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

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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:

 

 

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.

Gaming into “New”Literacies

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While reading Lankshear and Knobel ( “”New” Literacies: Research and Social Practice” and A New Literacies Sampler) , I needed a way to keep track of all their definitions and subcategories of  “new” literacies, so I made the chart above. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out how to get it into the blog, so I took a screenshot and now its basically illegible, but the point is there was a lot going on. Especially, since they changed terms between the 2004 plenary talk and the 2007 book. Once I started making the chart, my mind drifted and I began thinking about how this chart, which I made in Google Draw-a program I’ve never used before, embodies “new” literacies. Even though I’ve used other “drawing” applications before, it still took a good amount of work to navigate the program and then to read and write in it. When you break it down, all of the literacies you need to function in this program and make this chart are complicated! Google Drive in general has a whole lot of “technical stuff” and I think “ethos stuff.”  However, at the same time, “drawing” charts aren’t anything new, so its also an example of new technologies capturing old technologies.

But back to the readings…for my choosen chapter in A New Literacies Sampler I read Chapter 5: “Pleasure, Learning, Video Games, and Life: The Projective Stance” by James Gee who makes interesting parallels between video games (such as Full Spectram Warrior, and Thief  )and real life. He asserts that like video games

When we humans act in the world (in word or deed) we are “virtual characters” (i,e. taking on specific identities such as “tough cop,” “sensitive man”…) acting in a “virtual world” (i.e., constructing the world in certain ways, and not others” (100).

In any situation, we take on certain identities, decipher how the world works and how it doesn’t, and then figure out how to respond to the situation. It’s complicated to think about how much “reading” of the world we do every minute of every day. Even further it complicates our identity. If we are constantly switching in and out of “virtual characters,” what is our true identity? How can we talk about it?

Gee goes on to explain that for each “virtual character,” for both video games and real life, we have to work with and take on the “authentic professional expertise” of those characters. According to Gee, “authentic professionals have special knowledge and distinctive values tied to specific skills gained through a good deal of effort and experience.”

I think what Gee is trying to say is that learning in real life is like video games because students need to immerse themselves in the “virtual world” of a “virtual character” who has “authentic professional experience.” Video games allow you to know what the character knows, but at the same time apply your own knowledge by making decisions that have low stake consequences because you always get a do-over. Students don’t need to be told and tested; they need to be put into the “virtual world,” so they can gain the experience and knowledge with help of a “authentic professional.”

What does this have to do with “new” literacies, you ask? I think Gee is taking video games, a form of “new” literacies (that in Lankshear and Knobel’s term contain both “ethos stuff” and “tech stuff”) that a good amount of students use, but that doesn’t get recognized in education, as a way to discuss learning and the affect “new” literacies can have in the classroom. Connecting video games, real life, and learning complicates our idea of reading and writing in the world.

How do we use this connection in the classroom? I’m not sure. I don’t know if Gee wants it to have actual pedagogical implications, at least things that are easy to do; it might just be a new way of looking at technology and as a way of talking about literacy. Or maybe also just a different way of letting students immerse themselves in the world and in learning.

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.

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 Continue reading

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