On Feb 6 and 13, I guest presented/led Dixie Massey‘s literacy materials for teachers class. She’s covering a different medium each week including comic books, anime, blogs, etc. and GAMES!
Anyway, I was invited to lead the games bit. I took the opportunity to push a specific agenda (of course, don’t we all push specific agendas, whether implicit or explicit?) and that was of highlighting “new literacy studies” or “multiliteracies” approach to games culture (see the New London Group). This was instead of just presenting academic stuff about how games can be used in literacy instruction.
Multiliteracies basically is a particular kind of stance about what it means to be literate, that being literate means being literate in *something*, whether it’s traditional textbooks or basketball or whatever, and that means being a partcipant in a particular sociocultural domain with its own practices and ways of being/social norms.
The emphasis is that meaning is derived through the cultural life of the community. This means that issues brought up about games (violence, addiction, etc.) really depends on the localized social situation. Those terms are socially defined. Whether a game is harmful or helpful depends.
One example is Barry Joseph’s anecdote about Grand Theft Auto in the classroom. The student in question recognizes GTA as a game system and figured out how to work the system. It wasn’t “violence” that he was doing… or not real meaningful violence, anyway.
So anyway, I tried to present this idea of games-as-culture to Dixie’s class but I think maybe it was a hard sell to a class full of teachers who probably were interested in specific games they could use for literacy instruction. I wanted to emphasize that to be critically literate requires one to be literate first. You can’t use or criticize a movie without seeing it first (no matter how much people try), and you can’t criticize games without playing some and understanding gaming culture first.
It *was* fun, though! And we ended up playing a lot of games. The first week we read a chapter from Gee’s What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy book, the one about identity play in the game Arcanum. Then we played Arcanum and some web games or other games during the week and reflected during the second session. Time for reflection is necessary for critical literacy, but it’s a skill that doesn’t just happen…