Video Games are Fun, Fun, Fun!

Throughout the course, we discussed how the emergence of new, digital technologies can revolutionize the classroom by changing our pedagogies and enhancing students’ learning.  One of these technologies is video games.  Many teenagers and young adults play video games, so it makes sense to find a way to connect a common, pleasurable activity into the classroom.

However, this is not to say that instructors need to incorporate actual video games into the classroom.  Instead, video games highlight how instructors can change how they approach their teaching and how their students learn.  In What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy, Gee discusses how many video games have experienced both critical and commercial success by being challenging and long.  In fact, no matter how frustrating or difficult the game can be, gamers still voluntary keep trying until they beat the game.  However, in the classroom, many schools make their curriculums “shorter and simpler” for students, because students do not put in the time and effort to overcome long and challenging situations – which are hallmarks of successful games.  Based on students’ voluntary decision to undergo these challenges, Gee argues that video games contain “good learning principles of learning built into its design” and facilitate “learning in good ways” (3).  Thus, classrooms need to find ways to incorporate these principles into their design. 

One aspect that can be highlighted in the classroom is play.  People play video games, which suggests that participation in this long and challenging medium is pleasurable.  However, the idea of bringing play into the classroom would not be a new experience for students – quite the contrary actually.  Ian Bogost argues that “play” refers to children’s activities (which often involve exploration and discovery) where teachers allowed students to blow “off the necessary” steam that has built up from long stretches of learning or working.  However, as students get older, play disappears.  However, whenever we play video games, the process makes something that is challenging and long both enjoyable and familiar.  It creates an association of childhood pleasure to something challenging; in other words, it allows students to find some pleasure in exploring and making discoveries in the context of a class.

However, incorporating these ideologies are not anything new in education or composition.  While video games are a newer medium that have yet to become a mainstay in classrooms, the idea of incorporating fun, exploration, and discovery are rather old ideas that have disappeared in the classroom. Colby and Colby argue that student-directed assignments under instructor guidance is reminiscent of “the early writing process movement” (306).  During the early writing process, students were encouraged to pick their own assignments, their own genres, and worked individually with the instructor.  However, while I do believe that the expressive ideologies of the early process movement has its merits, I do not argue that this model must displace current pedagogies.  Instead, like Colby and Colby, this ideology must be adapted so students can practice how to use writing in a rhetorical situation, rather than the “expressivist,” “writing-for-the-self” model that was popular during the movement.  Additionally, Colby and Colby argue that classes should be “front-loaded,” in which instructors expose many of the rhetorical tools and strategies early in the course, so students can effectively explore and make discoveries in a meaningful way (306).

This goal of this post was not to give instructors any assignments or bits of curricula that utilizes these ideologies.  I feel that would be a cheap shortcut that does not fully integrate the ideology into our pedagogy.  Instead, the goal was to encourage instructors (or aspiring instructors) to find a way to restructure and rethink how they can encourage students’ learning processes.

Works Cited

Colby, Rebekah Shultz, and Richard Colby. “A Pedagogy of Play: Integrating Computer Games into the Writing Classroom.” Computers and Composition 25 (2008): 300-312. Web. 6 November 2013.

Gee, James Paul.  What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Print.

Bogost, Ian. “The Rhetoric of Video Games.”  The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning. Edited by Katie Salen. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 117-140.

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Spaces for Playing to Learn

When I think about games and education, one of the most interesting aspects is that you must be active when you play a game. This isn’t necessarily the case when reading, and often one’s mind can wonder even as the act of reading continues (wait… what?). Beyond the simple fact that the gamer must actively engage with the game, is the question of what the gamer plays with. As Bogost points out, “play refers to the “possibility space” created by constraints of all kinds” (120). And the constraints of this “possibility space” can effectively model incredibly complex systems. As Neys and Jansz put it, “The capacity of serious games to reveal complex situations in a relatively simple way is what distinguishes this medium from other, more traditional, media forms” (229). And by complex systems, what’s meant is a variety ranging from games that show students how city planners interact with local governments and communities to games that show the sweep of human history. What’s significant here is that the “possibility space” provides a place for the player to play with the rules, concepts, and principles of whatever system is being modeled.

