Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Sophist in Azeroth

At the Computers and Writing Conference, Douglas Eyman won the outstanding dissertation prize, which is no wonder, since the recent PhD from Michigan State and assistant professor at George Mason University has been known in digital rhetoric circles for many years the editor of the peer-reviewed online journal Kairos. Eyman's talk, "Gaming and Writing: An Ecological Framework," detailed the five major aspects of what he called game ecologies: environmental action, para-textual development, documentation, infrastructural processing, and research. With a series of case studies derived from the MMO World of Warcraft, Eyman listed a range of relevant areas of interest for compositionists: writing about games, writing around games, writing inside games, and writing games themselves. As his in-world character, "Sophist," Eyman has been considering what Annette Vee has called "proceduracy" by analyzing the game's requirements for persuasive appeals, in-game documents, text-based communication, and the interface itself as an example of multimodal discourse. He noted that a study of composition readers published between 2003 and 2006 included no references to games, despite covering other topics related to artifacts from popular culture and entertainment such as advertising and films. Too often, Eyman complained, writing specialists only treated "writing on games" and did so superficially, by focusing exclusively on trite topics such as videogames and violence. Although education and literacy specialists were examining game-based fan fiction, websites, short story competitions, and online discussion, faculty in rhetoric and composition rarely considered the conjunctions of rhetoric and literacy, as in the case of web pages designed for recruiting new members to a guild.

Eyman is now launching "Digital Games/Digital Rhetoric: A Consortium of Scholars in Games and Writing Studies" and encourages researchers from both groups to contact him to spread the word. The rest of the profession may be catching up with him. At Michigan State, they are developing Ink as a "free online multiplayer game for writing & community." (Your first task as a player apparently involves writing a press release.) Meanwhile, the textbook behemoth Bedford-St. Martin's is launching Peer Factor, an online peer-review game that claims that it "provides immediate and tangible feedback that is pedagogically sound but also fun and engaging." To its credit, according to Eyman, the latter acknowledges that "learning to game the system" is an integral part of game play, so that -- as Mia Consalvo has argued -- cheating is recognized as a form of literacy.

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