Systems-based literacy practices:...
24 Volume 33 Number 1 February 2010 W A l sh ��� Austr A l i A n Journ A l of l A n gu A g e A n d l i ter A c y, V ol. 33, n o . 1, 2010, pp. 24���40 Systems-based literacy practices: Digital games research, gameplay and design n Christopher Walsh Open University, United Kingdom Few spaces exist in schools that require students to research, play and design digital games. This paper presents two suburban case studies exploring the introduction of digital games into the English curriculum with students who traditionally struggle with literacy. The students��� research, gameplay and design of digital games enhanced literacy teaching and learning because the curriculum resonated more closely with their lifeworlds. The article moves the field of literacy research forward by introducing the term systems-based literacy practices to describe youths��� new literacy practices emerging from their digital gameplay experiences. These practices reflect students��� proficiencies in programming as well as the technical, kinetic, social and linguistic knowledge necessary to play and configure different digital games for maximum gaming pleasure. Digital games are a medium requiring students to interact with machines across various platforms, to understand their interfaces and become familiar with different virtual worlds. The case studies illustrate how two teachers came to rethink digital games and students��� participation in digital game culture as valuable and integral meaning-making activities. The important findings concern the increased degree to which students engaged with the content of the English curriculum, the design of multimodal texts and their conscientious production of traditional school-based literacy practices still necessary for academic success. The paper argues students did this through transformed practice, where they transferred and re-created designs of meaning from, and across, one context to another drawing on their experiences as gamers and their systems-based literacy practices. Introduction Youth engage in new digital literacy practices as they increasingly play digital games on computers, consoles, hand-held devices and mobile phones. Multiliteracies practices and syllabus requirements are common across Australian educational contexts. They are often enacted to address the out-of- school digitally mediated meaning-making practices made possible through internet communication technologies (ICT) and software privileging visual design. Instances of youths��� out-of-school digital literacy proficiencies have impacted pedagogical practices in schools (Lam, 2006 Lankshear, Peters, & AJLL Feb 2010 text.indd 24 4/01/10 12:59 PM
25 Australian Journal of Language and Literacy W A l sh ��� Austr A l i A n Journ A l of l A n gu A g e A n d l i ter A c y, V ol. 33, n o . 1, 2010, pp. 24���40 Knobel, 2002 Ladbrook, 2008 Leander, 2001, 2007 Marsh, 2003, 2005, 2006 Pahl, 1999 Sefton-Green, 2006) where the image is slowly replacing text (Jewitt, 2008 Kress & Bezemer, 2007) and students increasingly learn curriculum content visually. Multimodality (Kress, Jewitt, Ogborn, & Tsatsarelis, 2001 Kress & van Leeuwen, 2001) and multiliteracies (The New London Group, 1996, Walsh, 2006, 2009) provide useful models for the incorporation of digital literacies into the English curriculum. Yet, educational institutions struggle to acknowledge and exploit students��� expertise and pleasure from playing digital games and accessing texts central to digital gaming culture. Youth and gameplayers teach themselves new technological and programming skills through digital gameplay because they represent the cutting edge in user interface design and the development of three- dimensional programming techniques (Aarseth, 2000). The affordances of digital technologies, particularly digital games, enable teachers to craft contexts where students can research, explore and design a range of virtual environments. Researching, playing and designing digital games places students into new literacy domains that are positioned outside traditional reading, writing and multimodal design practices, because games are enacted through gameplay and actions in virtual and non-virtual worlds. Playing digital games and engaging in game design, involves understanding that taking actions has consequences. Gameplay and design requires players to, on their own and/or collaboratively, explore and negotiate risk, possibility, identity and subjectivity in new and emerging virtual worlds. Digital games only come into being when the machine is switched on and the software is executed, meaning players play the game and the software runs on the machine (Galloway, 2006). This article explores the intersection of digital games and literacy that goes beyond simply integrating them into the English curriculum, but viewing them as systems that require specific practices, knowledge and skills. This article provides an overview of digital games as systems and introduces the term ���systems-based literacy practices��� to describe the practices and knowledge students draw on to play and design digital games. It also puts forth an argument for acknowledging students��� accumulation of gaming capital. This is integral to gameplayers��� systems-based literacy practices and how they understand how gameplayers interact with games, information about games, the game industry and other gameplayers (Consalvo, 2007). Digital game paratexts are also illustrated because they provide educators with a smooth segue into the inclusion of digital games in the curriculum, with the aim of making the term part of the larger discourse around systems- based literacy practices in the field of education, particularly for English and literacy teachers. The article presents case studies of two digital games projects initiated as action research in high school English classrooms. Through the digital AJLL Feb 2010 text.indd 25 4/01/10 12:59 PM
26 Volume 33 Number 1 February 2010 W A l sh ��� Austr A l i A n Journ A l of l A n gu A g e A n d l i ter A c y, V ol. 33, n o . 1, 2010, pp. 24���40 games projects, students were engaged in researching, teaching, playing and designing digital games alongside more traditional school-based texts that helped them achieve predetermined outcomes required of the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS). The case studies describe classroom contexts where the incorporation of digital games provided students with practice and proficiency in an emerging set of systems-based digital literacy practices not recognised within the neoliberal policy environment that drives school assessment. This is because students��� systems-based literacy proficiencies fall outside increasingly narrow constructions of literacy, emerging from a neoliberal policy agenda, being assessed by Australia���s National Assessment Program in Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) since 2008. The case studies presented here conclude the inclusion of digital games in the curriculum not only expanded the teachers��� pedagogical practices, but also what counts as teaching and learning in the English classroom. The findings imply the incorporation of digital games, gameplay and game design also created expanded contexts for students to engage in multimodal design practices (New London Group, 2000 Walsh, 2007, 2009) that allowed them to transform and vary their discourses as they designed new genres (Lemke, 2005) and engaged more fully in curricula relevant to their lifeworlds. Understanding digital games are systems Digital games are systems (Juul, 2003 Salen & Zimmermann, 2004). They are based on rules (J��rvinen, 2003) set into motion by players. When students (or anyone else) play digital games, they are reflective in the action of playing the game (Schon, 1983 Salen, 2007 Salen & Zimmerman 2004, 2005). They think about what move they are going to make and the possible consequences of the move on the remainder of the game. With digital games this is complex because there is a machine or computer present, mediating gameplay. Digital games are systems that exist as codes and algorithms within machines and the gameplayer interacts with the machine by communicating with the hardware and software. This is a constant, evolving experimentation with ideas about how the digital game works in tandem with the machine on which the game is played. This evolves over time, as players experience new games across a variety of existing and emerging platforms. This experimentation and interaction includes inputting and receiving the codified messages games designers incorporated into the system. The sum of these messages is gaming where the digital game is a system that is enacted through play, separate from the skills of playing (Galloway, 2006 Walsh & Apperley, 2009). New systems-based literacy practices Missing in contemporary studies of digital games in educational settings (Gander, 2000 Dawes & Dumbleton, 2001 Egenfeldt-Nielsen, 2005 Egenfeldt- Nielsen, et. al, 2008) are studies that explore the new set of literacy practices AJLL Feb 2010 text.indd 26 4/01/10 12:59 PM