Video Games as Interactive Literature
Starting with the third edition of this textbook, we began mentioning interactive fiction, something that would go way beyond those Choose Your Own Adventure novels that kids had fun with back in the 1970s. But we always sort of begged off from writing about it because the idea wasn't fully developed yet. But now that full-blown interactive fiction has arrived by way of video games played either on computers or on game platforms such as the Nintendo Game Cube or a Sony PlayStation, many of us hesitate to embrace it. We're frightened away by such names as Warcraft, Gears of War, Counterstrike, and Grand Theft Auto.
In the survey we took of 266 local high school students, we asked those who played video games to list a favorite and tell why they liked it. Eighty-four of the students responded, with hardly any of them listing the same game, which made us nostalgic for the old days when our grandchildren were all playing Pokemon and we had a chance of joining in their conversations. One of the boys filling out the survey had obviously had experience with negative adult judgments because he appended a note after he wrote that Stalker was fun: "No—you don't stalk people." Another boy said he liked Day of Defeat because he owns noobs, which he kindly explained are "beginners, like newbys." Another boy said he didn't like to play the games, but he loved "hunting for them online."
Besides the online card games, which seven students mentioned and which we understand are played by millions of women, there are basically four kinds of video games: first-person shooter games, fantasy role-playing games, real-time strategy games, and simulation games. The shooter games came first because they are the easiest to program, but as designers are getting more skilled and are figuring out how to let their characters talk, both the number and the variety of games have expanded so much that the video-game industry now makes as much or more money than does the film industry. We heard on an NPR broadcast that the 2006 Japanese economy was saved by the marketing of manga, anime, and computer games around the world, especially to the United States.
James Paul Gee makes the point, in What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy, that many adults are looking at the games from the wrong perspective. We think the games must be a waste of time because they are not teaching content as textbooks do. However, Gee says, in fact, some of them do teach content while at the same time involving players in the kinds of active and critical learning that prepares them for the decision making and the modes of operation that are an increasingly big part of modern life. He organizes his book around over thirty "Learning Principles," a few of which he discusses in each chapter under such titles as Semiotic Domains, Learning and Identity, Situated Meaning and Learning, and The Social Mind.
A point he makes throughout the book is that video games often have a greater potential for learning than does much of what happens in school. His principles illustrate active learning. As an illustration of what he means by active learning, Gee says that when game players pick up the direction manual that accompany the games, they find the reading tough going. Younger players just start experimenting and playing the games in different ways, while older players who have grown up with different attitudes read the manuals over and over and fret if they cannot foresee exactly what they should do. Finally, out of frustration, they turn to the game and start playing. Then when they go back to the manual to check on some detail, they are happily surprised to discover that it is now much easier to read and understand.
© ______ 2009, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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