In the article, Partington (2010) outlines how games can be ‘read’ and critically analysed in much the same way that other media forms like films or books can. Cultural, creative and critical literacy strands can be explored, for example, through analysis of the strong characters and narrative/s that become apparent through gameplay. An example of this is ‘unpacking’ the character of Lara Croft in the ‘Tomb Raider’ game series to determine who she is aimed at and whether she represents the power or subordination of women (Partington 2010, p.77). It is suggested that the 3C’s can also be applied through an examination of the relationships between text, audience and institutions (Partington 2010, p.76). How games are intentionally created for particular audiences and adapted to suit the tastes and desires of the players is one instance of how this relationship can be critically unpacked and analysed (Partington 2010, p.76).
Partington (2010) also details how games are distinctly unique from other texts and how this may affect the way they are incorporated and studied in the English/media classroom. Games have a number of distinguishing features, such as ludic elements like time limits, health points and economies (such as beans, coins and bullets). The fact that games do not comprise of one linear narrative, but are rather dynamic and navigated by the player/s’ choices and actions is another feature that makes their analysis and creation in the classroom different from other texts. These many unique features and representational factors are purposefully combined to make particular meaning/s therefore have much scope to be unpacked and examined from a critical/cultural and creative perspective.
The educational program detailed in the article was trialled with a group of secondary students and involved them in the play and creation of games. The program firstly drew on the novel, film and game versions of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and analysed how each text catered to specific audiences and how the differing ways in which characters and events are constructed, affects readers’/viewers’ experiences. Text, images and logos from marketing packages were also analysed and students were then required to take on the role as a gaming studio to produce a level for an action adventure game. This required students to make choices relating to characters, locations and objects and to design rules that impacted on the players’ gaming experience (Partington 2010, p.78). A program called Mission Maker was used – a simple game editing software which provided a means for teachers to draw on game creation without the need for detailed programming.
While detailing a number of successes of the program, the authors described the pressure for measurable outcomes as one of the factors that greatly limited students’ gaming creation. They suggested that the need to measure, chart and report students’ progress tended to squeeze out the creative and cultural aspects of the course. With regards to students’ own game creation, which was one of the most important elements of the program, Partington states, ‘some students, who simply include all the details that they have been shown using the skills of recall, which features as a lower-order skill in Bloom’s cognitive domain…might do better than those who do not follow the instruction of the task and reorganise the elements into a new product’ (Partington 2010, p.79). This posits that the highest level of Bloom’s taxonomy – creating – was somewhat negated due to the need to chart the ‘assessable critical (and competency/functional) components’ of the course (Partington 2010, p.79). This, I feel is not unique to the study of gaming, but is an issue that I have felt the pressures of as a teacher on a number of occassions – where many beneficial elements of learning are somewhat negated due to the priority of measuring, charting and reporting students’ progress. As Partington (2010) states, the cultural function of literacy is often ‘neglected for those functions that are easier to measure’ (p.73). The article reminds us of the importance of finding the time to draw on and build upon students’ own ‘cultural capital’ as a means of making learning relevant to students’ lifeworlds and also relays the benefits of ‘messing around’ or playing and sharing games can have in the cultural and affective elements of learning.
In a revised version of the program, Partington (2010) outlined the need to better explore the ‘culture of the students as creators and critics’ (p.84). Rather than looking at the history of gaming in the early parts of the program, course adaptations involved students in creating a ‘Games and Me’ poster. While displaying the 3C’s, the poster revealed how students engaged in the creation of other media texts linked to their gaming. This included critical discussions of ludic, narrative and character elements on official and cheat wikis. Partington (2010) detailed the potential to extend the program to include the creation of wikis or blogs to reflect upon and share students’ experiences of developing a game.
While I found this article most beneficial for the way in which it linked the critical, creative and cultural literacy strands to an investigation and analysis of existing games (this is something I could see myself manageably incorporating into the English classroom), the actual creation of an original game level is something that still seems quite daunting. Having no knowledge of the ‘Mission Maker’ game editing program used in this reading, game creation is one area I will need to further resource, explore and test out.
This investigation has encouraged me to further research how gaming can be used to enhance teaching and learning and annotated links to blogs, wikis and gaming websites that I have found beneficial can be found in the Gaming Resources page of my blog.
Partington, A. (2010). Game literacy, gaming cultures and media education. English Teaching: Practice and Critique. 9(1), 73-86.