“The Transcendental Signifier” Sounds Like a Great Sci-Fi Video Game Title

tumblr_n7fb7byryy1s7elebo1_500

Konami’s Contra: political overtones or nah?

The field has lent rather serious consideration to more “traditional” formats, such as traditional, print-based texts, film, and even music and dance. Many of us have expanded our consciousness of what it means to compose, and what, actually a composition actually “is,” and we find a tremendous amount of variation and a sense of displacement in attempting to construct a fixed definition or sense of what makes a composition well, a composition. Having been an avid gamer for much of my life and an avid reader of literature, you can imagine my preoccupation with the narrative aspect of both forms and how might we introduce video games into the classroom.

Of course, the easy, “no brainer” approach would be to consider video games as just another narrative format, which is sort of the approach that many film/cinema courses have taken; one need not look further than the proliferation of “film as literature” courses on high school and college campuses everywhere, or the landmark text, A History of Narrative Film as evidentiary support of this evolution in esteem and perceived academic value. It would then be amiss not to consider video games, but I would like to point out that video games are not simply another narrative form, but are rather a unique genre of narration that complicates our current understanding of narratology in a meaningful manner that should be explored in an academic context as any other “worthy” discipline.

Gee states that we “never just read or write; rather, we always read or write something m some way,” and in video games, that “way” is through the player him or herself. Gee writes, “We have this core identity thanks to being in one and the same body over time and thanks to being able to tell ourselves a reasonably (but only reasonably) coherent life story in which we are the “hero” (or, at least, central character). But as we take on new identities or transform old ones, this core identity changes and transforms as well. We are fluid creatures in the making, since we make ourselves socially through participation with others in various groups.” Gee is touching on an aspect of gaming that is not entirely divorced from other narrative conveyances, which all depend on a minimum level of empathy between reader and character, a relationship between reader and text. On that note, the customization of characters in recent role playing games such as Mass Effect enable players to create identities that may reflect deep-seated beliefs that are more representative of their “true” identities that they might not otherwise feel comfortable showing; this conscious selection of identities additionally enables exploration of occupation, gender, and sexuality that would otherwise be impossible or difficult.

mass-effect

Male or female Commander Shepard? The choice is yours and you can customize him/her.

Additionally, video games are distinctly powerful in that the way the virtual reality is constructed narrows the “distance” between the reader and the “text” — we unconsciously associate ourselves with the characters without a second thought; when the character we are controlling dies and someone asks us what happened in the game, the first thing we tend to say is, “ARGH, SHIT! I DIED AGAIN!” The perspective instantly becomes first-person, whether or not the game’s design attempts to mimic the first-person visual orientation.

When Gee discusses semiotic domains and specifically, the way in which the player can interface with a virtual reality through which an affiliation can be developed, within the game and outside of it via affinity groups related to the game or genre of game itself. The construction of meaning depends on the player’s ability to interact within the digital space, which, through its multimodality, emulates different aspects of real-life experience in such a manner that other formats simply cannot. These “technical semiotic domains,” as Gee calls them, are in contrast to “lifeworld domains,” where people operate as their everyday selves, and not as members of specialist groups.

Video games are not individual endeavors, nor do the experiences they facilitate imply any sort of isolation, despite popular claims in mass media. Rather, video games externalize specific narratological processes (e.g. instead of thinking about the perspective or interaction and imagining it in your mind as you read a book, you are controlling your character with a controller) and foster communities, either in real life or more commonly today, over the Internet and cyberspace, with network gaming. These relationships are both real and imagined, and as such, are paradoxical, but when games are of quality and gamers approach these games with the same level of sophistication and engagement, “the content of video games, when they are played actively and critically… situate meaning in a multimodal space through embodied experiences to solve problems and reflect on the intricacies of the design of imagined worlds and the design of both real and imagined social relationships and identities in the modern world” (Gee).

