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Apr 26, 2004



MMOGaming is a thoroughly literate activity, even if we reduce 'literacy' to nothing more than reading and writing

I'm in total agreement here. I'll even go out on a limb and suggest the 2nd clause hedge is not needed.

To my opinion, MMOGs are largely still based in a text-styled interaction and culture. It is fundamental to how they work. The rest of the game is the context, the back-drop.

Couple of minor details... I recall a conversation at Mud-dev about the contrast between graphical versus text "emotes" - and how the text representation is the one that carries meaning beyond the moment. I'll also harken back to a point raised in an earlier TN thread which suggested that what players do a great deal of, is:

embellish the messages with a personal fiction...

I still believe its all about telling ourselves little fictions in a text-based literary style - the rest is just the world model ;-)


I am reminded of the one little tidbit of linguistic theory that has stayed with me:
"All dialects are of equal complexity."
It is easy to dispair of the literacy of our youth when you see them type "r u a computer?" but they are perfectly able to parse my response.

When you learn to read a language - traditionally, you are taught the "correct" structures and spelling first. Not until you are proficient are you taught the colloquial. This is why many high-schools have you read "The Scarlet Letter" as a freshman, and hold off on "Huck Finn" till the junior year.

So the current gamer-kiddie can read and (theoretically) write in multiple dialects - this implies that they are, in fact, more literate than I, as I am not fluent in IMspeke.

And maybe this is another argument against voice chat in MMOGs - as long as you *have* to be able to read to be able to play, we know you must be literate.



Can we talk about definitions of literacy without taking note of the power structure that issues the definitions? Mimi Ito ties the multi-media practices among Japanese youth to the need for free spaces. And of course we all know that rock n roll is about rebellion. What's different is the extent to which new media allow the rebellious impulse to generate completely new and uncontrolled realms. In the 50s, everybody bought Elvis records and a few went to a concert. Maybe he showed up on TV. Today, there would be World Of Elvis, where a teenager (or anyone else disgruntled by some system or other) can go and practically live 24/7. And with cell phones, IM, SMS and the rest, it's much easier for people to build communication networks with affiliates of their own choosing.

At times I think "Every act of gaming is a rebellion of some kind."

No wonder the people who define literacy won't accept the language of text chat. It's dangerous for them.


Constance -- I think you're preaching to the choir here, though it is great that you and the other Wisconsin folks are getting the message out.

If I can be a devil's advocate for a sec -- the one caveat I have is that gamer-speak is obviously a politically marginalized discourse practice. As a practical and political matter, the average reviewer reading a college application essay might know what LOL means, but they're not going to appreciate its inclusion in the essay. They won't even grok 1337sp34k -- any more than Swahili, Turkmen, or Perl. So while MMORPG gamer-speak is *certainly* a literacy practice, and while mainstream language does surely evolve over time to embrace new idioms, educators still should ensure that gamers are skilled in communicating with the unwired in more conventional forms, right?

Full disclosure: I was a high school English teacher & I participated in the 5-paragraph essay hegemonic brainwashing conspiracy.


It's curious to me how the comments quickly gravitate toward discussion of the dialect of mmogaming rather than the nature/structure of the literacy practices per se. I have done linguistic work on naturally occurring talk in mmogs and, yes, it is in fact a fully functioning, legitimate language as others.

But that's not my only/main point. Well, at least not the one I'm making in my original post. Here, I'm specifically thinking about the literacy practices that constitute mmogaming, such as: argumentation on un/official discussion boards, the crafting of fan fiction, in game 'orally' delivered narratives & poetry, and (yes) the use of text & image (in static posts & in dynamic interaction) to craft online identities as well.

Make no mistake. I have a degree in english and am formally in the literacy studies dept here at UW, so I am (like you) still concerned with more conventional forms. Because I'm in education, I'm often charged with the task of demonstrating how/why MMOG practices line up (or fail to) with more socially valued ones. Toward that end, I've been working on a survey & analysis of such literacy practices and trying to develop (hopefully soon with the help of a few gracious innovators at EST who have taken pity on me) some assessments to capture what's happening, changing, etc. It's not easy, but its slowly getting done. *cough advice comments feedback volunteers prayer.services.for.me welcome cough*

But, speaking personally here as an educational psychologist & researcher, I waffle some on this issue. On the one hand, I realize the need to demonstrate that what kids are doing in gamespace is 'productive' (whatever that is*) in terms that educators, educational researchers, policy people, and administrators can recognize. On the other hand, I wish I got to ask the real 'educational' question we ought to be asking: Does it enhance experience? How? This is after all (well, at least according to Dewey) what education is for.

