PAB Entry #2 – “Gaming, Student Literacies, and the Composition Classroom: Some Possibilities for Transformation”

Alexander, Jonathan. “Gaming, Student Literacies, and the Composition Classroom: Some Possibilities for Transformation.” College Composition and Communication 61.1 (2009): 35–63. Web. 15 Sept. 2016.

In “Gaming, Student Literacies, and the Composition Classroom: Some Possibilities for Transformation,” Alexander examines the experiences of two gamers as a way to explore multiple literacies, as well as utilizing games for analysis and as a mode of student writing in the composition classroom. Although much of the article consists of a recap of existing scholarship on the topic, and his incredulity at his subjects ability to juggle multiple technologies at once may strike a technologically savvy reader as quaint, he addresses writing as a means of knowledge production in contexts related to the game but not a part of actual gameplay. The artifacts produced as a result constitute an important paratextual resource for understanding and interacting with the game world.

Alexander’s analysis addressed the many ancillary texts outside of gameplay that are created by World of Warcraft players, which include reading and writing message board postsstrategy guides, and wikis. Students who may balk at a three-page paper for school will often churn out thousands of words for these ancillary texts as a component of their overall gaming experience. It should also be noted that these texts are often highly collaborative, with many people participating in the conversation, and even editing, adding to or subtracting from texts created by others. Alexander describes the planning of a guild raid as an argumentative text, not unlike what students are called on to create in Freshman Composition classes, that these written conversations “are taking place as students are collaboratively working on one text. Again, such collaboration is not uncommon in many professional fields, but I wonder to what extent we in our writing courses are teaching students not just to write but to write collaboratively“.

He cites examples of establishing the credibility of the author, suiting the tone and diction to the writer’s audience, and other elements that we strive to impart to students in basic composition classes, and demonstrates the ways in which students are using them in creating these ancillary game texts.

While I agree with his assertions, and have seen many examples of people who did tremendous research, and even mastered complex skills only tangentially related to a game they were playing, I don’t feel that Alexander drew a clear enough line between what is occurring in games, and how to apply that as part of composition pedagogy. Knowing that it happens is interesting in understanding process and the ways in which students reflect on their writing outside a classroom setting. But how does that impact how we teach? Without the many, many hours it takes to become immersed in a game setting and form a strong bond with characters, and to become effectively subject matter experts, how are these skills transferable?

Alexander states that, “in particular, literacy reflectivity, trans-literacy connections, collaborative writing, multicultural literacy awareness” can be developed through gaming. I agree, and his suggestion of the creation of multimedia texts, for example, can provide students with skills that will serve them beyond the classroom.  But most of his suggestions and example deal with students creating these writing assignments and then reflectively drawing out lessons from them that can be applied to other kinds of writing. This is great…if you have a class full of gamers. The time requirement to develop subject matter expertise and passion for the subject matter make the application of what has been learned in this study problematic for the composition teacher. Furthermore, for this to work as Alexander suggests would require a sea change in the way that we approach composition courses – the “transformation” that he alludes to in the article’s title. While this is arguably a laudable goal to work toward, it may not help professors now who have to teach to a set curriculum with little flexibility.
Additional Resources:

Gaming the First-Year Composition Course is a blog posting that is less focused on abstract theory or recapping scholarly literature, but one that echoes some of the same themes. It is more pragmatic, however, in their application.

It’s About the Game Design and the Learning – “In the case of education, it’s about the game and the learning, but the point is lost if the game isn’t fun.”

A nonscholarly post on “4 Things I Learned About Writing from Playing World of Warcraft” for novice professional writers.

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