Reviewed by Brandee Easter University of Wisconsin–Madison (email@example.com)
Chair: Richard Colby, University of Denver, “State of Play: A Short History”
Speakers: Jan Holmevik, Clemson University, “Ludic Literacy: The Missing Link”
Jennifer deWinter, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, “Empathy Games: Narratives, Choices, and Emotional Connections”
Rebekah Shultz Colby, University of Denver, “Trends in Game-based Writing Pedagogy”
Douglas Eyman, George Mason University, “Scholarship on Games: A Typology of Writing Studies Research Methods”
This panel explored the current state of game scholarship by bringing together perspectives on history, pedagogy, game development, and research in the field.
Richard Colby opened with a brief history of games studies. He noted that although research in education is rich in gaming, it remains a minor subfield in composition and rhetoric. He elaborated that College Composition and Communication has printed one article on games while College English has only referred to games metaphorically. Additionally, less than 1% of presentations at the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) since 2000 have been about games. He concluded with three main approaches to games: as texts, as pedagogical modes, and as ecologies.
Jan Holmevik began by taking a selfie with the room to capture how much the field is changing. He proposed that students are digital natives, not digital literates. Holmevik then delivered “an electrate lesson in ludic literacy,” with Diablo gameplay running silently behind him. This video, by professional gamer Quin69 (2016a), showcased the complexities of gaming and provided support for Holmevik’s argument that learning to play is difficult. He called for a focus on developing a ludic literacy in students. To do so, he proposed that we rely on the expertise of others, take play seriously, help students access games, and encourage them “to fail in order to succeed.” He concluded by proposing that one of the payoffs is bringing “passion” into the classroom—another point he supported with the gaming of Quin69 (2016b).
Jennifer deWinter brought her game development experience to the panel. She focused on empathy games and what is possible when players can take on the roles of "different characters with different choices.” Games such as Depression Quest and That Dragon, Cancer offer “storied frameworks” that allow players to approach diverse experiences and can foster empathy and pro-social behavior. She argued that the ability to identify with other subject positions can be powerful in games because they facilitate an embodied experience. DeWinter concluded by arguing that this experience is what makes games potentially well-suited not only for empathy, but also healing, such as in avatar creation for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Rebekah Shultz Colby presented findings from her game-based pedagogy study, in which she interviewed 24 writing teachers in composition, rhetoric, and technical writing who incorporated gaming into their classrooms. Colby’s presentation focused on breaking down categories on the ways these instructors used games. The most popular use was for rhetorical analysis, especially because games contain visual, aural, and procedural rhetorics. Rhetorical and multimedia game design were also popular approaches, as well as theory embodiment and interactive genre systems. Finally, she revealed that games offer networked spaces for students to conduct research and can help facilitate transfer.
Douglas Eyman provided a meta-analysis of research on games and gestured to productive gaps. He offered three principles for games research: mobilizing expertise; text and context; and locating writing as activity, object, and profession within game spaces. First, Eyman called on scholars to become expert players because we can’t (and shouldn’t) analyze games without fully understanding them. He argued that a lack of expertise not only puts the researcher at a disadvantage, but is also an ethical concern. Secondly, Eyman drew our attention to how research should consider both the text and context. Finally, Eyman broke down current approaches to games by taking an ecological view of writing. He identified five locations of writing: about games, around games, in games, through games, and writing games themselves. Eyman concluded that these locations provide insight into the methods researchers use, including historiography, close reading, theorizing games as cultural objects, ethnography, participatory action research, contextual inquiry/workplace study, and cultural historical activity theory.
The discussion continued by taking up issues of expertise, including how to make students co-teachers when they are the experts. Holmevik elaborated on the challenges ludic illiteracy has posed in his classroom, and the panelists briefly considered how analog games can be used productively. DeWinter took up critiques of empathy games that are concerned with the link between identity and games. She also echoed Eyman’s call for scholars to attend to game development.
Ultimately, the “State of Play” was partially presented by the panelists and partially by the attendees themselves, who were numerous and energetic. I look forward to seeing how these discussions have encouraged and shaped the future “state of play."
Quin69. (2016a, January 16). D3: GR88+ DMO wizard guide (Melee | 2.4 | Season 5) [Video file]. YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SyONIGAn5g
Quin69. (2016b, March 5). S5: R.I.P - main character DEAD [Video file]. YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpIUVTGpUM8