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


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.


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.


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.


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?

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.

Video Games, Affiliations, and Critical Optimism

This is the screen-worshiping zombie mothers across America are seeing in their children, young adults and fully grown children. This is the social stigma James Paul Gee is up against in his attempt to debunk the idea that video games are a waste of time.  In What Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, Gee cites three things involved in active learning: “experiencing the world in new ways, forming new affiliations, and preparation for future learning (24),” and adds that a meta awareness of the particular domain brings “active learning” a step further into “critical learning.”  I would like to discuss here the aspect of new affiliations in gaming.  “Since semiotic domains usually are shared by group of people who carry them on as distinctive social practices, we gain the potential to join this social group, to become affiliated with such kinds of people (even though we may never see all of them, or any of them, face to face(24).)”  Though from our perspective, the child in the illustration above seems to be zoned out to technicolor nonsense on the screen in front of him, he could easily be communicating with others across the world having the same gaming experience.  From our position as outsiders looking in on a semiotic domain of which we are not a part, we have little way of knowing with who or what the boy may be interacting.

While some parents may be concerned about the amount of time their children spend locked up in their rooms with their video games away from society, research in numerous fields has caught on to the community aspect of the gaming world.  Gee states: “Reading and writing in any domain, whether it is law, rap songs, academic essays, superhero comics, or whatever, are not just ways of decoding print, they are also caught up with ways of doing things, thinking about things, valuing things and interacting with other people—that is, they are caught up with different sorts of social practices (Gee 18).”  Similarly, in “The Rhetoric of Video Games” Ian Bogost presents the social world of gamers as a community of practice:

“We often think that video games have a unique ethos. Video game players have their own culture and values. Video game players often self-identify as “gamers” and devote a major part of their leisure time to video games. They discuss games online, follow new trends, and adopt new technology early. Video game play could be understood as a “community of practice,” a name Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger have given to a common social situation around which people collaborate to develop ideas. In this sense, the people who play video games develop values, strategies, and approaches to the practice of play itself (Bogost 119).”

My friend’s recent marriage proposal

is a great example of the use of he and his fiancé’s shared practice of play, just as their relationship is a great example of the possibilities of affiliations in the semiotic domain of MMORPGs.  (The two – a videogame tester and college student in California and a working mother of three in Kentucky – met playing WoW) It is interesting to note that he posted this image on his Facebook page with the caption “I do things nerdy,” followed by a picture of her physical engagement ring with the post “but I also do things for real.”  I think this distinction is connected to the meta understanding of our semiotic domains that Gee stresses, and is probably the main legitimate worry parents have in seeing their children retreat to fantasy worlds.  Can gamers connect their community values and practices with practices that will help them be successful outside of their niche communities?

This post on Gee’s blog in which he discusses truths about books and what they have to do with video games made me think about the dangers of immersion in fantasy in another light.  It immediately made me think about Richard E. Miller’s Writing at the End of the World “TheDark Night of the Soul” and his discussion of the idealistic literary immersion that led to Chris McCandless’ death in the Alaskan wild. I can’t help but wonder whether the domain of video games, especially with its propensity toward social interaction within an easily accessible community (as opposed to the unreachable authors McCandless believed in so fully) already exhibits the ideals of the critical optimism Miller argues for in writing.  Most importantly, how can we use this to our students’ advantage?

Semiotic Domains, Virginia Woolf, and Video Games

A New York Times review of a new Batman video game

I eagerly signed up to blog for this week’s topic “Games and Writing,” in order to learn more about video games, and gaming since I am a little embarrassed to admit – I am novice. I came of age during Atari’s ascent, had friends with early Apple computers that had video games loaded into the software (primitive by today’s standards), but never caught the bug that so many of my contemporaries did. I read comic books as a kid and as a teenager, have returned to them as an adult, but somehow, I never jumped on the wave of video games, believing that they were a waste of time, as one grandfather (aghast!) makes comment in one of this week’s articles.

In my attempt to unpack why I felt they were not worth my time, I realized, I just was not that informed about them, and even a little frightened, because I did not know the lexicon necessary to enter the conversation of video games. However, I soon realized, after pushing past my initial discomfort, that if I believe that the study of images, film, television, comic books, graphic novels, and Cultural Studies, are apt canvas’s to read, and write about, so too are Video Games. Moreover, if I did not think that video games had arrived, I could not ignore that the seminal New York Times regularly reviews newly released, and popular video games, in a serious-minded fashion, as they would review a book, play, or film – providing video games weight and status.

In reading James Paul Gee’s “Semiotic Domains: Is Playing Video Games a ‘Waste ofTime’?” article and Ian Bogost’s “The Rhetoric of Video Games,” I noticed that both writer’s link and even go so far as to define learning to play video games as “learning a new literacy.” I was moderately suspicious but Bogost made an argument that resonated to me when he suggested that “playing video games is [a] kind of literacy . . . not one that helps us read but . . . that helps us make or critique the systems we live in” (136), which made sense to me after he had systematically chronicled the benefits that video games provide. I especially like how Bogost presents games that have socio-economic structures and questions that can assist with a student’s actively engaging with real world issues, that may seem more abstract when written only on the page, but more concrete and alive through the application of a video game.

