“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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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?

 

 

Tech Identities: An Evolution of an Old Problem in Academia

As I read “Becoming Literate in the Information Age” and considered my own development in my own identities in technology and literacy outside of the “norm,” I began to think on the struggle for teachers in the composition classroom to effectively instruct different speech and discourse communities; a Sociolinguistics subject I studied in undergrad and, currently, the reading subject of the Introduction to Composition class Theory here at SFSU. Students from these different communities have no issue with  conveying ideas or constructing communication; they simply don’t communicate in the specific way desired by those in power. Because the prestige language is not in their own primary or secondary discourses, these students are told that their language identity is incorrect either directly or subversively and the result can be the inability to succeed in academic institutions. Now, with technology creating further expansions and fragmentation of discourse and speech communities, not to mention becoming more important globally than traditional literacy, more students have the potential to fall through the cracks if composition teachers cannot find a way to incorporate some of these new literacies and recognition of tech identities, as well as language identities, into the classroom.

one-does-not-simply-a - One does not simply become fluent in a Secondary Discourse

This felt especially relevant in the case study of David John Damon explored in “Students Who Teach Us,” who, despite being an early adopter of web design, seemed extremely practiced, skilled, and talented at not only creating websites, but also networking people, failed out of college because of his non-academic language used in his speech and composition courses. Growing up in Detroit, he did not have the background in the “standard” Academic language discourse communities that the institution he took classes at wanted him to have skill in. His other talents were never considered or really observed by those that only saw his inability to construct traditional literacy by writing formal papers.

David spent a large portion of his time creating, learning, honing and developing websites for the various communities on campus he participated in. This is basically Tapscott’s dream student who is, “hungry for expression, discovery and [his] own self-development” (Buckingham 13). He showed all of the traits of a person who knows the importance of computer literacy in an increasing technocentric world and spent his time developing these skills much like the two people examined in “Becoming Literate”, but the difference was their upbringing, creating an academic as well as technological identity that helped to lead them to success. Sadly, while David’s teachers expressed concern for his issues with formal writing, nothing is said on attempts to work with him, nor do we find out what happened after his year at college.

It is too bad that these teachers had not also read the “Students Who Teach Us” chapter of Writing New Media since it contains some interesting ideas on how to create a culture of tech literacy and identity awareness in the classroom. These kinds of writing exercises can help students realize their own authorship and literacies that they have already developed, which might make an English class less threatening. As I explore further into this fascinating and evolving world of English Composition, I have to wonder how it is possible to incorporate even elements of everything that I am learning that seems like it would benefit student learning. In addition, I have concerns about students moving forward into other classes with teachers who are still very much traditionalists and a student’s ability to succeed coming out of a class that I teach and even more how the hell teachers can not only get away with these different ideas but begin to change the departments that they reside in, but maybe that is just me overthinking things.

 

Finally, to emulate one of my favorite YouTubers TotalBiscuit, here is an OC remix track that I feel emulates the wonder (and possibly a little fear of the unknown?) of this world of technology and literacy that we are exploring:

Social networks, identity, etc

Often, academic discussions of social media describe a place where people can connect with each other in a multiplicity of ways, not just by using various tools and services, but also by how they present their identities and selves through these mediums.

For example, Michael Wesch’s talk Anthropological Introduction to YouTube (recorded and published on YouTube, no less) gives a sampling of YouTube culture, and the various ways its users interacted through vlogs and video responses.  As part of their study of YouTube culture, Wesch and his students participated by creating their own vlogs and interacting with the communities they were studying. Through this, they came to various insights about identity, authenticity, relationships, community, and  social networking.  “YouTubers” share small portions of their authentic selves through video–selves that are sometimes reflective, sometimes performative, sometimes narcissistic, and sometimes even fake.  And, others respond, subscribe, watch, and participate in those same activities in ways that are just as various.

Wesch’s talk was published on YouTube in 2008, long before Google and YouTube began to merge all of its social networking features into one account and require its users use their real names instead of psuedonyms.  With this in mind, I would like to know what Wesch and his students think about how YouTube culture has (or hasn’t) changed after the rules of how to use the site have changed.  “Media mediates human relationships“, afterall, and the YouTube culture that existed in 2008 made heavy use of pseudonyms and anonymity. I wonder if the same kinds of emergent communities are still possible now that YouTube asks its users to connect their accounts to their Google+ account, and asks everyone to use their real names.

Amber Buck’s article “Examining Digital Literacy Practices on Social Network Sites” looks at the literacy practices of one student who considers himself an expert at social media, and uses it frequently as an important part of his social, personal, and academic life. Buck saw how Ronnie “Filtered and processed his offline life through his online activities”, essentially using media to mediate parts of his life and connect with others.