This can be especially powerful today when we have video games such as Infamous, Mass Effect, Witcher 3, and so on, where the gamer must make moral and ethical decisions that may carry consequences in the narrative. These games have “karma” or “morality” engines that will open certain narrative paths and bar others. Ian Bogost’s article, “The Ecology of Games” featured several interesting claims, one of which theorized that we can learn to read games “as deliberate expressions of particular perspectives. In other words, video games make claims about the world, which players can understand, evaluate, and deliberate.” I believe that as games become more advanced and the hardware develops to accommodate more realistic and consequently, more relevant “expressions,” gamers will be able to find real intellectual value (if they haven’t already), and scholars will come to recognize their equality and in some ways, superiority, in promoting critical thought processes in the audiences who have attained the literacy to navigate these virtual, interactive stories that negotiate and redefine the boundaries of narratives, authorship, and discourse (community).

Example of “karma system” in Infamous.

Unlike the 16-bit video games from the early days that, although somewhat empathetic for gamers were distanced due to technological and graphical limitations, it is today and in the future, more than ever, that the potential for video games to rise amongst the ranks of other more entrenched narrative/compositional platforms can be realized in the academy. Finally, as Bogost claimed, “game developers can learn to create games that make deliberate expressions about the world,” and we have an obligation to lend those expressions equal weight in the academy and in the classroom.

Because of the multimodal nature of video games and all the many ways they can engage with us and emulate real-world experiences like no other platform, video games have the potential to transcend traditional formats and mimic waking life with an ironic authenticity that may unite the semiotic domain that is packaged within the game with the semiotics of existence.

Text Manipulation

af3a6bae13b55d8f4bfe545ced9de53bd42c5992ecb541183568a5126baa931aThroughout my short academic career, I’ve noticed the different interpretations of what ‘writing’ actually is: a report of facts that proves an argument, an organization of ideas that supports a particular stance, a creative gathering of words that illustrates a point by exhibiting artistry through words. Writing is such a hard thing to do and I feel like its difficulty is constantly overlooked because of its everyday use and presence. The inclusion of technology does make the act of writing and teaching it even more difficult, but of course there are gains through this added difficulty: easier access to resources, more ways of creating new content, and having templates to actually write on.     

 

I’m beginning to notice a pattern. There’s always seems to be some sort of trade off(s) when implementing technology into the writing classroom.  The three readings for this week (Johnson-Eilola’s “The Database and the Essay: Understanding Composition as Articulation,” Devoss and Rosati’s “It wasn’t me, was it? Plagiarism and the Web,” and McGee and Ericson’s “The Politics of the Program: MS WORD as the Invisible Grammarian”) all touch on how the use of technology affects student writing through an outside influence that determines the “rules” that need to be followed when writing, as well as appropriating the sources that are made available on the internet and how it could and should be used in their writing. There are different layers that come into writing: having correct grammar and other writing mechanics, finding and incorporating research, and being creative and original. An issue that all three articles address is for composition teachers to manage these three layers of writing in the classroom for their students.

 

37016815Although I have yet taught a class on my own, I do have plenty experience in tutoring. A constant reoccurrence I noticed with my tutees is their concern of their writing having correct grammar. I had one particular student who would always point out specific sentences that they had difficulty constructing. Every time I asked him what was wrong with his sentence, he would always reply, “Ugh… I’m not sure. Word underlined it with a blue line. I think my grammars wrong.” In “The Politics of the Program: MS WORD as the Invisible Grammarian,” McGee and Ericson address how the immediate grammar corrections in Microsoft Word can be detrimental to a student’s process in becoming better writers because it stifles them as they write (454). I do see how grammar check in word processors, like Microsoft Word, can be helpful, mainly by showing students a mistake and how to fix it. The issue with this is that it potentially shifts a student’s focus of their writing completely on the sentence level. In Devose and Rosati’s article on plagiarism, they claim that a major reason why students are prone to plagiarising is “because of the often-appearing-unconscious cultural principles of written work. Cultures vary in how writing, authorship, identity, individualism, ownership rights, and personal relationships are perceived, and these variances in values and approaches to text affect student writing” (195). In academic culture, many first year students mistakenly equate good writing with correct grammar. This false fixation on correct grammar push students to “have a near desperate need for certainties and “right” answers; a computer program gives them those certainties more readily than all-too-human English teachers” (McGee and Ericson 462).

