GAMING AS WRITING, OR, A HOMOLOGY PLEASE

Central to any attention to and analysis of gaming and writing is the establishment of useful parallels between the two technologies, practices, conventions, features, and forms. How is a video game like writing? How is playing a video game like writing a paper? How is writing like gaming? Here the similarity and the simile is strengthened and widened into homology. Gaming as writing. Writing as gaming. Broadly drawing on Geoffrey Sircís notion above that composition is a "happening," the homology between gaming and writing springs from the two practices and productions as active, as gerunds, as actions. Alexander Galloway (2006) rightly argues that "video games are actions" (p. 2). Or, in Espen Aarseth's (2001) words, "Games are both object and process; they canít be read as texts or listened to as music, they must be played. Playing is integral, not coincidental like the appreciative reader or listener. The creative involvement is a necessary ingredient in the uses of games" (as qtd. in Moulthrop, "After," 2005). It is this very "creative involvement" that makes video games unique and different from other objects of study.

Writing, then, must also be action. Writing must also be both object and process. Galloway continues, "Without action, games remain only in the pages of an abstract rule book. Without the active participation of players and machines, video games exist only as static computer code. Video games come into being when the machine is powered up and the software is executed; they exist when enacted" (p. 2). In conjunction, without action, writing would only remain in the abstract, in the mind, in the rules of grammar, genre, and composition. Without the active engagement of writers (also with machines), writing exists only as ideas, outlines, brainstorms. Writing comes into being when the mind is powered up, critical thinking and language routines executed; writing, too, only exists when enacted, when pen is put to paper, idea turned into word. Writing cannot only be learned by reading or by hearing or by rote rules and lines but by doing, practicing, revising, and rewriting.

Fundamentally, gaming and writing share a common lineage through language, expression, narrative, rhetorical context, and play. Video games, after all, begin as algorithms and are written as code. Galloway defines games as inherently algorithmic; they create "grammars of action" (p. 4) in both the player and the game itself. On the one hand, the game is about how players play the game (how they move their bodies, how they watch and read, how they respond, and how they manipulate the action of the game). On the other hand, the game is about how the game and the machine play and act (what are the rules, goals, obstacles, what are the available choices and responses, what gets rendered or represented, what are the material and technological possibilities and limitations). Writing, of course, is algorithmic; there are grammars of action for writing as well. In fact, most composition pedagogy depends on providing writers with different heuristics, principles and methods for how to write, generate ideas for writing, organize writing, and how to revise. In other words, both gaming and writing rely on what Ian Bogost (2006) calls "unit operations" or "modes of meaning-making" (p.3) that are "characteristically succinct, discrete, referential, and dynamic" (p. 4). Unit operations focus on particulars, pieces, and parts rather than totalizing or holistic systems; unit operations look at the interactions, assemblages, and complexities of these discrete, disconnected pieces. A unit is a "material element, a thing" (p. 5) like a word, a paragraph, a function in a computer program, or a gene. An operation is a "process that takes one or more inputs and performs a transformation on it" (p. 7) like composing a sentence, organizing a seminar paper, playing a game, brewing a cup of tea, even falling in love. Bogost suggests that "unit operations give us a lever for understanding any form of human production as potentially procedural" (p. 15).

Galloway uses algorithm and Bogost uses procedurality as ways to articulate and analyze the ways games work and the way games are played, much like composition pedagogy and writers use formal and generic convention and rhetorical strategies to parse and problem-solve the writing process. Part of the strength of the homology between gaming and writing is in this process, again a kind of action, often characterized through the metaphor of literacy. How do we learn to play games? How do we learn to read games? How do we learn to write? How do we learn to analyze and argue? James Paul Gee (2003) says, "There are many ways of reading and writing. We donít read or write newspapers, legal tracts, essays in literary criticism, poetry, rap songs, and on through a nearly endless list the same way. Each of these domains has its own rules and requirements. Each is a culturally and historically separate way of reading and writing, and, in that sense, a different literacy" (p. 14). Each separate way of reading and writing is its own kind of algorithm, its own unit operation, and its own heuristic. Obviously, there are commonalities, overlaps, and transferabilities across these different domains. But by making a direct connection, a direct comparison between gaming and writing, there is an opportunity to produce new and attentive literacies, what Sanford and Madill (2007) call "alternative literacies." These alternative literacies include "chat rooms, internet, comic books, cell phones, blogs, trading cards, zines, film creation, and video games" and are "a few of the new and alternative literacies that students are engaging in largely outside of school spaces."

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