Fall 2008 - Editors' Welcome

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Special Issue: Reading Games: Composition, Literacy, and Video Gaming

The computer and video gaming industry has come to have a significant impact on our culture and economy. As we consider the multiple ways that games presented via the screen have influenced how we interface with the world, it becomes useful to consider how these games might influence our literacy practices. Furthermore, these games also ask us to consider our practices as teachers of literacy as well. One important work that addresses these questions is James Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach us about Learning and Literacy. Gee offers a critique of traditional teaching while considering the ways that games teach, and the types of things they teach. For instance, he explores ways in which game simulations situate students in concrete contexts that they can then actively learn from in embodied ways through playing with this simulated world. In other ways, however, traditional schooling is also replicated in some games through rote memorization, repetition of exercises, and the importance of following the rules.

In looking at composition, literacy, and video gaming, we might imagine all manner of intersections, especially for those who have played games for some time. Early text-based games in which finding the right word or means of saying something allowed you to progress in a game seems to have a clear analog to writing outside of the game world. Later, graphic intensive games haven’t seemed to have the same overt connections. However, later games, such as massive multiplayer online role-playing games, have collaborative elements and require means of cooperation and communication (written and otherwise) not needed by those earlier games. At a more conceptual level, as games have become more complex, so have the players. From the social contracts that have developed in Second Life to the social debates necessary in order to collaboratively function within larger guilds in World of Warcraft, games have progressed to include more complex civic, rhetorical, and learning connections.

As we consider the contemporary landscape of games as well as the contemporary technologies that play host to these games, we cannot help but also consider what has been lost and what has been gained. For many students, learning has become connected with fun, just as it was for the ancient Greeks where oratory was often perceived as a type of game (Huizinga, 1947, pp. 147-149); for others, learning represents hard work and diligence, and is not particularly associated with play. Just as debates continue over the so-called “serious” games versus those more ludic in nature, or specific educational games versus commercial off the shelf games, teachers of writing are at the center of these discussions. Within these discussions are questions about the nature of gaming, play, learning and literacy. In what ways can games change how we learn as well as how we learn games? Along with this, we might also ask, what makes games different at teaching some things rather than others? Or more precisely, what makes games better at teaching and learning? How does game design and curriculum design intersect? What theories of gaming interface with teaching and learning?

This special issue represents current theory, critique, and pedagogy concerning the use of games in the writing classroom. We hope these works generate discussion, ideas, and a new way at looking at how games, literacy and teaching interact.

Theory into Practice

This section begins with Shawn Apostel’s “Thinking through Persuasive Play: Encouraging a Reflective Gaming Experience.” Apostel uses Donald Norman’s theory of brain activity to consider the ways we process information. Adding another level to Norman’s schema, Apostel discusses how composition instructors might use this and other multimodal theories to discuss the U.S.’s use of America’s Army, a video game used for military recruitment.

In “Gaming as Writing, or, World of Warcraft as World of Wordcraft,” Edmond Y. Chang discusses the numerous connections between writing and gaming, looking at how language, expression, narrative, rhetorical context, and play are part of rhetorical processes and texts worthy of critical analysis. Using World of Warcraft, Chang brings these features of writing and gaming together, looking at the connections between the processes of play and writing and then examining how World of Warcraft rhetorically constructs race.

Ryan M. Moeller and Kim White chart the development from theory into practice of Bedford/St. Martin’s composition game, Peer Factory. “Enter the Game Factor: Putting Theory into Practice in the Design of Peer Factor” is an interesting webtext that discusses the politics, practicality, and pedagogy behind the design of this game designed to teach peer review.

This section ends with “Starter Cities: Simulation, Game Design, and the Writing Classroom” by Mark Mullen. Mullen maps out the MMORPG starter city as a way to consider simulation in the writing classroom. He also draws provocative connections between learning structures embedded within the gameplay of starter cities and better practices for teaching writing.

Virtual Classroom

The Virtual Classroom section starts with J. James Bono discussing pedagogical uses of alternate reality games (ARGs) in “Alternate Reality Games: Composition, Collaboration, and Real Community Play.” Bono shares how the ARG World Without Oil can be used in a writing classroom, allowing students to rhetorically bridge the gap between the “magic circle” and “reality.”

Craig McKenney’s “Building the Labyrinth: Adapting Video Game Design Concepts for Writing Course Design” looks at some useful parallels between game design and course design, sharing multiple projects that integrate games, civic rhetoric, and the writing classroom.

Finally, Stephanie Vie discusses the promises and pitfalls of Second Life in “Are We Truly Worlds apart?: Building Bridges between Second Life and Secondary Education.” Vie presents a number of arguments as to how we can be more critical and pedagogically aware of using Second Life in a writing classroom, looking especially at the way that Second Life residents, especially teachers, deal with conflicts within this social space.

Professional Development

Our Professional Development section begins with a short piece entitled, “Computer Games and the Writing Classroom: Four Perspectives.” We share four outlooks on learning, gaming, and the writing classroom from theorists and game designers.

We also have included “Remapping Rhetorical Peaks: A Video Game for First-year Writing,” in which Matt King updates the status of Rhetorical Peaks, a project originally began as a modification of Neverwinter Nights, but that now has begun development as a standalone game useful for teaching rhetorical appeals through an adventure style murder mystery game.

We hope you enjoy this issue as much as we did reviewing the proposals and working with each of these authors. We would like to thank Mathew S. S. Johnson and Pilar Lacasa, special editors of the print edition of Computers and Composition. We would also like to offer a special thanks to Kristine Blair, editor of Computers and Composition Online. And finally, we want to thank all of the contributors for their innovative work.

Richard Colby, University of Denver
Rebekah Shultz Colby, University of Denver


Gee, J. (2003). What Video Games Have to Teach us about Learning and Literacy. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Huizinga, J. (1950). Homo ludens: A study of the play element in culture. Boston: The Beacon Press.