Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Computer Games-Pushing at the Boundaries of Literacy

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Computer Games-Pushing at the Boundaries of Literacy

Article excerpt

Introduction

The project Literacy in the Digital World of the Twenty First Century (1) was particularly concerned with what might be offered to English and literacy curriculum and pedagogy through researching and teaching with and about video games or computer games. Computer games raise particular challenges when conceptualised as textual forms, given their powerfully interactive nature, the ways in which they rely on action to proceed and the ways in which gameplay and time (real time, game time) are ephemeral and difficult to replicate exactly between instances of play. Within games studies arenas, claims as to whether games should be conceptualised as narrative or play (the 'narratology/ludology' debate) (Aarseth 1997, Juul 2001) and a resistance to the use of paradigms drawn from fields such as literature or cinema to describe games and gameplay (Aarseth 1997), have shaped the emergence of the field. While the polarisation implied by such positions has been largely replaced by a recognition of the coexistence to varying degrees of both dimensions, action and narrative (e.g. Frasca 2003, Salen and Zimmerman 2003) it remains the case that, from the point of view of both games studies and literacy, computer games present boundary issues in terms of definition and engagement with respect to literacy. In particular, dimensions such as play, interactivity, action, movement, time and ephemerality raise questions about the limits and possibilities of constructing games as texts and gameplay as literacy practices, positioning computer gaming as requiring what Kress (2006) terms a new disposition to text. Clearly, a range of textual and literate practices are entailed in playing video or computer games, with the reader/ player's construction of the narrative they create each time literally shaped by both player and machine (Galloway 2006). It is also the case that games work compellingly as puzzles and as play, and as 'learning machines' (Gee 2003), where the skills and knowledge entailed in playing or making games move well beyond learnings constrained to individual and specific curriculum areas such as English or Technology.

In this paper, two of the team members, Catherine and Jo, describe curriculum units undertaken by teachers in the schools in which each of us worked. We use these cases to document and promote approaches to the study and use of digital games, and the opportunities offered by the incorporation of games into the curriculum to open up space for students to be critical makers and users of these multimodal forms. We outline key features of each unit, focusing on the ways in which the teachers broached the challenges, opportunities and dimensions offered by computer games with their students in the middle years of secondary school. Our thinking around these units has been powerfully shaped by discussions from Kress (2006) and others about new dispositions to text, and by calls from Alverman (2008), Corio, Knobel, Lankshear and Leu (2008) and others, for greater research and reflection on the implications of adolescents' online literacies for the teaching of literacy.

The two units differently address the promise and opportunities provided by the incorporation of computer games. Both are set in Catholic Boys Schools. In the first example, described by Catherine, Mark uses games to specifically develop critical literacy and research skills, positioning the students as researchers into gaming texts and practices in a way that capitalises on the students' engagement and interest. He is working within the formal parameters of English curriculum, anchored in concerns with text and textual analysis of written and multimodal text. The second example, as described by Jo, shifts the focus from teaching critical perspectives and reading onto production and design. She presents John's work in using game design in the classroom, as he utilises 21st century ways of working and web 2.0 communication practices as the framework for classroom organisation, management and behaviour. …

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