 

Further branching off of Devose and Rosati’s take on plagiarism through students’ perception of “often-appearing-unconscious cultural principles of written work,” a lot of students do not realize it when they are plagiarizing (197). Research is a such an important aspect to academic writing and students always feel pressured in reaching every aspect of it. In their article, Devose and Rosati use Howard’s term, “patchworking,” to further accentuate the importance for students to use different sources and texts to incorporate in their writing, but also the faults that it can lead students because of their lack of guidance on the matter. Patchworking “allows students a place to borrow from text, manipulate it, and work through new concepts by piecing their writing with the original work” (194). In a way, I can see connections of patchworking with Johnson-Eilola’s use of intertextuality and articulation theory -using bits and pieces of other works to connect and to create something that is original with new meaning; “If we start to understand connection as a form of writing, then articulation theory can offer us a way to understand the “mere” uncreative act of selection and connection as very active and creative” (226). Although academic writing may simply come off as data collecting and reporting, there are creative ways of structuring so.   

An interesting in Johnson-Eilola’s article is his example of Fair Use as a corporate example to writing. Although this may be a far stretch, YouTube and hip hop (possibly contemporary music in general) always come to mind when the concept of Fair Use comes to mind. As an avid YouTube watcher, I’ve noticed a lot of my favorite content creators speaking out on the Fair Use policy with YouTube, mainly addressing how the company isn’t honoring its own policy. In regards to hip hop, practically every song samples beats from other songs of course paying the respective studio the rights to use the sample for profit. One of my favorite rappers right now is Chance the Rapper and he’s known for sampling a ton of content without the actual rights to the song. To counteract Fair Use, he’s actually an independent artist and usually puts all his music for free.    

 

 

 

Algorithmic Grammarians and Plagiarizing Patch-workers

Disclaimer: I’m very tired and I’m having a hard time seeing what I’m writing. It just looks like a mass-y block of text and nothing makes sense when I try to pick it apart and read it back to myself. So…good luck.

Initially, I looked at both articles – Tim McGee’s “The Politics of the Program: MS WORD as the Invisible Grammarian” and Danielle DeVoss’s “’It wasn’t me, was it?’ Plagiarism and the Web” – and I immediately thought they were outdated. Both were published in 2002 and use data or research from the 90s. Knowing that technology and modes of communication are in constant flux, evolving and adapting, I thought that reading documents about Microsoft Word or “plagiarism and the web” seemed a little pointless. After more than a decade, all of this has to have changed, right?

12ofypHowever, after reading both articles, I became a little skeptical – how much has actually changed? I feel like both are exposing the same problems and the same “we ought to be doing X, Y, and Z”s as some other more recent articles. After reading them, I feel a little bitter.

From then until now, students are still concerned with grammar and style, using Microsoft Word as their dominant composition tool and utilizing the “grammar check” feature. Instructors are still concerned with grammar, but seem much more concerned with “higher order” issues. Although, I know grammar was much more of an emphasis in previous decades, but I’m fairly certain (or hopeful) that grammar has been put on the back-burner throughout the last 40-50 years. What I gather from the text, McGee suggests that instructors need to become the “authority” on grammar – taking away the power of Spell Check and the notion that writing is editing, not drafting – and teach grammar or style in a way that doesn’t showcase it as this mechanical, algorithmic, or linguistically static.  This is a great idea, but this isn’t new to me. Because this isn’t new, I assume that : 1) Students are still using MW as much as they did in the early 2000s. 2) students are still worried about grammar and expect that writing = mastery of standard language linguistic expectations. 3) Instructors are still trying to break away from skill-drill instruction. 4) Process is more important than product.

In DeVoss’s article on Plagiarism, I also couldn’t see anything different in how we teach or approach plagiarism. Yes, some students buy or download their essays off of the internet; some students throw in quotes or paraphrases without citing the source. Because it is such a simple process of “copy-paste-ing” students can sometimes be unaware of the “danger” of plagiarizing or perhaps fully aware of the risks, but do it anyways for a variety of reasons – pressure, frustration, stress, anxiety, low self-esteem concerning their own writing, etc. Like the other article, the major idea that I gather here is that nothing has really changed over the last decade. Plagiarism is still an issue.

The theories and approaches are all the same (we ought to do A, B, and C because of X, Y, and Z). I’m not sure how to illustrate this at the moment or what to even think about it, but there’s a disconnect somewhere, either way.

