Games as documents. Beyond web2.0 in digital literacy

Today, if you turn on the Xbox, hordes of kids aged three to adult appear immediately to play Halo Reach in hi-def, cinematic glory – blissfully unaware of the dark-days before broadband and epic networks.

So what are we not understanding or tapping into?

I think it has a lot to do with being selective about digital literacy and in doing so we are not noticing the biggest change in literacy since the internet itself. For example Your age takes a back seat to experience in gaming. The screen represents social interaction and play to today’s digital-generations, and on the other side are just other players who have absolutely no interest in your age or backstory, only your performance and social relevance to the current goals of the community and group you are playing with.

Knowledge is created along side social levelling, ability and reputation. By skillfully decoding virtual scenarios, they reach goals at the very edge of what they currently know and can do, unlocking new knowledge in doing it.

Games are both knowledge management systems and learning systems by popular definition yet we feel more comfortable applying to Moodle or Wikispaces.This probably sounds rediculous to non-gamers. Educators generally prefer games to pull over to the side of the the road in the face of the on-coming edu-content trucks thundering down the information super-highway. But that doesn’t mean they are not there – promoting an entirely new way to learn and connect.

Naytiri: “… ignorant, like a child”. Avatar (2009)

Gamers are not ignorant, lazy, or socially inept – this is a legacy view of an extended media campaign peddling techno-fud. In reality, they are willing learners inhabiting compelling digital environments, aquiring a depth of skills we are yet to fully understand.

We know can aggregate data along multiple different dimensions, and perform complex operations over that set of dimensions. We can use this hole in the wall to overcome the belief that games cause interruption to the information broadcast. Games can be used as a vehicle to immerse people in thinking more deeply about anything. This might appear strange, but I think playing games with teachers as a vehicle for building digital literacies makes more sense than powerpointing them.

Let me give a few examples of what I mean.

Writing is inherently static and cannot anticipate the needs of its future audiences – yet it remains the measure by which we teach and judge the capability and intellect of the future generation.

Games are documents – of sorts – ones that restructure themselves to meet the needs of particular people at a particular time. Social networks operate similarly and have almost limitless potential to reshape the digital-world — changing what can be learned and achieved when used in combination.

Documents often assume that readers have internal specialised knowledge, such as a particular branch of mathematics, language etc., so we have to know something of our audiences ability in order to create any kind of document. To make meaning from any document you must have this internal knowledge. I am never surprised people don’t get Second Life, but do get Google Docs as they can’t read games and virtual worlds as living documents.

Why would powerful literacy not appear in games, but would appear on the internet? After all we mostly agree that digital literacy matters.

It also seems that even the internet – as a document currently presents as un-readable to those who have not yet acquired the necessary internal knowledge to read it. So why limit critism to those who don’t tweet or tune into RSS feeds, but extend it to those avoiding games and virtual worlds in their dialog of imperatives.

Col. Quaritch: “You are not in Kansas anymore, you are on Pandora, ladies and gentlemen, respect that fact every second of every day”. Avatar (2009).

Here’s where I deviate from much of peer-thinking. I don’t see Web2.0 as ‘the’ new literacy – because it is not dominant in self-directed learning. Yes it’s better than what we had, and edu-pln kicks a big hole in the walled garden mentality – but is the doorway to better experience and motivation? I’m not so sure.

Web2.0 is not the datum point for the future, yet we get wrapped up in comparisons with previous iterations of what ICT means. We are also bombarded by commercial interests — with any number of experts ready to empty your wallet. To a generation growing up in ageless, competency based social levelling systems, Web2.0 bolted onto current methods is slow and tedious in comparison to game-systems. You cant know this if you dont play.
It is also obvious crude tools that reformed office automation in the 1980s are just that. They serve only ‘hammer and nails’ learning philosophy, which is as harder to remove than chewing gum on pavement.

On Pandora, the natives dont use pavements.

Web2.0 provides only a moderate fresh breeze if the underlying philosophy remains the same – and won’t be overcome by spanking resiliant teachers as avoiders. Avoiding Web2.0 may not be a bad thing for many. There is a depth of understanding needed about the ‘role’ technology plays in learning anything entwined with cyberculture and science fiction narrative. For many, this is not an engaging topic worthy of personal contemplation beyond the immediate workplace demands and personal use.

“I’ve seen Second Life, it isn’t going to help students learn to be real Lawyers” someone commented to me recently.

Why would they believe this?

Games help doctors save lives, improve practice, overcome nature, transport millions safely and kill other nations. Why not accountants, geographers … Lawyers. It is ignorance propelled by a lack of internal literacy and learned behaviors.

Kids as young as 2 or 3 are learning to operate highly complex knowledge and learning systems through games and immersive worlds constantly. These are life-present well before writing.

If we agree that information is contained in the material of digital objects, and that these are mobile, fluid and important, then this happens to all spheres of social life at all ages – which includes games. The resurgence of debate around informal learning however marginalises games in favour of more saleable arguements.

I really struggle to resolve why laptops, blogs and wikis are more favourable than a Nintendo DS, inventive teacher and a paint brush (apart from the fact we dismiss the strange and unfamiliar).

The book for the next generation of educational technology leaders to read/write is Games, Virtual Worlds, Play and other powerful learning experiences.

It is time to think past Web2.0 – not abandon all its tools, but consider a trial separation and possible divorce. I appreciate that there is considerable jokeying for intellectual and financial superiority in the web2.0-education marketplace – but perhaps if someone gives a teacher a DS and a paintbrush, we can achieve better outcomes for kids and teachers might begin to interalise game literacies.

Play Warcraft, Little Big Planet, whatever … if we understand digital games better, we might just see invention in teacher strategy. I bet that training teachers with Warcraft is better than Powerpoint – but principals are hardly going to sign off on that, especially as they are only just noticing web2.0.

Unless teaching and learning attempts to exhist in respecful harmony with the 1 billion registered accounts in games and virtual worlds (and the billions more who are yet to take their gaming into online communities) – we are likely to miss an opportunity as powerful as the internet itself to reform education and student capabilities.


3 thoughts on “Games as documents. Beyond web2.0 in digital literacy

  1. Having been a gamer for a long time (only recently on hiatus since having little kids and therefore not having the time to game – can’t wait til they are old enough) I have long pondered and realised that games can “teach” a lot.
    I have also noticed the number of students in my class playing games in their down-time and often when they should be doing “real” work. To tell you the truth I’m more interested in what games they are playing moreso than what I’m teaching them (because I’m supposed to teach it). I am wondering how i can legally and appropriately incorporate gaming into the curriculum.
    Any ideas? I am getting some good stuff from your blog.

    • Gaming is teaching narrative structure and so many literacy concepts. My 8 & 7 year old, when away from their gaming consoles have invented a game called “The Mind Game”…what fascinates me is how similar this is to paper-based role playing…but they don’t even need paper or dice…but also use digital gaming parlance. For example: Once asks “Do you want to go down the cliff?”, the other says “Yes”, the reply is “Look in your inventory, do you use the rope or your climbing boots.” – they use “loading”, “pause” and create their own sound effects and hum their own intro music…it is a grand thing.

      • Thanks Daniel, that’s really fascinating: a really great example of decoding media and transfer. Thanks for sharing!

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