Gaming and Literacy

Week 9A: EDUC 5304 (9B below)

Week Nine topic for EDUC 5304 @ UOIT

Yu-kai Chou is an entrepreneur, speaker, and gamification pioneer. Early in life, he had the epiphany that while games had the power to delight and engage the mind, they were not productive and only resulted in emotional gains. He became obsessed with the combination of how to make games more productive, and simultaneously, how to make life more fun. Since then, he has created a variety of game-based technology startups.

A new article on PBS's Mediashift web portal presents a different argument: our definition of literacy is outdated. Kids may be learning a "new literacy" through playing video games.

"Games are fun, but their real value lies in leveraging play and exploration as a mode of learning the literacy of problem-solving, which lowers the emotional stakes of failing."

In Everything Bad Is Good For You, Steven Johnson writes of a hypothetical high school English teacher admonishing videogames’ lack of content: “There’s no psychological depth here, no moral quandaries, no poetry. And he’d be right! But comparing these games to ‘The Iliad’ or ‘The Great Gatsby’ or ‘Hamlet’ relies on a false premise: that the intelligence of these games lies in their content, in the themes and characters they represent.”

In their book, Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology, Allan Collins and Richard Halverson state that “policymakers interested in preparing students for success in the 21st-century economy would do well … to appreciate how skills developed through navigating virtual environments might pay off in the workplace … [and how] the new skills and dispositions of the gamer generation will transform the workplace. The gamer generation will push for work environments to incorporate more virtual aspects in fields, such as market analysis, and social and economic modeling. Gamers, for example, have abundant experience making big decisions, coordinating resources, and experimenting with complex strategies in game-based simulations.”

Some suggestions for making the most of games for students: kids need parents, teachers and their peers to engage their gaming in thoughtful ways. While there could be a long list of recommended practice, for simplicity sake I’ve reduced the list to three preliminary suggestions.

1. Play games. Otherwise how can you have meaningful conversations about them? Not learning how to play games would be akin to talking about “The Lord of the Flies” without having learned to read.

2. Connect games to books, movies, TV and the world around them. By thinking about games beyond their boundaries we can cultivate pattern recognition across media platforms and parlay the problem-solving of gaming into the real world.

3. Have your students or kids collaborate with other peers to analyze and interpret games, as well share strategies. There has been a raft of research in recent years that extols the wisdom of the crowd and the logic of the swarm. Through collaboration and networking kids can learn to enhance their own perspectives, ideas and, perhaps, contribute to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Week 9B: Online Cultures and Intercultural Communication

Cheap and reliable communication networks facilitate global flows of information, money, goods, services, and people. Digital media allow for the formation of globalized online affinity spaces, where people can meet, interact, and build relationships and communities.  (Jones, R. H., & Hafner, C. A. (2012). Understanding digital literacies: A practical introduction. London: Routledge).  Online affinity spaces (Gee, 2004) are the virtual places where people interact to pro- mote a particular shared interest or common goal (i.e. a shared ‘affinity’). They include a range of different online spaces, such as websites that promote particular kinds of fan fiction writing, online games, social networking sites, knowledge building sites, or sites catering to the interests of particular professions or workplaces.

Online Affinity spaces in education:

As we increasingly live our lives moving in and out of such spaces, it is important for us to develop some understanding of how the norms, conventions and practices of all of the different ‘cultures’ of the spaces we participate in interact. ‘Online cultures’ are in many respects similar to other discourse systems. According to Scollon, Scollon and Jones (2012), discourse systems can be broken down into four interrelated and interdependent components, as follows:

  1. Ideology: what people think;
  2. Face systems: how people get along with one another;
  3. Forms of discourse: how people communicate;
  4. Socialization: how people learn to participate. (p.117)


Affinity space research poses challenges, including issues of recruiting and maintaining relationships with participants, the instability and impermanence of online environments and artefacts, and the porous boundaries of field sites. This article concludes with recommendations for future literacy research conducted in online spaces and implications for literacy teaching and learning.

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