When I read these, they made me think of commercials or ads that create these rationally irrational slippery slopes. There’s a larger fear here that students are learning the “wrong” grammatical or writing philosophy from their computers, perhaps making English instructors feel like their being kicked to the curb, haha. Realistically, I know the fear is that by using these tools, students aren’t understanding writing as a larger process or experiencing habits that shape them as motivated and mindful writers that take ownership of their own work.

12oftvOn another note, what the hell is up with “patch-writing?” I really should have gone Jennifer’s workshop on plagiarism earlier in the semester, because based off of the description given in DeVoss’s article, patch-writing seems confusing or maybe not that bad?  – “allows students a place to borrow from a text, manipulate it, and work through new concepts by piecing their writing with the original work.” To me, this sounds like maybe paraphrasing without adding a citation…which is wrong, I suppose. However, it also sounds like what I do on a normal basis – read a thing, internalize or think about that thing, add that thing to my own ideas on things, and produce some other thing that demonstrates my new understanding of the thing. I did it in this very post while trying to articulate what I thought these authors meant and what their words mean to me. I don’t think I’m understanding what patch-writing is. I would like a model to see what it looks like, because I’m having a hard time seeing it as either negative, or positive.

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.

Broadening the Lens

I’m going to ask everyone to travel back in time to last week’s discussion of social media and identity – sorry!
**********
Although there is only a four-year gap between boyd and Buck’s articles, the subtle difference between their scholarship on social media and identity is interesting – one could even go so far as to say that it is indicative of the larger trends in social media and research on technology. In 2008, danah boyd suggested that we “figure out how to educate teens to navigate social structures that are quite unfamiliar to use because they will be faced with these publics as adults, even if we limit their access now…” and contemplated if “perhaps instead of trying to stop them or regulate usage, we should learn from what teens are experiencing” (138). Interestingly enough, Amber Buck seems to respond to this call in her 2012 article that explores how student navigates the “publics” boyd is so concerned about.

I agree completely with Scott when he criticizes Buck’s analysis of Ronnie as being  “a bit disingenuous… because it is not indicative of most students practices on a social networking site” – I too was suspicious of Ronnie when I read Buck’s description of his highly involved social media practices, and my suspicions were validated when Buck herself admitted that Ronnie was not a typical social media user.

​ How many students see themselves as “publishers” of information the way Ronnie did? Although Buck eventually admits to Ronnie’s uniqueness, I worry about scholars over-generalizing students and technological use. Similar to the way many students have the label of “digital natives” pushed on them, scholars like Buck may be in danger of over-simplifying and stereotyping students and their online activities – this would be a huge disservice to composition teachers and their students. ​
​In spite of this, however, Buck’s research questions were engaging, and I found myself asking similar questions: “How typical am I in terms of sophistication of online identity? In terms of navigating multiple platforms or publics? Compared to people in my age group? Compared to fellow graduate students?” I thought of my nearly fifteen years as an internet user, and thought of my various escapades in exploring my online identity. From my middle-school Gaia account avatar to my current professional Twitter account, and from my first Xanga blog (my username was Ninja_Bunny_of_Death, to my incredible embarrassment) to my current LinkedIn profile, my self-awareness when it comes to managing my sense of self has been nowhere close to Ronnie’s. At least, I certainly didn’t (and still don’t) have the meta-cognitive vocabulary to discuss my decisions and actions on these sites.
I’m not sure that Buck intended to come to any grand conclusions about social media, youth and identity. However, I do think that her scholarship is both an excellent response to boyd’s work and a call for even more research. I absolutely agree with Buck in that we need to focus on multiple aspects of social media and identity, such as Brooke’s “ecologies of practice” and the interface itself. However, I’m personally interested in broadening her questions to wider subjects. Instead of only researching students, I’d be incredibly interested in understanding how professors or graduate students “engage in sophisticated literacy practices in order to present different aspects of the self.” (35) There is so much to learn and teach our students when we can look to our own practices and habits.
On Twitter, I follow an account called Shit Academics Say, @academicssay. The account posts some pretty silly and hilarious things about the ridiculousness of academia:
IMG_8285.PNG  IMG_8284.PNG
Most interestingly, it is run by Nathan C. Hall, a professor from McGill. Since I realized that he was the individual behind this “fake” account, it’s been incredibly interesting to see how he navigates both his personal Twitter account and the Shit Academics Say account.
IMG_8286.PNG IMG_8287 (1).PNG
Personally, I think that as professors we should be thinking of how we navigate our identity online as well as how our students develop theirs. This could create more of a dialogue in the classroom and less of a dichotomy, which I think boyd and Buck would be in favor of.