What I found especially interesting and important is how Ronnie not only manipulates and plays with his identity on various networks by presenting some details in some places, but not in others, he also actively manipulates what personal information he shares, going so far as to give false information (e.g. saying that he graduated from Hogwarts) in order to make a statement about how his peers were using social media.

Robbie is shown to be sensitive to privacy issues and the question of who controls and owns his information.  These questions of privacy and control of personal information have grown since this article was published in 2012, and seem to go hand in hand with the use of social media.  At the time Robbie’s use of social media was being studied, Facebook had not yet implemented its controversial rules about requiring users to only use their real first and last names.  If these rules existed, Robbie’s playful interactions with friends and experiments with identity would not have been possible in the same way.

If media mediates human relationships, as Wesch says it does, I think it follows that media and social networks need to be flexible enough and open enough to allow people to form relationships and identities in all the different ways that human beings are capable of.

I find policies that dictate how users present themselves or identify themselves online to be terribly problematic and counter to the powerfully human and productive ways that people would otherwise use social networks.  Judging by the controversies these policies sparked and continue to spark, I know I’m not alone.

A response to these issues by danah boyd goes even farther and describes how dangerous these kinds of policies can be to the privacy and safety of its users, and not just to users for whom disclosing their real names is dangerous for political or legal reasons.  Some people have private but still very real reasons for wanting to be anonymous, including simply being a minor, or having unpopular opinions, or being a target of bullying, or feeling discomfort with what current news about the NSA suggest is happening with our private data.

What all of this teaches me is that I think it’s that social media, identity, and community are things that are not possible to separate from each other, and while that’s not a bad thing, it’s something to keep in mind when we think about what institutions, companies, or governments are providing the platforms for so much of our identity-creation, community-formation, and social interaction.  So much of what we do is captured and shared online, which does allow us to connect with each other in awesome ways, but it also means that all of that connection and sharing is mediated by the decisions that the social media companies make.

While social media may mediate human relationships, the companies that control that media may also be in a position to mediate and change us.  And, I am not sure any of us really knows what that means yet.

New Media in Composition Classrooms

David Buckingham says in “Introducing Identity” that digital media shapes young people’s identities. I think that the internet makes it easier for people to create multiple identities.

http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/security/cybercrime-and-the-problem-of-online-identity-verification/7506

In “Students Who Teach Us” by Cynthia L. Selfe talks about how composition teachers are slow to utilizing media texts in the classroom. New media is different from print text in that it increases interactivity and creates multiple literacies (seeing, listening, writing and reading)

People who are familiar with printed text may have a difficult time adopting the new media.

Here is an interesting site

Something that print text cannot offer is aesthetics and design along with information. New media, therefore, caters to a wide audience. Some interesting quotes are brought up in this article:

“New media texts now exist on William Blake, the Salem Witch trials, hip hop, the architectural history of Rome… among many other topics” (44)

Coverage of historical events is more accessible and convenient for the younger generation to get a hold of.

Also, “Imaginative texts percolates through the sub strata of composition classrooms in direct contrast to students’ laissez faire attitudes toward more conventional texts” (44) This means that there is more enthusiasm to learning. If teachers can utilize this enthusiasm, it would make for a dynamic curriculum.

The essay also talks about how students can be teachers as well, as they can teach the older generation of new computer capabilities. Rather than curriculum being teacher-centered, students can benefit from teaching their teachers new computer skills.

In Selfe’s “Becoming Literate in the Information Age” there is talk of increasing computer usage. Selfe says “writers might compose differently with computers but probably not better.” This is problematic because computers may not help people become better writers.

Two people’s lives were followed as case studies in Selfe’s article. Both of these people, Melissa and Brittney grew up in middle class families. The term “cultural ecology” was introduced. Selfe points out that schools are not the sole places where people gain access to digital literacy (644). From 1978-2003 personal computers slowly became commercially available into composition classrooms. In the 1970’s computer programming was introduced into classrooms. Britney was born into an era of internet and email. She grew up with computer as a child while Melissa taught herself how to use computers when they were first being used in the military. Britney says, “I appreciate when my teachers embrace technology” (660). She also says, “We do best at things we have a genuine interest in, not those that are spoon-fed to us.”

If English teachers can address new literacies in their classrooms, that would make a more dynamic way for students to learn.

Should we be cautious of a rhetorician’s ability to map best practices in Comp pedagogy onto digital terrain?