*To answer Ted's earlier question: "Can we talk about definitions of literacy without taking note of the power structure that issues the definitions? " No, I guess we can't. Regarding your idea that "Every act of gaming is a rebellion of some kind." -- I might even take you further and say "All play is transgressive." At least in a society with a nasty puritanical streak.


Constance> On the one hand, I realize the need to demonstrate that what kids are doing in gamespace is 'productive' (whatever that is*) in terms that educators, educational researchers, policy people, and administrators can recognize.

OK -- so I'm way out of my depth here (I haven't even read Gee's book yet), but when I was researching computer games and education circa ten years ago, I remember there were plenty of Phi Delta Kappan articles about the great potentials of computer-enabled constructivist learning through simulation. It seemed there were plenty of folks excited about using Will Wright's Sim games as teaching tools. I guess that never hit the mainstream?

It's hard for me to get a sense of where the strong (principled) opposition to the use of games in education would come from. But it would probably be equally hard for you to articulate it in a comment field. :-)

So I guess I'll get a copy of Gee's book...


Constance> "The real difference I'm finding between the writing we count (e.g. 5 paragraph essays) and the writing we don't (e.g. n gAm typed TLK) is less genre convention or intellectual sophistication and more the issue of whether/how the author is invested in it"

Perhaps we should also look at it from a broader self-(and collective)-expression viewpoint.

Could MMOG-liteary/art become the cave-wall paintings of the future? Could the body of fan fiction become the basis for super DVDs that allow viewing of the same movie/story from multiple angles, or perhaps a formalized and annotated record of a MMOG world where you can read every single fan fiction and watch each play-by-play of each participant?

MMOG-literary activites may not be formalized like the 5-paragraph essay, but I am thinking about the future world of Cyberpunk and the development of online dancing :)



Ren sent me an emaail abou this thread, since he seems to think I am an expert on this topic. Which I am not.

However, I think this debate is a little beside the point, as it seems to be informed by the unspoken premise that reading and writing is being replaced by playing games. Which is nonsense, of course. Just take a look at gamefaqs.com and tell me again these kids can't read and write.


PS: I also think John Seely Brown is a simpleton. I am speaking from the gut here, not from the mind.


Hey, this quote by Dr. Michael Macedonia regarding the US Army's online MMO: Asymmetric Warfare Environment via Brokentoys says a lot on MMO collective narrative, branding, and VW life in general:

"I’ll give you the vision, OK? If I went back 3,000 years, we’ve got guys like Homer, finally writing down for the first time the history of the Greeks and the wars against Troy through the story of Ulysses. It was at that moment in time that we went from a verbal culture to a written culture...[Homer] wrote it down and it became literature. Really, what Homer was trying to do was more than entertainment. He was relaying history; he was teaching. And now we have this medium, the game, where we can take people through those experiences much like [Homer] was telling people of the experiences of soldiers in that war. We can do that today in the military and share those stories and save lives because of it."

My takeaway: verbal to written to ...




As Ian has pointed out, Dr. M must be talking about a different guy named Homer:



While it could be true that "The Homeric epics were not written down until many centuries later" as Ian points out, the progression from a simple form of expression, literary or otherwise, to a more complex form holds true in my eyes.

Not to get off topic, but Scott over at brokentoys.org is sure having a fun learning experience with Crusader King and Europa Universalis II. Moreover, he is literary enough to blog about it.



Greg, Julian. I couldn't agree with your enthusiasm for games more. Afte all, I spend all my time playing and researching them. However, I think its important to keep in mind that educators and the public in general has a real ambivalence toward gaming, particularly online gaming. (Dmitri Williams has a nice forthcoming chapter on this) Yes, a handful of classrooms about a decade ago used SimCity as a way to teach urban planning. But that never took off (unless you count the clinton administrations endorsement but little subsequent research).

A few reality checks:

* The first research project conducted looking at regular ol' off-the-shelf games in classrooms was Kurt Squire's dissertation. And that was dated 2004.

* I teach preservice teachers. Of 184 students in the Fall semester of the Ed.Psych 301 course I teach, less that 8% gamed and over 60% expressed surprise that MMOGaming exhibit the level of complexity my analyses demonstrate. And I teach at a major state-funded institution. Our school of education is ranked #1 in the nation. So these students are some of the top performers in the field.

* A few weeks ago, we held a paper session on gaming at the Annual Conference of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), by far the largest conference in our field. It was the first session on the topic. Ever. And this year marked the conference's 85th anniversary.

