Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

What Games Studies Can Teach Us about Videogames in the English and Literacy Classroom

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

What Games Studies Can Teach Us about Videogames in the English and Literacy Classroom

Article excerpt


One of the key difficulties facing teaching practitioners using interactive media such as videogames in the English and Literacy classroom, is identifying, describing, and conceptualising the role that 'interactivity' has in the process of consuming the media, while still remaining relevant to the more literary concerns of the curriculum. The aim of this article is to engage with previous scholarship on videogames from the emerging 'interdisciplinary' field of Game Studies, which seeks to analyse and critique videogames on their own terms. While the stakes of videogames in literacy education--in particular--are well established through the pioneering work of James Paul Gee (2003; 2005), this article engages with Game Studies scholarship in order to explore the relationship between 'interactivity' and meaning-making in this key out-of-school literacy practice.

This article demonstrates how scholarship on videogames provides useful terminology that allows games to be understood in their own right: both as a unique form of 'interactive' entertainment media, and as a part of contemporary audio, visual and narrative cultures. Research on videogames has often focused on understanding how their aesthetic and narrative qualities relate to other media. Bolter and Grusin (1999) describe all new media as being remediated, a new technological articulation of past media forms. They regard videogames as remediated cinema--largely due to their reliance on Myst (Cyan Worlds, 1991) and Doom (id software, 1993) for their analysis--thus in their logic videogames are not a significant break, rather a continuation of a past aesthetic using new technological means. However, I suggest that while some videogames are remediating the aesthetics of film (see Galloway, 2006), others remediate sports, card and board games, and role-playing games (Apperley, 2006). Furthermore, I suggest that it is this incorporation of a social milieu that is not traditionally associated with media that makes videogames exceptional. The notion of interactivity--their unique mode of consumption--is the key to appreciating the break from past forms of mediation that is suggested by videogames.

The article engages with three notions which stem from the concept of interactivity, each of which suggests that a more complex model of understanding videogames rather than seeing them simply as narratives is required. The first notion, ergodicity, is important for conceptualising the actual effort or work that students put into enacting the computer game. The second notion, encoding/decoding, draws on Hall's (1973) model to examine how the ergodic process intersects with students' imaginations and interpretations of the game. The final notion, ludology, one of Game Studies' founding concepts, is used to suggest a way that different levels of flexibility within games may be productively discussed.

Interactivity and the cybertext

The notion of interactivity is used as an all-purpose catch-phrase to describe digital technologies. Aarseth (1997, p. 48) states: 'The word interactive operates textually rather than analytically, as it connotes various vague ideas of computer screens, user freedom, and personalised media, while denoting nothing'. Through hyperbolic overuse the term 'interactive' has become concatenated with 'new' or digital media in general, under an uncritical rubric of creativity, freedom and control.

Establishing an analytic approach to interactivity in videogames is the first step in developing critical tools for the use and analysis of videogames in the English and Literacy classroom. Aarseth (1997, p. 1) proposes two alternative terms that avoid the empty denotations of interactivity: the cybertext and ergodic. The 'cybertext' is mechanically organised and configured by the reader, or player, while 'ergodic' refers to the 'non-trivial effort' required by the player to enact the cybertext (Aarseth, 1997, p. …

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