As Robert points out, Scott Warnock’s objective for writing Teaching Writing Online: How & Why is to encourage composition teachers to adapt thoughtfully conceived, model writing pedagogies for use in online environments as a means of exerting influence over how distance and e-learning technologies are adopted and used within institutional settings. While Warnock certainly makes a strong case for all the reasons why teaching composition in digital environments reinforces and perhaps even epitomizes the primary learning goals of writing instruction, I found the book’s perspective on the need to develop a particular (and ultimately quite constrained) teaching persona somewhat at odds with the argument that it is possible to translate one’s face-to-face teaching methods for online use—primarily because of the perceived need for members of the online community (both teachers and students) to begin consciously auto-censoring their identities and personas because of their growing awareness of the fact that all exchanges and interactions are now officially “on the record”. I think this raises interesting questions about human development and the ability to change, “revise”, or “re-see” oneself over time. As educators, are we convinced that having the record of one’s conduct in a formal educational setting is beneficial? repressive/stifling? a blend of both? Writing to learn models would suggest that making our students’ learning visible and thus available for reflection is a good thing, however, that model is predicated on the use of informal or low stakes writing, where students express themselves and explore their thoughts and ideas without reservation or the need to perform a particular level of understanding or engagement. I’m curious what others think about this.

I’m also curious about the drawbacks of making writing the (near) exclusive mode of discourse within writing classes. Although the goal is to teach writing (among other things, like critical thinking and reading), I don’t know that I agree that that goal is necessarily best accomplished through more writing-intensive forms of instruction. Although there would seem to be a logical, one-to-one correlation, what about the fact that so much of the way our students learn to negotiate and construct meaning comes not only from their writing to or for one another (or for us for that matter), but from the informal (and more free-form) hashing out of ideas through discussion and debate? What happens to our students’ willingness to take intellectual risks (off the record, during class discussion where bodily language, physical proximity, facial expressions, and tone combine to make navigating tension or emotionally-charged discussions of complex and/or controversial material more manageable or even editable in a way that a follow up utterance can be used to revise or even help erase past comments from immediate memory)? Given the need to exercise certain constraints in order to maintain adequate control over the online learning environment (in order to prevent it from becoming too informal, at least according to Warnock’s recommendations), are we potentially at risk of over formalizing–or even to a certain degree inadvertently standardizing–our students’ responses?

Perhaps my preference for discussing ideas prior to engaging in written forms of exploration and/or reflection can be chalked up to a difference in learning style, but I do find that I’m a bit disturbed by Warnock’s emphasis on rhetorical performance—on the record, in writing—as opposed to the messiness of thinking/learning that we are supposedly encouraging our first-year students to embrace. I’m interested in kicking off a more in-depth discussion around this topic.

These are a Few of My Favorite Posts (Part II)

As I continue my synthesis of ideas from the class blog , I should mention that you all have written lots of great stuff about many subjects including games, podcasting, multimedia and so on, but I will ignore all that for now in favor of what supports, expands or challenges the ideas I have been developing about my own teaching methods which seem particularly relevant to teaching a face to face, textually based writing class with online support.

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TWinaDA Means “I Love You” Even If I Don’t Understand You

In “Introducing Identity,” David Buckingham identifies an argument that supports the view of today’s new media technology as “a force of liberation for young people–a means for them to reach past the constraining influence of their elders, and to create new, autonomous forms of communication and community” (13).  But I’m not sure how “autonomous” the younger digital generation can really be.  They are definitely empowered to break away from traditional opressors–parents, like the argument suggests, and perhaps also institutional (at least in its traditional forms).

Still, are they (or any of us) really free from controlling forces in digital media?  One of Buckingham’s concerns points to “the undemocratic tendencies of online ‘communities'” (14).  In fact, if we look at one such online community like Facebook, it’s quite apparent that there is a lot of follow-the-leader activities going on.  One day about a month ago, women (and girls) on Facebook started putting up colours and patterns on their statuses.  Some men even joined in, many without knowing what exactly they were participating in–their favourite colours?, the colour of their current mood?, or what?  And when many asked those who participated, the resulting elitism and reluctance to reveal was met either with participants’ own lack of understanding, or a cliquish desire to keep that knowledge from more people.  Only after a whole day, or even longer, did many find out that it turned out to be the colour of the bra you are wearing at the time in support of breast cancer awareness.  Nevermind the irony esoteric knowledge/practices against the purpose of awareness, what disturbs me more is the antisocial, anti-democratic behaviours that arose from the event.  And this is but one example on Facebook, while many others include the so-called “doppelganger” profile picture week, viral gaming like Julianne has noted, etc.  And these behaviours are certainly not limited to Facebook.  Go to any site that has social interaction–MySpace, Twitter, even markets like Amazon and eBay–and they’re all there.

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