James Paul Gee places an emphasis on recognizing that in the modern world, we need to acknowledge more than just print literacy to move forward. Gee’s sentiment reminded me that ever since motion pictures were developed, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, writing has been altered in order to incorporate the public’s new understanding of images. The Modern writers of the 1920’s and 1930’s made strides to incorporate the visual into the word in ways never before imagined, so as to make the text more like something the reading audience could “picture” happening in film. Reading words in a visual frame much like Gee argues for learning multiple literacies.

Notably, Virginia Woolf’s makes use of modern technology in a sequence in Mrs. Dalloway, in which a plane flies overhead, providing descriptive language to incorporate the propulsive, motion that the new technology provided (airplanes and film).   Influenced by Impressionistic Art in the Fine Arts, and often making an attempt to meld different mediums, Woolf and her fellow Moderns embraced pushing the boundaries of the written word, through experimentation, stream of consciousness narration, and shifting perspectives in time and place. While I am not sure what Woolf and her colleagues would make of today’s multimodal landscape, many of their interests are extended in today’s digital mediums and literacies.

I believe this week’s readings assist in providing a solid foundation for the use of video games as a learning tool in the classroom by demonstrating active and applied effort from students as a result of playing video games.  I am still not sure on quite how, or where to begin with in my own effort to get started.  I do not want to wrangle with joy sticks or consoles, but I am interested in computer based games, or smartphone applicable ones; and therefore, I welcome suggestions from my fellow blog readers and writers.

Level Up Your Classroom

Original NES: A thing of wonder

Original NES: A thing of wonder

Sometime in high school, I came to an important realization about myself: I’m a gamer. At that point in my life, it wasn’t something I was particularly proud of, but by the time I got to college where girls who played video games where a hot commodity, I was embracing it. I grew up with Nintendo paddle in hand, beating Super Mario Brothers, questing my way through the gold cartridge Zelda, and becoming a master of Tetris–and there was certainly no denying how my brand-loyalty continued with Nintendo64.

In “36 Ways to Learn a Video Game” from What Video Games Teach Us, James Gee speaks briefly about his first moments of playing video games and realizing the potential learning benefits of them (there’s also a great video with him talking about it too). There’s this perfect moment in this article when Gee realizes that consumers seek more challenging video games. It is absolutely true that they do. This is exactly the reason why I have always played the various Zelda games that are filled with time-consuming tasks and puzzles. Completing the game was fun and rewarding.

Gee comments about a game’s learning mechanisms, or their ability to teach the player how to play, and how these functions are important to a game’s success. Again, he is right. If Zelda games weren’t scaffolded in such a way to get the player from the forest to the field, then no one would ever be able to complete the longer tasks–and save the princess, of course. However, there seems to be an element that Gee only begins to approach in this reading: the collaborative nature of learning in video games.

I recently began playing an online, multi-player strategic game called Kingdoms of Camelot. The game is all about building up your kingdoms and your troops in order to conquer the world and battle other players. Your success in this game is dependent on building up your kingdom, and, more importantly, the community around you.

 Kingdoms of Camelot (K.O.C.) is similar to what the game described by Ian Bogost in “The Rhetoric of Video Games”. The more soldiers you train, the more resources you need, and so on. It is also similar in the way that the community has developed social norms and ways of interacting through a specific function called ‘global chat’ where players talk about game strategies and plans. As a new user, you must learn the different ideas and concepts of the game through the coded speech of the more advanced users. Containing an unprecedented amount of symbols and codes, the game tests a player’s ability to dive into conversation, use context clues, and use their perceived definitions to further their advancement in the game. Eventually, you get to a point of knowledge where you can join a specific group called an Alliance and build a community within the community.

Kingdoms of Camelot: Battle for the North

In this way, Gee’s ideas about a multiplicity of literacies in “Semiotic Domains: Is Playing Video Games a ‘Waste of Time’?” becomes evident in games, as well as ideas around Game Based Learning. But what Gee does not get to is the way groups of players develop these meanings together. In the groups of K.O.C., new players work together to interpret the strategies and codes of the more advanced players. Much in the way that we ask students to collaborate in the writing classroom, certain games allow for groups to convene regarding a certain topic or obstacle and develop a solution together. Indeed, users even use wikis to collaborate on knowledge regarding the game.

We’ve worked on ways to bring wikis into the classroom, and some groups have even spoken about ways to bring video games in as well (others outside our classroom have too). So, let’s say we had students choose a game in groups; together, they play the game and develop their characters, worlds, etc. Afterward, we ask them to consider the implications of their game play and ideas of literacy, community, identity, code-switching, or other valuable composition-related ideas. Is there some way to get them to consider these complicated ideas in the same collaborative way that certain games allow for collaborative meaning making? Would asking the students to create a wiki about the game knowledge and their experience get at this, or could there be something more? After all, a lot of our students are playing video games anyway, right?

Video Game Awards for … Cub Scouts?

Apparently, along with the various pins and belt loops Cub Scouts can earn, there are now awards for “Video Games.” Some of the badge requirements predictably hover around societal anxieties about the appropriateness of video games for certain ages, such as the requirement to “explain why it is important to have a rating system for video games” and “check your video games to be sure they are right for your age.”

However, there are also requirements that seem to acknowledge both the social nature of video gaming and the connection between video games and learning:

  • Play a video game with family members in a family tournament.
  • Teach an adult or a friend how to play a video game.
  • List at least five tips that would help someone who was learning how to play your favorite video game.
  • Play an appropriate video game with a friend for one hour.

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