Print Volume 25.3 (September 2008)

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The Game of Reading and Writing: How Video Games Reframe Our Understanding of Literacy
— John Alberti, Northern Kentucky University

This essay focuses on how video games both highlight our traditional assumptions about reading and writing and suggest alternative paradigms that combine the new and the traditional:

• Play. Video games reveal how pleasure and desire are inherent to the reading and writing process. This dimension of gaming helps explain why video games can produce resistance in terms of approaches to writing instruction grounded in maintaining the cultural distinction between play and work.

• Authority. The interactivity of video games complicates questions of who authors and authorizes meaning in a discourse community. Video game players are simultaneously readers and writers whose gaming decisions are inscribed within a certain horizon of possibilities but not predictability. The video game is an inherently dialogic discursive space that problematizes the institutionalized distinction between “reading” and “writing”

• Return to the visual. The case of video games not only helps restore the understanding of writing as a visual form of communication but also challenges the apparent static quality of the printed text, emphasizing the temporal quality of all communication. In so doing, the study of video games promises to fundamentally rewrite the conceptual binary of process and product in composition pedagogy.

Public Writing in Gaming Spaces
— Matthew S.S. Johnson, Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville

Although recent composition scholarship has focused on public writing and civic participation, classroom practices do not (yet) seem to match the theory. This trend should not indicate, though, that public writing is not being done—rather that we may have to look beyond the classroom to see our students participating in it. “Public Writing in Gaming Spaces” argues that the writing computer gamers do in and for their online communities is not only directed to clearly definable audiences and with specific purposes, but also has the potential to institute real, measurable change within gaming communities and the larger gaming industry. What is more, unlike conventional academic spaces and workspaces, the playspace in which gamers write is comprised of textual exchange that is self-motivated; the writers themselves collaboratively construct them. “Gamer-authors” ultimately discover that they are agents who have the power, through writing, to shape the electronic worlds—games and other online spaces—they regularly inhabit, putting into sharp relief how writing does, in fact, matter. It can institute change.

Composition, Computer Games, and the Absence of Writing
— Kevin Moberly, St. Cloud State University

Computer games fundamentally incorporate composition into their game play. Highly symbolic constructs, whose photo-realistic graphical environments are often produced by combining pre-existing elements, computer games not only require players to read and to make meaning of symbols presented on the screen but to write and ultimately to revise their actions in the game relationship to these symbols. This activity, which is often constructed as “play” rather than writing, is significant in that, although its effects appear to be limited to the conversations taking place on the screen, its focus is ultimately on how players read and write (compose) themselves in relationship to the game and to the larger socio-political structures upon which the game is beholden. Computer games thus have the potential to help students not only understand the fundamentals of the compositional process and the larger socio-political structures within which this process occurs but to recognize how these socio-political structures construct reading and writing and in doing so determine the way that the individuals subject to them construct (read and write) themselves.

A Pedagogy of Play: Integrating Computer Games into the Writing Classroom
— Rebekah Shultz Colby & Richard Colby, University of Denver

Traditional distinctions between work/play and classroom/gamespace create barriers to computer games’ integration into academic settings and the writing classroom in particular. For a writing class, the work/play distinction often relegates games to an object of analysis in which students critique the games but have little invested in the gameplay itself. After examining briefly how historical changes in education created these distinctions, we offer an alternative position that places play and gamespace within the realm of the classroom. In so doing, we open up a gap for computer game theory to inform the pedagogy that can be practiced in a writing classroom. We show one such example of game theory informing writing pedagogy—the theory of emergent gaming. We then offer an example of an enacted emergent pedagogy in which students play the massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft throughout the term, composing self-determined, rhetorically focused writing projects informed by play and written for other game players.

Press Enter to “Say”: Using Second Life to Teach Critical Media Literacy
— Jennifer deWinter, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, & Stephanie Vie, Fort Lewis College

Online simulated environments directly affect the formation of individual subjectivities through the creation of player avatars. Thus, the power relationships that affect subjectivity formation need to be carefully examined by player-participants as belonging to a system with sometimes homologous, sometimes radically different actions and consequences. In this article, we argue that students need to develop critical awareness of their own subject formation and their positions in new media environments. Such awareness is a necessary component of new media literacy. We further contend that composition instructors can look to Second Life, a popular online simulated environment, as a dynamic text to engage students in questions regarding power, ethics, intellectual property, and community.

Just For Fun: Writing and Literacy Learning as Forms of Play
— David Sheridan & William Hart-Davidson, Michigan State University

This article focuses on Ink, a Multiplayer Online Game (MOG) being developed at Michigan State University. The design of Ink reflects the developers’ understanding of writing pedagogy and rhetorical theory. Ink allows players to enter into complex rhetorical situations that include exigencies, audiences, and rhetorical purposes. The developers of Ink hope that placing players in these rhetorical situations will facilitate literacy learning while simultaneously providing a satisfying game experience. Players will hopefully learn while having fun. In order to test the effectiveness of Ink as a game and learning environment, the authors designed a small-scale preliminary study with a focus group of student playtesters. The study was designed to answer three fundamental questions: Will players write? Will players have fun? Will players learn? The study generated some evidence that the answer to all three questions is “yes.”

Bringing Commercial Games into the Classroom
— Pilar Lacasa, University of Alcalá, Laura Méndez, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, & Rut Martínez, University of Alcalá,

One of the challenges facing us when we try to bring commercial materials such as video games into the classroom to be used as educational tools is to identify appropriate strategies of collaboration with teachers, families, and even industries. This paper explores how multimedia contexts can be created in which children become active participants in a digital universe where multiple technologies are present (so that video games are just one of several digital tools). We present several examples derived from specific projects carried out in formal and informal educational contexts, in action research and from ethnographical perspectives. As participant observers in and outside the classroom, we designed workshops as innovative educational contexts; all the sessions were video and audio recorded. Our analysis adopted a socio-cultural perspective. Several preliminary results clearly appeared: (a) Children playing commercial games inside and outside classrooms produce different writing texts depending of the context in which they are generated; (b) using video games combined with other digital technologies seems to be an effective way of introducing children to the content and structure of games considered as dynamic systems; (c) using and reflecting on video games in and outside the school, via discussions in digital media such as blogs or pictures, can contribute to the development of digital literacies as a way of using multimodal discourses. Our main goal at this moment is to design digital materials capable of supporting teachers’ and families’ use of games and in particular, to reveal the rules that organize their structure, codes and symbolic universe.

The Design is the Game: Writing Games, Teaching Writing
— Alice J. Robison, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

This article makes both conceptual and empirical arguments for why composition scholars and teachers ought to take notice of how video games are designed and developed in such a way as to make them so compelling. Thinking about games’ design principles as an analogy for composition curricula, I argue that video game designers and developers discuss and approach their design processes in many of the same ways writing teachers do. Data presented are taken from several years’ worth of ethnographic interviews, observations, and artifact analyses from within the game design and development community. This paper demonstrates how one of the designers from this ongoing study builds on his knowledge of games as distinctly interactive meaning-making spaces, noting that this approach to game design fits well with a re-thinking of the task of designing writing and learning spaces.

Keeping with the currency of the print-based journal, Print to Screen focuses on the themes found in the recent issues of Computers and Composition, and includes multimodal commentaries that explore and remediate relationships between print and screen.

Section Editor — Elizabeth Monske

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