There is an earlier draft of this analysis as well that goes a little deeper into the theory, though it has changed since I originally wrote it. I’m also working on a longer, revised version that fleshes out my thinking based on all the feedback I’ve received. This version is what will appear in the GLS 9.0 proceedings. In short, there are many versions of this theory and the joy of digital media is that you can watch me draft and revise publicly. I love the future.
This paper provides a methodology for analyzing the visual elements of videogames, and in particular how those elements can help players understand the contexts of the game and prepare them to act within it. Visual elements help orient players to the mechanics of the game (what they do) and to the stories they enact (why they are doing it and how). There is a risk in isolating visual elements from other modes of meaning-making in games, as gameplay is about how these modes work together to make the meaning of the game possible. However, this analysis considers how the visual elements point towards these other modes, how the game cues players in how to interpret and act, and how to use the visual features to “do” the game. Building on a framework developed by Serafini (2010), this methodology for visual analysislooks across several interrelated features: the representational and orientational elements within the game screen; structures and conventions called upon; and ideological choices and frames used by the designers in creating the game and by players when interpreting and enacting that design. If, as Serafini suggests, we think of these as nested layers within a sphere, then the outermost level is the ideological frame, the middle is the structural and conventional frame, and the innermost is the representational elements or “noticings”; we look inward through ideologies, through conventions, at the “noticings,” which reflect back to us those other features. It is important to understand that the boundaries between layers is porous; conventions are certainly ideologically motivated; color is both a semiotic structure (Kress and van Leeuwen, 2002) as well as a noticeable element. These features blend into each other and isolating them is useful only in the most abstract deconstruction. In the everyday world players experience these things simultaneously and as compound meaning-potentials.
The work of meaning: Orientation and Preparation
Gameplay is about the mechanics of play, about Continue reading
I played some multiplayer in Modern Warfare 3 the other day because, well, I am a sucker.
Now, I have a not-so-secret aversion to FPS multiplayer. I am absolutely terrible at it, which is a big part of why I dislike it so. I have never been much of a “twitch” gamer, and I love to absolutely jam on every button on the controller as hard as possible, especially in those tense, firefight moments. This is an “end user” problem, to be sure.
However, another reason I am bad at it (and why I don’t enjoy multiplayer) is that it’s often really freakin’ hard to get better at it when I’m thrown in with a bunch of experts and my average life-expectancy is in the sub 10-second mark. While this isn’t an insurmountable hurdle (“rookies” get better all the time by playing with experts – hell, the trailer for the game even points this dynamic out), I find it very difficult and incredibly frustrating.
I wish I had an “Enter” button in school…
In part one of this series, I briefly examined some assumptions about the differences between formal and informal learning. This led to some good discussion with my advisor and others in which it became apparent that an underrepresented part of the discussion is on the teaching in these situations. As my advisor pointed out, often the topic of informal learning operates as if learning just happens on its own instead of as a response to some designed or implied instruction. Focusing on the teaching component of informal learning might provide a more complete picture of the situations, the circumstances, the opportunities, and the outcomes. Indeed, there seems to be a need for a theory of informal teaching to account for any learning that occurs.
In this post I attempt to unpack what “formal” and “informal” might mean by looking at some examples of teaching/learning interactions. In the next part of the series I will attempt to break down some key elements of these interactions and look for similarities and differences which might make up this distinction. My goal overall is to explore what it might mean for teaching and learning to adopt these “formal” and “informal” methods.
I attended a great presentation the other day by Michael Levine from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center about gaming education reform. The concept of “bridging” formal and informal learning environments came up several times during the discussion, and it’s been rattling around in my head ever since. I thought I’d knock out a few thoughts about the subject in an un-researched, seat-of-the-pants method (like the irresponsible academic I am). So, well, ramble ho.
Formal and informal learning environments
School seems to be the obvious example of a formal learning environment. Schools have classrooms with set expectations, learning outcomes, models for instruction, methods for assessment, a culturally propagated power structure, an institutional framework which perpetuates these structures and so on. Continue reading
What we need is a grammar of understanding, a way of describing how meaning making occurs in and around videogames. We’ve already made some progress across various disciplines and discourses, from design and art theory to cultural studies and educational applications. Often these approach games by examining what they mean. I care less about what videogames mean than how they mean it. I’ll leave meanings to critics; I care about the ways they mean, the perceptual features, the structures that support the creation of meaning. These are questions which inform both the making and playing of games. Indeed, I feel strongly that questions of meaning serve as a unifying space for both ends of videogames, design and play. Often it’s easy to treat these as wholly separate dimensions, where play is simply an emergent property of the design of the game, or where players interact with a “text” that comes pre-packaged and is simply decoded. I think this stems not from ignorance of the interdependent nature of design and play but in issues of access: critics from either dimension often lack effective ways to interact with and interrogate what the “other side” is doing, from the actual process of design and development to the multitudes of ways to play. Instead, it is far more productive to conceive of games as both designed and enacted.
This is why I feel how meaning happens (or doesn’t) is so important: it provides a more robust vocabulary across the practices of making games and enacting them. Continue reading
I was asked by a writer for ASU’s State Press to provide some thoughts on a recent story about a town in Connecticut that plans to collect and trash violent videogames. Yes, this is happening once again. It’s not isolated, of course: Joe Biden is “discussing” the situation with industry groups as part of the larger weapons imitative coming from the White House.
So, with that as a backdrop, here’s a very quick and not-overly-nuanced reaction. TL;DR version: it’s mostly a lot of crap.
Thoughts on violence and videogames
To me, what’s interesting about this story is that the organizers seem to recognize the complex factors that lead to our culture of violence—and even seem to understand the solution—yet the end result is still to simply blame some token scapegoat. This is the part that gets the headline, of course: let’s burn videogames and it will make it better. It’s also pretty silly.
I hate to use this stupid site only to pimp the stuff I do, but….well, I guess I don’t hate it that much.
Alright, with that cleared up, check out an interview I did as part of ASU’s Project Humanities. The guiding question is “Are we losing our humanity?” I was asked to talk about videogames and digital media specifically. Also starring my good friend and cool interweb scholar Alice Daer. Woot.