WoW…I’m Not Sure About Playing Games in the Classroom, Especially World of Warcraft.

Video games have been a major part of my life experience ever since I was able to hold a controller and barely move and jump in Super Mario Brothers or swing a sword in The Legend Of Zelda for the NES.

 

super-mario-bros-start-screen.jpglegend of zelda start screen

Sources: Rebubble and Nitwitty

My experience with gaming has evolved over the years from home consoles to handheld devices to PC gaming. I have spent around 7 of the last 10 years of my experience with gaming has evolved over the years from home consoles to handheld devices to PC gaming. I have spent around 7 of the last 10 years of World of Warcraft’s (WoW) existence playing the game as well as playing League of Legends, Hearthstone, and other multiplayer games and I would love nothing more than to find a way to incorporate video games or game design concepts into the classroom on some scale. From digging into writings by pieces by Bogost, Alberti, and Gee on what we can learn from gaming, game design, and gaming concepts, I was sure that introducing these kinds of concepts into the classroom could be wildly successful.  I was all ready to pop the champagne and celebrate, but then…

I really wanted to write an entirely positive article, but I guess I am too enticed by challenging academics at their assertions because once I started reading the Colbys’ article I slammed on the proverbial brakes and turned that celebration car around, faster than you could say “LEEEEEEEEEEEEEROY JEEEEEEEENKINS!

And on that day, a meme was born.

“A Pedagogy of Play: Integrating Computer Games into the Writing Classroom” by Rebekah Shultz Colby and Richard Colby weaves an idyllic world where they could advertise a class in which the entire class would spend the semester playing Blizzard Entertainment’s wildly successful and still very popular game, WoW, and I am here to try to (probably unsuccessfully) tactfully explain why this would be a terrible idea that would not work outside of isolated cases. Maybe this type of class is not supposed to be adopted in any significant way in a school system. I find that kind of exclusivity to be a bit reprehensible, which is why I am so incensed at the notion of WoW or any high-intensity computer game, being used as the core aspect of a classroom.

If my work at community colleges and life as a student has been any indication, many students would not have the resources to be able to take the opportunity offered by this class. Sure, at Denver University, a private college where tuition currently sits at around 15,096 dollars a semester, students might be able to afford a computer with the capabilities necessary to run WoW well enough to play the game. However, if implemented where I live, go to school, and work, I do not believe this would be the case. While many students have laptops, most of them are basic machines that are built with only the bare essentials to utilize programs like Microsoft Office, Facebook (maybe casual games on said website), and content streaming services.

freebies2deals-best-buy-tech.png

Given these choices, many would take the HP. Credit: Freebies2deals

Predominantly, these are the kinds of computers that are advertised to students by stores like Best Buy: non-gaming computers with no dedicated graphics processor that would barely run the game if at all. One would need to buy a laptop that  costs around $700 to run the game in a way that is playable.  Further, WoW requires its own monetary subscription of $15 a month after you buy the game, which, at this current moment, involves spending at around $40 to purchase the game and the most recent expansion. I would fear that students would not be totally clear on what they would need when signing up for a class like this and then have to drop, leaving them sans an important class for their GE. None of the financial aspects of this endeavor are examined in the paper; the authors only made the point that “WoW has relatively low system requirements.” Send a message to any PC gamer and ask them if playing on the lowest settings makes a game fun to play. The answer you will probably get is:

This class concept is not feasible or accessible to the larger student population of an American college campus, especially community colleges.

