Virtual presentation/virtual A to virtual Q

In my room/on a pad/is written a letter/return addressed to you…
-For Squirrels

Me and my peeps got some pub! http://www.vitia.org/wordpress/2008/04/06/cccc08-a25-reading-and-writing-virtual-realities/ (warning: if you click here, you’ll see my full name and might get beyond the thin disguise of me not identifying where I’m a student, so read at your own risk).

First of all, a sincere thanks to Mike for giving the panel some attention, and again a thanks to Doug for toting my video around New Orleans. I wish I’d been there to see everyone.

But Mike asked a good question. Allow me to quote:

The point of contention, I guess, is over reasons for bringing it into the classroom. I can see a games studies course as a cultural studies course, certainly. But what is the compelling argument for the connection between games studies and composition? What does game studies as an area of scholarly inquiry help us teach writing students to do that other areas of scholarly inquiry cannot do? There was some discussion of this in the Q&A, particularly in the concerns expressed about colonizing our students’ culture and appropriating it into a school genre, but I’d be curious to hear from the game scholars out there: why are games important to writing?

This is a familiar question for me, coming from an MA program where I faced a fair amount of skepticism. My first response is always this: we’re in a new moment. We now accept that it’s fine to subject a student to Moby Dick or The Dubliners, but there was no doubt a time when someone said “wait, is it fair to ask writing students to read this?” During my MA, the most popular text taught in first year comp was Fight Club; there would SURELY have been a moment when someone would ask if we should be teaching that.

So my first argument is that assigned texts don’t really “define” a writing course (unless someone’s assigning something like Stephen King’s On Writing, in which case I think that person is doing it wrong). Texts in a composition classroom open the discussion and provide a place where the class can have a common experience and see a common discourse. But the writing course is about the students writing first and foremost, and not nearly so much about what we have them read so that we can then ask them to write. If anyone wants to see what this sort of gaming comp class would look like, I’m going to present one of my syllabi with some notes at the upcoming Computers and Writing conference. I’d love to see anyone/everyone in the audience.

My second argument would be that while “reading” a game, students are much more active than they are while reading a book. *Phill ducks the lit scholars throwing things*. While I’m a fond, fond reader (I think all of us have to be in order to survive in this field), I think we can all agree that the agency for a reader in most of the texts that would be used in a composition class is limited, at least during the initial reading.  In a gaming environment– at least the multi-player games I personally promote and study– the reader/player must interact and make choices from the very beginning. In that sense, I believe the student has more agency and hence experiences something more robust than just leafing through a standard text. Students are starting to write as they read a game; I’m not sure we can claim that in the same way about most other texts.

My third reason for thinking gaming is valid in the composition classroom is that the idea that we’re “colonizing” a student genre to make it a school genre– which I know many use as an argument against it– doesn’t work IF certain criteria are met. For one, I think you really should be a gamer if you’re going to teach with games. That’s not to say you have to be a lifer (though many in my generation are); but you shouldn’t be someone who just started playing two weeks before the course. In that sense, you’re not “colonizing” the student’s discursive space– you’re visiting. The second thing is that moreso than with traditional texts (though I think we should all be open to this when we teach anything) one has to allow for the students to be better/smarter in the area. Let them own it. And if we’re not worried that we’re “colonizing” a space, we suddenly have an intricate digital media space that allows us to quickly move to video, to audio, to visual rhetorics, to digital identity or simply identity studies. Gaming is a rather solid hub for issues that can lead to unique and interesting writing.

And the last reason I’ll offer here, for now (I have many more justifications :)), is that gaming is fun, and all too often we squeeze the fun from academia, particularly for our first year students who we bombard with grammar rules and MLA/APA citation formats and invention and revision and “don’t write the five paragraph essay” and “this is a good source/this is a bad source.” I’d like to think that most of us came to writing because we love it, and we had fun doing it when we were younger (there are better way to inflict torture), so why should we allow our classes to become stale, boring places? I want mine to be fun, and students tend to respond well to it.

So… there’s a bit of an answer. 🙂 I could go on, but it’s almost 1:30 in the morning and I have a full day o’ classes tomorrow. More later, if anyone wants me to keep ranting.

🙂

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One Response to Virtual presentation/virtual A to virtual Q

  1. lee says:

    Well, you’ve gone and hit on several of my responses already (darn pre-emption!), but I thought I’d stop by and contribute because this is an interesting question.

    I’ll start with one of the questions Mike posed: “What does game studies as an area of scholarly inquiry help us teach writing students to do that other areas of scholarly inquiry cannot do?” I don’t know if and what game studies can offer, *uniquely*, to writing, but I’ve been focused more on the affordances of a gaming pedagogy and what it can contribute along the lines of what we’re already asking students to do in writing classes.

    I would add, to your second argument, that not only agency is involved but a constellation of literacy practices (cf. Steinkuehler, Gee, etc.) that themselves call for “agential” gamer production. Even if we limit it to text-based writing only (not that we should), we can see that game players actively produce and distribute genres (e.g., walkthroughs, character class how-tos, information displays, wikis, etc.) that help fulfill social and gameplay objectives. Locating gaming in this way can thus be used to get at the notion of genre in a way that’s at least slightly intriguing–hopefully. At C&W I’ll talk more about this, but there’s also possibilities for technical writing pedagogy (e.g., the design document) and a critique of genre as social action (looking at “persuasive” or serious games in particular as embedded in larger discourses). As Bogost argues, persuasive games also operate with a “procedural” rhetoric that the existing literature on visual and digital rhetorics can’t fully account for; perhaps this would be one of the gaps that we need gaming pedagogies to help address.

    About the colonization issue, I would agree that teachers who use games should be fluent as gamers (but not necessarily moreso or even as much as their students). This has actually been an issue for game studies, with folks drawing various analogies around film and literature (how can English profs function without ever reading or having read literature, etc.). I’d say that scholarly work on games should call for this kind of commitment and engagement with gaming as well. Part of the problem is that some games are structurally inexhaustible (unlike most works of literature and film), so there’s no clear point at which you have “finished” the text. 🙂

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