Saturday, May 24, 2008

Game Day

Although a lot of work has been done in connecting games to relevant issues in the writing classroom about literacy and rhetorical competence, there were still only a few panels at the Computers and Writing conference that specifically addressed this subject, but I was pleased to see that they were generally well-attended and favored with lively question-and-answer sessions. The panel on which my own paper appeared, "Structuring Play, Playing with Structure: Working (with) Videogames," also featured Matt Barton and World Bulding: Space and Community veteran Lee Sherlock. Barton talked about the relationship between "roll play" and "role play" in games that generated random behaviors and the value of complicated statistical systems that modeled desirable traits for students to emulate, such as "abstraction," "experimentation," "collaboration," and "system thinking." Sherlock argued that compositionists could use serious games as a model to encourage rhetorico-dialectical inquiry. He had students do writing that produced a specific genre in the game field, the design doc, and compared the objectives served by his assignment to those elaborated in the WPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition, which has been very influential in the field of writing instruction and curricular planning. My own talk, "The Fourth Wall: Can Open Source Do Virtual Reality?" (slides here) was in some ways the most pessimistic, because I argued that -- although 3D models, animations, simulations, and games had significant rhetorical force as means of persuasion in the public sphere in many venues (digital film effects, courtroom evidence, reenactments in the news, debates about urban development, advertising and corporate promotion, satire, political rhetoric, and environment-creation for spectacle, deliberation, and pedagogy) -- it was difficult to give students any training in these sophisticated professional software packages, given the time constraints of the writing classroom.

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