If we believe Vygotsky’s idea that for learning to happen we need active learners and active learning environments, then the pedagogical potential for games shouldn’t be seen as a fad or academic affectation. Games can be a step even further beyond the knowledge banking model of teaching. Their potential resides in the necessarily active component of play. I’m not for a moment suggesting that gaming will replace print literacy, but games can represent a unique space in which to put various kinds of learning into practice. Obviously this can work well for content knowledge, but since games create systems based on rules, this can work equally well for principles and more abstract concepts.

Of course the third thing Vygotsky said was necessary to learning, in addition to an active learning environment and an active learner, was an active teacher. While games have some significant contributions to make to our curriculum, it will still be us, as the teachers, who need to find ways to integrate games into the classroom. We will be the ones who have to help our students make the connections between the various texts we choose to bring into the classrooms. So as new and different a text as a game may seem, our role in relation to this new, strange text is till the same.

Henry Jenkins on “Reducing the World’s Suck”

Henry Jenkins, author of Convergence Culture, has some relevant (for us) things to say in an interview posted on Boing Boing. His take on the connection between literacy and play seems especially connected to conversations we’ve been having about games:

Reading, writing, and understanding words on a page won’t cut it anymore. In a digitized world, Henry says young people need new skills that go way beyond basic composition and comprehension. Skills like play (“the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving”), collective intelligence (“the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal”), and transmedia navigation (“the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities”).

What’s the deal with “suck”? Would it surprise any of us that he’s talking about school? “[S]uck consists in imposing your tastes on someone else by cutting them off from participating in meaningful activities. Right now, our schools do that all the time,” according to Jenkins. This critique is, in some respects, very similar to the ones made about school in the chapters from Gee we read last week, in that school seems not to encourage “active and critical learning” in the context of some “semiotic domain.” Of course, school is itself a “semiotic domain,” so one could argue that what school is fairly good at is teaching kids how to be in school. The question, I think, is whether that alone is worth spending 12-16 years of one’s life on. The answer, I think, is no.

Finally, when asked about the issue of “videogame addiction,” Jenkins says “I would be asking as much about what [the kids were] escaping from as I was concerned about what [they were] escaping into.” That is, perhaps we could spend less energy worrying about questionable aspects of videogames themselves, and a bit more of it trying to figure out why youth might prefer to spend so much time in them. This seems to me a more ecological approach to the issue, since it asks us to situate gaming in the broader context of a player’s “lifeworld,” to use Gee’s phrase. We assume that videogames exert force on peoples’ lives — such as making them more violent or prone to other questionable behaviors — but it’s just as true that peoples’ lives exert force on their participation in videogames. In other words, we need to stop thinking of videogames as something foreign, as attacking us from the outside. They are, instead, embedded in our lives, for good or ill.

From social media to games…

To segue the class from last week into this week here is something I found pretty interesting. It is a flash video, using the technique of machinima, posted on Vimeo (a website arguably similar to Youtube), that is a critique (the author calls it “reverse propaganda”) of U.S. military practices. Oh, and it just happens to be made by one of the guys that made the McDonalds game that was mentioned in this week’s reading.

So we’ve got a video, made with a video game, on a socially networked video sharing site, talking about a social issue, made by a video game designer.

It’s almost more meta than I can handle. Anyways, here it is:

Welcome to the desert of the real

Quick edit: I forgot to mention a key point: The video game used to make the machinima is America’s Army, which just happens to be the first person shooter that the Department of Defense commissioned in 2002, which was also talked about in the Bogost reading for this week.

Video Games as an Enabler of New Literacies?

I’ve been contemplating for a while about what to write in this blog post, because I’ve been faced with a bit of a problem: in the article that I read for this week, James Paul Gee’s “Pleasure, Learning, Video Games, and Life: The Projective Stance“, Gee doesn’t seem to be talking about literacy at all, and Certainly not literacy as defined by Lankshear and Knobel in their plenary address. Their revised definition in “Sampling ‘the New’ in New Literacies” fits a bit better, but literacies as “socially recognized ways of generating, communicating, and negotiating meaningful content through the medium of encoded texts within contexts of participation in Discourses (or, as members of Discourses)” seems so nebulous and hedged as to include almost anything within its purview (4). Even working from that definition (which uses Gee’s own research in discourse theory), I have trouble finding anything that remotely relates to what I would normally think of as literacy in Gee’s chapter. The closest he gets is discussing the sporadic text that happens in between all the action in video games. That isn’t literacy, that is just playing around, right? Continue reading