I would also question a student’s time dedication to be able to participate in this class. Unless you are already an avid WoW player, which the paper identifies is not required, there is a huge amount of time that a player must commit to gain expertise in any aspect of the game without putting in a significant amount of research on other websites (and I would argue that both of these are required to be able to contribute to a wiki or make a guide on the game). For some students, playing the game might take far in excess of the expected time, and, even then, I would be concerned how much time would be required to play the game in addition to time spent doing the various class writing assignments. Leveling a character, finding and immersing oneself in a guild, leveling a profession, and learning how the mechanics of the game work take hours upon hours of play and research even in the current version of the game which is MUCH simpler than it was in 2008 when this article was published. Most active guilds will not look at you twice if you are not at or near max level and player interaction is minimal outside of a guild. In addition, you just do not learn enough about the game or its community at low levels.

 

 time played

This is my most recent character and I have not even gotten him to max level.

And I sort of know what I am doing half the time.

The Colbys only identify two cases of students in this experimental class environment, “Josh, an experienced WoW player” and Tiffany who had a roommate who played WoW often and took the class with her. I was disappointed by the lack of other representative experiences for this proposal of a WoW classroom if a student was not a WoW player. There was no real consideration of what to do if one or more of the students in the class decided that they did not like the game besides the result of dropping, which, again, really punishes the student.

I honestly do not know of a massively multiplayer online style game that would dodge both of these serious issues with this pedagogy. I want to love this idea. I REALLY want to. But just like any game community, even if one could find a way to make this work, I doubt its longevity. Semester to semester a teacher might have to find a new game or gaming community as games die and a new fad emerges. When this article was written WoW was the biggest PC game that had ever existed boasting around ten million subscribers, but now the game has less than half of that number and seems to still be declining.

 

WoW Subscriber numbers 001 jim younkin_b.png

Now down to around 5.5 million subs.

A multiplayer online battle arena (moba) like League of Legends would be the WoW of today, but who know how long that game would last (Nor would I ever subject my students to that game’s community. I have been called every slur, profanity and disgusting use of language imaginable when I am playing badly in that game. It is the YouTube comments section of video games. Only click this if you want an example. It is not safe for work because of the intense language.)

Gaming is definitely a New Media Literacy that, as time passes, more and more students will be playing in some fashion. Involving games, game design, and gaming rhetoric in the classroom is worth studying. Programs like Classcraft are already paving the way for creating augmented reality games in the classroom environment. To me, this is the most exciting use of the excursions composition academics have been making, in addition to using video games as a way of studying rhetoric and genre in the classroom.

I think it is about time to end this rant and hope that this even fits the bill for this blog. I leave you again with an OC remix of the week. This is Legend of Zelda: ALttP ‘Come to the Dark Side, It’s a Funky Place’ by Nostalvania:

 

 

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?

Concerns About Identity in Social Media

Identity construction is a thread that I see running through Buck’s (2012) and boyd’s (2008) article.  Buck gives us a picture of Ronnie, an avid social media user who saw platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr as part of his “self-branding” (2012: 14) conquest to put himself out there.  boyd, on the other hand, looks at the way teens treat (and simply love) Myspace.  I have been and still am part of the social media-sphere, yet there are some things that still make me wonder…

Specifically, while reading these two articles, I could not help zeroing in on the idea of trying on new personas, the idea that individuals can create different selves online.  I question, however, just how much of themselves online users are transforming without having to truly let go of their offline personas. (In the fanficiton community, we affectionately call this “OOC,” or out of character.)  After all, even though it was a stupid  April Fools joke, Ronnie pretended that he had a girlfriend, made a Facebook account for her using a fabricated university email address, and in a way posed as her by writing posts that we supposedly written by her, he still changed his relationship status to “In a relationship,” which meant that offline he is still being the typical young adult experimenting with flirting and creating relationships.  If social media users are trying to show themselves to a specific audience and for a specific, perhaps personal reason, I would think that their content (relationship status, texts, images, videos, music, etc.) would have to retain some semblance of their offline selves.

