Press Start: Introductory Post on Gaming & Education Part 1

e51551_5ff0fd475e5b40f6b823e09264cf6e7bIf you have read through my “about” section you know that I have enjoyed playing video games since my youth but that in recent years I have developed a critical and academic interest in video games. I am going to begin a “Press Start” series of posts dedicated to my more critical interests and observations regarding video games and education.

As you can see from the above picture and my site’s banner, I have amassed a small collection of texts relating to video games and education, discourse analysis, and visual and digital literacies. This is all due to my graduate experiences at Northern Illinois University in the fall of 2014. Along with one of my cohort peers, I began thinking about developing a composition course involving video games in some way. Eventually our collaboration led to the development of a unique section of English 104: Rhetoric and Composition II.

We developed a hybrid class for the spring 2015 semester that blended together digital rhetoric in the form of video games with the research and writing outcomes of the 104 course. We used video games, specifically Minecraft, and other game-related content to engage our students with the idea of discourse communities, audience analysis, visual and digital rhetoric, inquiry, and critical thinking. The class was designed to meet students at their level of digital literacy while teaching them the traditional skills of rhetoric and research expected at the college level. Our approach to this class was based in part on the ideas of James Paul Gee, Justin Hodgson, and Rebekah Shultz Colby.

I would like to map out the course along with our findings for an article eventually, but for now, if you are interested in a few more specifics of the course, you can check out the following essay I wrote my final semester at NIU titled “Visual Literacy: Video Games in the First-Year Composition Classroom.”

The very fact that we were able to create this course and were allowed to teach it led me to realize that there could in fact be a future for my video game interests in academia. This combination of gaming and education has been around for a while, but it really has been in the last ten to fifteen years that educators have begun to embrace the possibilities of gaming and learning. Being part of something so “new” is exciting, but I also feel that I can contribute to this area in substantial ways. My first step towards that is finding and reading as much research as I can find on the topic. However, the use of video games in areas of education is not a simple matter of setting up some consoles and having students play Minecraft.

As you may notice from the picture above, not all of the books focus solely on gaming and education. Some are video game theory readers concerned with the general principles of game design while others are linguistically based texts. I truly do believe that in order to legitimize the use of video games as educational tools one must recognize the various disciplines and areas of study involving this culmination. One of my “problems” has always been that I have too many interests pulling me in different directions. I finally have a way to pull multiple interests together into two things I am passionate about: video games and teaching. One way I would like to use the “Press Start” series is to discuss the research that I am currently reading and providing thoughts on the application of the theories and ideas presented in these texts.

It is important to remember that the culmination of gaming and education has plenty of obstacles to overcome, the biggest of which are the negative associations attributed to video games, “gamers,” and gaming culture. The idea that gamers (I’ll talk about this term eventually) are white, male basement dwellers still persists even though recent research has shown that the number of female gamers is on the rise (see the Entertainment Software Association’s “2015 Sales, Demographic and Usage Report”). Even if this increase of females playing video games has more to do with the mobile games market (as some individuals claim), that does not change the fact that the white, male basement dweller is not a fair representation of gamers/video game players as a whole, nor is the idea that players are somehow delinquents prone to violent behaviors. And, quite honestly, if you really believe that video games cause violent behavior you are probably reading the wrong blog anyway.

However, these ideas still persist and have an impact on gamers and the application of games in educational and public settings including among academics. I would be lying if I said that my peer and I did not face some hesitation from our administration in allowing our course design. On the other hand, all potential courses should be scrutinized to ensure course outcomes are met. These attitudes and perceptions can stand in the way of implementing sound practices from gaming into the classroom. Unfortunately, educators attempting to use gaming practices in their classrooms can more than likely expect to be on the receiving end of negativity from their administrators, colleagues, and even students. This is something I would like to proactively change while promoting the educational value of video games.

It is a challenge I gladly accept. I do hope that, with time, educators will be more open to new ideas and modes of delivery to best meet the needs of students. To be clear, I do not view gaming in education as a fad or as something easy or necessarily fun. Instead, I believe the integration of video games, depending on one’s approach, can be tied to digital literacies and discourse communities—both elements so deeply ingrained in our social nature as humans that it would be a missed opportunity for educators to ignore gaming’s potential. But I will get more to that later…

Press Start: Introductory Post on Gaming & Education Part 2 will address some of the founding research that informed my hybrid English 104 course and that continues to guide my research into the value of video games as educational tools.

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