Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Systems-Based Literacy Practices: Digital Games Research, Gameplay and Design

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Systems-Based Literacy Practices: Digital Games Research, Gameplay and Design

Article excerpt

Introduction

Youth engage in new digital literacy practices as they increasingly play digital games on computers, consoles, hand-held devices and mobile phones. Multiliteracies practices and syllabus requirements are common across Australian educational contexts. They are often enacted to address the out-of-school digitally mediated meaning-making practices made possible through internet communication technologies (ICT) and software privileging visual design. Instances of youths' out-of-school digital literacy proficiencies have impacted pedagogical practices in schools (Lam, 2006; Lankshear, Peters, & Knobel, 2002; Ladbrook, 2008; Leander, 2001, 2007; Marsh, 2003, 2005, 2006; Pahl, 1999; Sefton-Green, 2006) where the image is slowly replacing text (Jewitt, 2008; Kress & Bezemer, 2007) and students increasingly learn curriculum content visually. Multimodality (Kress, Jewitt, Ogborn, & Tsatsarelis, 2001; Kress & van Leeuwen, 2001) and multiliteracies (The New London Group, 1996, Walsh, 2006, 2009) provide useful models for the incorporation of digital literacies into the English curriculum. Yet, educational institutions struggle to acknowledge and exploit students' expertise and pleasure from playing digital games and accessing texts central to digital gaming culture.

Youth and gameplayers teach themselves new technological and programming skills through digital gameplay because they represent the cutting edge in user interface design and the development of three-dimensional programming techniques (Aarseth, 2000). The affordances of digital technologies, particularly digital games, enable teachers to craft contexts where students can research, explore and design a range of virtual environments. Researching, playing and designing digital games places students into new literacy domains that are positioned outside traditional reading, writing and multimodal design practices, because games are enacted through gameplay and actions in virtual and non-virtual worlds. Playing digital games and engaging in game design, involves understanding that taking actions has consequences. Gameplay and design requires players to, on their own and/or collaboratively, explore and negotiate risk, possibility, identity and subjectivity in new and emerging virtual worlds. Digital games only come into being when the machine is switched on and the software is executed, meaning players play the game and the software runs on the machine (Galloway, 2006). This article explores the intersection of digital games and literacy that goes beyond simply integrating them into the English curriculum, but viewing them as systems that require specific practices, knowledge and skills.

This article provides an overview of digital games as systems and introduces the term 'systems-based literacy practices' to describe the practices and knowledge students draw on to play and design digital games. It also puts forth an argument for acknowledging students' accumulation of gaming capital. This is integral to gameplayers' systems-based literacy practices and how they understand how gameplayers interact with games, information about games, the game industry and other gameplayers (Consalvo, 2007). Digital game paratexts are also illustrated because they provide educators with a smooth segue into the inclusion of digital games in the curriculum, with the aim of making the term part of the larger discourse around systems-based literacy practices in the field of education, particularly for English and literacy teachers.

The article presents case studies of two digital games projects initiated as action research in high school English classrooms. Through the digital games projects, students were engaged in researching, teaching, playing and designing digital games alongside more traditional school-based texts that helped them achieve predetermined outcomes required of the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS). The case studies describe classroom contexts where the incorporation of digital games provided students with practice and proficiency in an emerging set of systems-based digital literacy practices not recognised within the neoliberal policy environment that drives school assessment. …

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