Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

Gaming as Writing – World of Wordcraft


Edmond Y. Chang is a Ph.D. Candidate in English at the University of Washington in Seattle. He studies technoculture, new media, queer theory, cultural studies, and 20th C. American literature. His paper : “GAMING AS WRITING, OR, WORLD OF WARCRAFT AS WORLD OF WORDCRAFT” invites you to understand the contours and ways gaming is like writing and depends on usable and teachable logics: narrative, close reading, critical analysis, and ultimately, play. Using the globally popular World of Warcraft, this paper renders how gaming and writing are intellectual, analytical, and critical actions.

The paper begins with :

Might writing, in a sense, function as a kind of algorithm? The mind is powered up, critical thinking and language routines executed; writing only exists when enacted, when pen is put to paper, idea turned into word. For Galloway(Gaming(2006)), gaming, playing, and acting invoke the language of writing: process, “grammars of action” (p. 4), diegetic and nondiegetic, and culture as acted document (p. 14). Moreover, gaming (like our students’ writing) does have stakes: “video games render social realities into playable form” (p. 17).

The most important argument is about “close play”:

One way that the potential and power of video games can be tapped is through writing and close playing. It is what Ian Bogost calls “love between ideas and computation” (as qtd. in Duffy, 2008). Gaming and writing can come together to produce much needed accounts of how games are played, why they are played, and what are the consequences of their play.

Play first, then write. If we remain true to this course, we will likely produce for game culture an academic field very much like literary studies, film studies, and other established specialties. No doubt such conformity has its advantages, but it would seriously restrict our horizons.” Attention to games like WoW must be multimodal, like Gee’s definition of literacy, multidimensional, and come from multiple perspectives.

In writing classrooms in particular, Cynthia L. Selfe agrees and advances the following call-to-task: “Composition teachers, language arts teachers, and other literacy specialists need to recognize that the relevance of technology in the English studies disciplines is not simply a matter of helping students work effectively with communication software and hardware, but, rather, also a matter of helping them to understand and to be able to assess — to pay attention to — the social, economic, and pedagogical implications of new communication technologies and technological initiatives that affect their lives” (p. 432). In writing classrooms, to pay attention to video games is to play with attention, to close play.

Here are possible “creative involvements” with or “close plays” of video games to be developed and deployed in the classroom:

• Defining Games, Defining Play: Students can generate a definition of a game or of play; students can argue the value of games or of play; students can write a pro or con letter to the editor or to their congressional representative about video games and education; students can close read Huizinga’s “magic circle” and respond; students can write a history or an encomium or a defense of a particular video game; students can demonstrate for and teach the class how to play a game; students can compare and contrast games like WoW to other video games and to other kinds of games as well; students can collaborative establish a serious game or serious play “philosophy” or “statement of goals” for studying and writing about video games.

• Playing with Narrative: Students can write a narrative and backwards engineer the story of a game, particularly of games that are not ostensibly story-based like Tetris or Space Invaders; students can write a narrative of a particular scene or “clip” of a game, like a single task or quest or a minute of play; students can dramatize a scene of a game as a skit or performance; students can write a narrative, a “backstory” for their avatar, particularly from MMORPGs like WoW; students can take a short narrative like a short story or a scene of a play or a poem and generate a proposal of how to turn the narrative into a video game, including details about what the game looks like, how to play the game, challenges and rewards.

• Close Playing and Critical Playing: Students can close read and analyze how cultural formations and ideological assumptions like race, gender, class, sexuality, citizen, and nation are rendered and enacted by a game; students can analyze how formations, stereotypes, and logics of race, gender, class, and so on are generated by a game not only through visuals but through text, chat, actions, and so on; students can analyze their avatar’s “backstory” for cultural assumptions and stereotypes; students can analyze the discourses about video games, particularly the controversies over the dangers of video games or the pedagogical value of video games; students can close play and analyze particular aspects of a game like character creation, quests or rewards, mise en scène, even the packaging of and written materials for the game; students can close play and critique “serious games” from sites like the Serious Games Initiative <http://www.seriousgames.org/> or Water Cooler Games <http://www.watercoolergames.org/>; students can close play and critique overtly and problematically political or ideological games like the US Army’s gameAmerica’s Army <http://www.goarmy.com/aarmy/index.jsp>; students can play games to look for exploits and ways to resist the social or ideological logics of the game; students can look at critical responses to video games in scholarship, media, and art, particularly at groups like the Radical Software Group <http://r-s-g.org/> or Velvet Strike <http://www.opensorcery.net/velvet-strike/> or Critical Art Ensemble <http://www.critical-art.net/>; students can propose or create or write their own “serious” video game.

• Transfering/Transcoding: Students can generate further ways to develop and extend the homology between gaming and writing; students can identify reading, analytical, and writing practices across different media, genres, and forms, transferring skills from written text to video to film to video game; students can close read and analyze the visual, narrative, and ideological logics of recent films based on video games like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) or Doom (2005) or films that adopt a video game aesthetic like eXistenZ (1999) orElephant (2003) or Beowulf (2007); students can write strategy guides as study guides for games like WoW, revealing not just how to play the game but how to close play the game for particular critical exigencies.

world of warcraft in school, game-based learning

WOWinSchool is a project using World of Warcraft as the platform of Language Art and Math curricula for middle schoolers. All project materials, including a fully-developed language arts course, aligned to middle grades standards, is now available under a creative commons license. Lucas Gillispie, the creator of this curriculum, explained why he developed the game-based learning resource to share with all educators.

View more PowerPoint from Lucas Gillispie

The result? As Lucas stated this document putting together what teachers will need to facilitate the game-based learning course: WoWinSchool: A Hero’s Journey:

The result? We’ve seen some incredible things. We’ve seen students running to class, begging to get started, day after day, week after week. We’ve seen students improve their reading and writing skills. We’ve seen kids develop much needed social skills. But, most importantly, we’ve seen our kids get excited about school and learning.

Note: The paper from Edmond Y. Chang and the document from Lucas Gillispie are licensed under creative common licenses, please check the files for further details.

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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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