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.

PAB Entry #1 – “Composition, Computer Games, and the Absence of Writing”

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.

Text from a World of Warcraft chat window
Text from a World of Warcraft chat window

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?

Sometimes player dialogue choices are limited

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.

Additional Resources:
“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.