* The last inservice teacher professional development workshop I presented in, which was filmed & broadcasted by G4 television, was solely on games. You might presume, then, that we were all, as you say, 'preaching to the choir.' They did, after all, pay & travel to addend the seminar right? Well, I was the only online game researcher there. And my work was overwhelmingly met with two main responses, in order:

1. This is way too violent. That's not collaborative problem-solving. That's virtual war.

2. Our computer lab has a firewall to keep that sorta 'stuff' out.

So, while I think we're all largely in agreement here - as in, on this particular blog I also think its important to stay sober when it comes to reading public sentiment. And in my case, educators' sentiment. Otherwise we never address their genuine fears and misgivings. Of which there are several.

Julian writes: I also think John Seely Brown is a simpleton. I am speaking from the gut here, not from the mind.
And that gut would be based on.... knowing his track-record at research park? reading his work? what? I'm curious since I assume you don't publicly call another scholar a 'simpleton' on a whim.


Can I just add a quick reality check here? If online gaming is an interactive, multi-author literary form, it is a form that produces what is almost uniformly dreck.

As someone who has spent considerable time playing MMORPGs, I can tell you that MMORPGs are only titularly RPGs - the only role most people play in them is themselves. Players switch freely between multiple characters without ever changing personas. They don't speak in terms of narrative or story, because there is no narrative. Nothing significant ever changes. Comparing this to story-telling is wrong, because the participants treat the game as a game, not as a story. It is no more a story-telling activity than playing football.

It may sound like I'm slamming online gamers, and I most certainly am not. I just want to point out that online games as story-telling is an idealized academic view. It has little to do with the way that actual players actually play the games.

If you're talking about fan fiction and art that is produced on the side of these games, well maybe you're on to something. But really, it isn't much different from traditional forms of expression, it just draws its inspiration from a different source.


Sorry to spam your comments section, but perhaps I can express my disagreement with the fundamental premise here in a simpler way. Online gamers are not participating in a new literary form - they are participating in a new life.


Mark Ashton>Online gamers are not participating in a new literary form - they are participating in a new life.

This makes perfect sense if you believe that life is also a literary form, of course.



Mark> I just want to point out that online games as story-telling is an idealized academic view.

Actually, that's not really the academic view. But, in any event, the term "literary practice" and "literature" are not the same, and we're all familiar here with MMORPGs as played. E.g., in addition to publishing on MMORPGs as literary practices, Constance has led a bloodpledge on Lineage.

Mark> If online gaming is an interactive, multi-author literary form, it is a form that produces what is almost uniformly dreck

Unlike, e.g., Hollywood or Freshman English?



Thanks for those reality checks. Points taken.

I downloaded Kurt's thesis and look forward to reading it. Only 414 pages!


Over at WaterCooler, Ian says that Celia says that all games are educational.
Dave agrees.


Over at WaterCooler, Ian says that Celia says that all games are educational.

I read that. Is there anything more meant by it than saying, for e.g., "all reading is educational"?


Constance > [Evidence that the education establishment not only doesn't get it but is opposed to games at a subconscious level.]

I think there's a bitter intellectual controversy ahead. Most of the hierarchies are happy to discuss gaming and virtual worlding as marginal practices; they seek the same insider-outsider equilibrium as exists for, say, marijuana. One tactic I use to join with audiences is to adopt language that emphasizes the distance between gamers and 'real life, real relationships, real jobs.' As in: "Maybe they don't have the great jobs, marriages, homes, that you do. Maybe that's why they are stepping out." Implicit message: And if YOUR job / marriage / home stinks, which in many cases I am sure it does, the games are out there, waiting for you too...

Anyway. Neil Conan on Talk of the Nation typifies the benign case: Gee wiz, these games are so cool! I bet there's a lot of that in education circles. But then you have the Phil Donohues (who backstabbed Henry Jenkins) and Joe Liebermans. I think their numbers will rise.

We tend to think of the conflict mostly in terms of cultural precedents, like movies and rock n roll. I think drugs are a closer precedent: initial opposition, then tolerance, then outright war. Expensive war, even! What fraction of current prison inmates are there on drug charges?

Hierarchies, right now, find games either funny or vaguely troubling. If (as) gaming and especially VW gaming goes mainstream, I think the opposition will become virulent. But the difference between drugs and games is this: games will win.


Gazing into my crystal ball, unlike Ted, I don't anticipate a future culture war over games or VWs -- I think we'll see the same degree of interest/concern we see today. I am confident we'll see continued skepticism that MMO games are a literary practice. And I am confident that education practices are going to be conservative (they always have been), with those who use games to teach being in the (enlightened) minority for the immediate future.

Just saw this book too btw.

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