The impression that I got from boyd’s article is that adolescent’s shape their identity in order to have an identity prepared for their world outside of social media.  This is probably part of negotiating one’s identity that will be presented for specific spaces and audience either online or offline.  It is also a case where, through writing and designing the look of one’s website, which was the case for Xanga and Myspace when I used it, social media users’ online and offline worlds may collide.  We are always warning students to be mindful of the things they post on Facebook or Twitter because future employers can search them out and assume that the identities they create online are a reflection of what they will bring to workforce.  I have to agree with what Monica posted on her blog about searchability because I have done random searches of my name, my older Facebook accounts, which I deactivated, popped up, and I was able to read the nonsense that I wrote.  I am not saying that I had to completely change my online persona to reflect my offline persona; I still wrote about anime, but I did so in a way that projected the persona of a civil, careful writer.  My question, though, is how we might simulate this in a composition class if an instructor were interested in helping his or her students shape themselves online and offline to benefit them in the future.

Furthermore, I want address the issue of ownership of one’s identity on social media platforms.  As I was reading Buck’s story of Ronnie occupying different social media platforms to “manage” (p. 21) his identity, I wrote the following questions in my notes: Who really owns the content users put online?  In fact, who owns the identity that is being portrayed online: the person trying to portray their identity by using text, music, color, pictures, etc., or the person who owns the domain in which the identity is situated?  After all, for adolescents Myspace allowed its users to tinker with their pages’ HTML code so that instead of having the default layout, the user’s page could have a music player playing songs that “described” the user or featured Tinkerbell on it.  They could do anything to project their identity to hopefully be accepted by their peers and eventually gain some kind of status.  On Facebook or Twitter where design is more constrained, users post text or video that somehow show their identities, but these sites are hosting the content users post online.  At the end of the day who is the real owner of these identities being projected?  Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter have control over what its users are able to do, but it is the users who are the ones leveraging these platforms to create personas others will consume one way or another.  Students, especially those in college, are consuming and using social media, but as academics who see the implications writing in social media platforms, how might we make teachable this issue of ownership of one’s identity on social media?

 

 

Isolated and Public Spaces for Classroom Writing

Kent Congdon

04/04/16

ENG 708

Benson and Reyman’s study on blogging in classrooms from “Learning to Write Publicly: Promises and Pitfalls of Using Weblogs in the Composition Classroom” posits the concept of writing in the academic context as private and lacking value and use for both students and teachers. Support of moving academic discourse into public discourse aligns with what the CCCC presented in 2007: “To restrict students’ engagement with writing to only academic contexts and forms is to risk narrowing what we as a nation can remember, understand, and create.” Efforts to move beyond the traditional academic discourse and into public discourse have been made and continue to be a hot topic as of late, and the form this study takes on is a participation in “civic discourse” that is deliberated and facilitated. In other words, students participate in blogging as the instructor facilitates discussion.

I found it interesting how Benson and Reyman felt that there is importance in the distinction of blogs from other online communication technologies, like Blackboard and WebCT, since the latter electronic spaces allow class members to communicate with other class members, but not with members outside of a particular classroom community. I’ll admit, I wonder if this even really matters. Yes, the “space” that students are communicating in when blogging is technically a public space, but so what? I can’t help but wonder if students genuinely feel a difference in their work. Maybe it’s just me, homework is homework no matter what. When something is assigned, it doesn’t matter if it’s in an isolated or publicized format. It’s still just classwork. There’s no way around that. Or so I thought.

Reading through this article, I knew eventually that my questions would be answered and my skepticism would be left unwarranted, and for the most part, my prediction was right. The results of the study are promising, as many students found themselves much more engaged and ready to express opinions and produce meaningful writing in this format, which is a win, I guess. And yet, I can’t help but shake a feeling of tension and dissonance with this study and with the concept of blogging in the classroom. Or, at least with one particular but crucial aspect of this activity: the idea of “network literacy” and interactivity with other people. Benson and Reyman point out that the guidelines to the activity “were formed with the goal of helping student bloggers to attract outside readers to the blogs” (27), which is admirable and seems effective, as I was concerned that blogging assignments was viewed as automatically pushing students into a public space when it wouldn’t be any different than a classroom assignment if no one from outside the class interacted with the blog. There’s still that risk though; if blogs are posted and it fails to attract anyone outside the classroom, than it’s no different from a classroom-specific assignment, potentially undermining the entire project. No interaction from the public suggests a disinterested public, which then highlights the failure of an assignment that is meant to foreground materiality (such as blogging). This failure is highlighted because the student would then realize that what they have to say is uninteresting and uninviting, even when that is not the case. But consider what they’re blogs and opinions are competing against, which is literally EVERYTHING that is on the internet. An assignment that banks on interaction from the public, I feel, is asking too much by depending on an outcome that is totally random and outside of everyone’s control, especially when the risk of no one commenting outside of the classroom is highly likely. It is also highly likely that I am giving too much weight to the impact of outsider commentary.

