Moberly, Kevin. “Composition, Computer Games, and the Absence of Writing.” Computers and Composition 25.3 (2008): 284–299. Web. 15 Sept. 2016. Reading Games: Composition, Literacy, and Video Gaming.
Moberly’s article, written in 2008, begins with the idea that in games like World of Warcraft and Second Life, the written word was becoming scarce. As player communication moved from text-based to voice based, and given that game content was delivered primarily through sound and visuals, it seemed that writing (and reading) were becoming obsolete.
However, Moberly states that, “If writing appears to be absent from these games, however, it is not because the games have evolved to the point where writing is not useful or relevant but because, in order to appear magical, the games must disguise the degree to which their technology is dependent on writing.” Certainly, the writing of design documents and dialogue as part of the game’s design and production is vital, though it is largely invisible to players. But while actual written words may be scarce on the page, the player goes through many of the same processes that a writer does.
Composition is occurring, in that the thought processes required to define a character visually using the symbolic language of the game is much the same as choosing words to describe something to an intended audience. An important lesson that can be applied to the composition classroom, is that “whether reading and writing takes place in the context of a computer game or a research paper, its effects are ultimately not manifested on the screen or on paper, but on the individuals who, in expressing themselves through the surrogate of the screen or paper, produce the discourse communities in which they are involved.”
Rhetoric and communication are happening in MMORPGs, even if they are being done through symbols and game mechanics. The choices players make in crafting identity can be applied as lessons on audience and tone, as well as relation to a discourse community. What impression do you want to give to your reader, or in this case, other players? A scantily clad Night Elf sorceress is going to send a very different message than a stout Dwarven warrior – one which can be deconstructed in terms of gender, race, social standing, and a host of other factors. As a player, are you going to make choices based on that character’s cultural background, or just do what feels fun? How much will you roleplay the character, through your words or actions?
Ultimately, Moberly is addressing one of the elements I feel is fertile ground for study – the ways in which games can help students learn the underlying elements that have to be in place before effective, fruitful writing can be created. In the case of World of Warcraft, issues of discourse community, relation to an audience, and finding a unique voice from which to write from are all inherent in game play. From a pedagogical standpoint, though, students will not necessarily absorb these lessons in a conscious sense – for a game to be applied in a practical way to composition studies, there has to be a teacher to act as a catalyst for students, to see these applications.
“Extra Credits” is a web series on game design. In their episode “Symbolism 101,” they discuss uses of symbolism from a design standpoint, and address issues including player identity.
“Narrative Mechanics” addresses how a story can be told through the mechanics – the way that a game works, the rules that govern gameplay.