Week 9: ‘Game literacy, gaming cultures and media education’

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I was interested this week, in exploring how gaming can be used to enhance classroom learning, specifically within my teaching areas of English and/or Art.  I came across an article titled ‘Game literacy, gaming cultures and media education’ by A. Partington, which explores how one teacher used gaming within the English/media classroom.  The article was applicable to my teaching area of English as it privileged a critical literacy approach and recognised the inherently social functions of language.  By drawing on the 3C’s model of literacy, which posits that literacy has cultural, creative and critical social functions (Partington 2010, p.73), the reading made suggestions as to how a course combining computer game play and creation can provide opportunities for students to extend their critical literacy and creativity.

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.

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Week 8: ‘Gaming in the 21st Century’

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This week I have chosen to explore a reading linked to the culture of gaming.  As I am not a gamer myself, I feel this is one area within the broad realm of ‘popular culture’ in which I am lacking knowledge and information.  As I am well aware of the popularity of gaming among youth today and having also been aware of games being used as a successful educational tool, I have chosen to explore this area further through a book chapter titled ‘Gaming in the 21st Century’.  This reading looks at the emergence of gaming as one of the most ubiquitous forms of global popular culture and the chapter outlines how gaming has evolved by detailing a number of key trends in the 21st century.

The reading firstly explores the disruption of ‘hardcore’ and ‘casual’ categories of gaming.  Devices such as the iPhone and Wii as well as online games linked to social networking sites has made gaming much more user-friendly, which has consequently altered the gaming demographic by making it accessible to a greater number of people.  While gaming may have previously been the domain of male youth, contemporary gaming has significantly widened the demographic to include both the young and the old from mixed social, cultural and educational backgrounds.  The abundance of games associated with social networking sites has also seen gaming infiltrate the age of participatory media.  In this way, gaming is no longer an anti-social pastime, but is now a medium that connects people.

Furthermore, the type of engagement and commitment demanded of players in this new gaming climate has transformed, and participation in gaming has evolved from being a completely solitary form of immersion to a state of ‘distracted immersion’ (Hjorth 2011, p.130).  The reading points out how mobile phone users, for example, are likely to play casual games at bus stops or while waiting for friends and that they negotiate a state of ‘in-between or semi-engaged attentiveness’ (Hjorth 2011, p.130).  This ‘in-between’ state is exemplified through the example of the online game ‘Happy Farm,’ with one feature of this game involving stealing produce or assets from other players.  This can encourage players to be online all day, flicking back and forth between work and leisure, to ensure they keep a watchful eye on their produce so it does not get stolen.  Thus by maintaining a semi-engaged presence, players are engaged in a form of ‘distracted immersion’ that could be defined as ‘hardcore’ in so much as the game takes up so much of their time and energy.

The reading goes on to detail how play labour (referred to as ‘playbour’) is greatly shifting the boundaries between players and gamemakers, and has consequently seen the emergence of ancillary gaming cultures, such as cosplay and eSports.  It is suggested that cosplay (or costume play), which involves participants dressing up as game characters or roleplaying a game character offline, allows players to become ‘produsers’ of games which can then lead to players becoming game makers themselves.

As Hjorth (2011) points out:

‘Cosplayers are a key example of the fan as a co-producer in interpreting and adapting game characters into the offline world.  Cosplay highlights the boundaries between fans, players and those in creative roles such as designers and producers, which are transforming as a result of media cultures’ participatory character’ (p.137)

Gaming in this way can be seen to contribute to the power and agency of players and all of this signals the continued popularity of gaming within mainstream culture.

You can view some amazing forms of Cosplay in the following You Tube clip:

While this reading has broadened my knowledge of the gaming culture and how it has been transformed by mobile media and social networking sites, I am interested to further explore how games can be used practically and specifically in an educational context.  This is one area I will continue to explore through my blog posts and the resources I source.

Hjorth, L. (2010).  Chapter 8:  Gaming in the 21st Century.  In ‘Games and Gaming: An Introduction to New Media’. Bloomsbury Publishing: Oxford. 127-147.