Even without the guarantee of feedback from anyone outside the classroom, blogging on a public forum still offers a substantially more engaging experience than the isolated vacuum that turning an assignment in to the teacher typically suggests. The potentiality of a public audience is can be made much more meaningful to students in this age of ever-changing and expanding notions of what it means to consume content but raising awareness of both the what and the how.

Social Media: The Renaissance Self-Expression and Community.. or is it?

I have spent the last few hours pondering what Micheal Wesch would say about the changes in spaces like Youtube and other social media since he made his video on Web 2.0 and his anthropological study of Youtube. Once upon a time, (though really it was not that long ago) vlogs and other personal videos were absolutely the predominant videos and content type on Youtube. Looking all the way back at 2006 we see much of what was being discussed by Wesch in simple user generated videos with just a few thousand views sitting on the front page.

youtube 2006 screenshot.png

Credit: Graphitas

I am sure if we used The Way Back Machine then we would see many response videos, even to these front page entries. If we take a peek at the front page of Youtube today, the field has completely changed. Every front page is tailor made for the person who is consuming the media, especially if you have any viewing history or an account linked to your Youtube habits.

Youtube Today.png

As you can see, the trending videos look like a Hollywood catalog; they are almost completely comprised of massive company sponsored channels or the titanic channels with hundreds of thousands of subscribers making professional content for our consumption. Now, I am not saying that this is necessarily bad, since millions of hours of entertainment have arisen from the ability of an individual to monetize their videos on Youtube, but the community of videos that was so exciting to Welsh ten years ago is dying if it is not completely dead already. It seems that a significant amount of social media is moving away from being a way of interconnectivity toward being a way to create or popularize a brand. Even my own Facebook feed has become more of a space to see updates from news and entertainment sites than just seeing what a friend is up to on any given day, resulting from giving a page or website a “Like.” Is there a new social media that has replaced this phenomenon? Maybe Vines? Snapchat? My experience with these new medias are limited so I have no real idea if those kinds of apps are filling this void.

Moving to a slightly different sphere, in “Examining Digital Literacy Practices on Social Network Sites,” Amber Buck examines what she calls, (finally…at the end of the article) “a rather extreme case of social network site use.” Throughout this study, her subject, Ronnie, is shown to be trying to make a “brand” much like the celebrities that we see on Twitter, Facebook, and other networking websites. I feel that this discussion is a bit disingenuous as a result because it is not indicative of most students practices on a social networking site. While we all create an online identity, I do not believe that most people are developing as complex rhetorical skills that Ronnie is displaying and Buck is discussing nor do I think most people are trying to generate fans and fame from their social media exploration. To me this kind of study just screams outlier case.

(As a side note her abstract mentions that the literacy practices we explore include navigating user agreements, which means that she thinks that many young adults read them.)

 

Now this is not to discount that rhetorical  and genre learning is going on and we as teachers cannot take advantage of that, but social media and how people, especially youth, interact with that media evolves faster than we can build data and studies on how to incorporate it into pedagogy and the classroom. We have read many papers examining Myspace, but that website is now a wasteland with most people’s profiles sitting derelict, an interesting photograph of our past social media lives. It makes me wonder how much of that study is still relevant as things so rapidly change. I am extremely interested in what the next few years hold and how social media and literacies will continue to evolve.

Will we see another website emerge to replace Facebook? Or has the evolution of social media begun to settle and slow down? If students are as active as Ronnie and I am just ignorant of this, then how might we best bring this to the forefront in the classroom?

I think I have rambled like a terrible cynic for long enough today. So I shall do what I always will and leave you all with an OC remix of the day. This is a remix by FoxyPanda of the famous “Aquatic Ambiance” Theme from Donkey Kong Country. Cheers!