading is academic and that different types of reading (whether of different texts or in contexts) are completely valid. I admire that you were able to show Jo how his video game reading is valid part of his literacy spectrum – this is what I strive to do with my own students!

  2. Hey Melody,

    I like what you’ve written here. I enjoyed reading your anecdote about Jo not realizing that he was actually “reading.” Naturally, the world is multimodal and we are in a constant state of “reading” and interpreting this world. Gee gets into semiotics and signifiers, which is sort of at the base of a lot of this. In that sense, when we play video games, we are actually acting within a virtual microcosm that mimics, in many ways, real-life “reading” tasks (by this, I mean “reading” as interpreting all that surrounds us).

    We could go on and on about K-12 education, but generally I find K-12 to be more conservative in the way they approach specific ideas. However, I don’t think the conservatism is unwarranted; it is hard to explain to a child that he or she is reading everything everywhere all the time. How do you explain a “sign” and a “signifier” or a transcendental signifier to a child? I suppose you could, in some sense, in the way of metaphor (the way Gee uses basketball and crosses to communicate to us), but I am not entirely sure a kid would 100% “get it.” So we compartmentalize these various “reading tasks” into different types, except that we call one specific type, the alphabetic/character-based text kind, “reading.” But really, we are all trying to make sense and meaning out of what is presented to us, whether it’s images, text, or the sequence and interplay of both aspects.

    It’s wonderful you pointed that out to Jo. Perhaps he will begin to broaden his understanding of the multivalent qualities in all “compositions,” even in video games.

    As an aside, I absolutely think video games develop an entire suite of skills as you mentioned, but that’s going to be reserved for my own posting this week!

  3. I always laugh when my students say they don’t like to read, but then they are given a moment of free time and what do they do… Hop on their phones and scroll through a screen reading captions, posts, memes, tmz articles, espn reports, etc. Most of the students I encounter would rather spend their time reading through social media or a game then having a conversation or engaging in physical activities. Yet, they do not see it as reading. I think this is so relevant in considering one’s own pedagogy. How can we trick our students into doing the things they don’t “think” they like to do? Using multimodal platforms definitely allow for an opportunity.

    When I was thinking of a New Media Text assignment, one idea I had (that I did not follow through with) was having students create a video game based on a poem or excerpt from imaginative literature. I know it would be challenging to actually create the tech behind a video game, but I thought maybe they could create like a video game story board based on the poem or excerpt. Then they would be writing and critically thinking through a reading (possibly without even realizing it).

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