Gaming & Gamification in Composition

A few weeks ago, we had a CIC workshop on gaming & gamification in composition.  This post will be a summary, follow-up, expansion, and resource bank of some of the key take-aways for teachers and researchers interested in the potential for gaming and play in teaching composition.

Workshop Participants with Meeple Avatars

Workshop participants show off their meeples from one of the workshop activities.

First of all, here is an introduction to some shared vocabulary that informs our conversation (from Deterding et al & Envato):

  • Play: a free-form, expressive, improvisational recombination of behaviors & meanings
  • Game: playing structured by rules and competitive strife toward goals
  • Gamification: the use of game design elements in non-game contexts
  • Gamefulness: the experiential & behavioral quality of gaming
  • Game Design Elements: Challenge, Choice, Change, Chance

Example Gamification Books

We can think about gaming as literacy practices, which are tied to composition (see Kurt Squire & the New London Group in particular for connections with multimodality).  We should also recognize gaming practices to be embedded and emerging from within social and cultural practices, especially as they move into economic and educational systems and contexts.  As critical educators, we need to be careful of adopting “gamification” concepts wholesale.  Consider the source and purpose of tips and strategies you may find to “gamify your class.”  In the ethics of argumentation, we don’t want students to just “crush the competition!”

Multimodal & Gaming Literacy Excerpts

Multimodal resources excerpted include Writer/Designer by Kristen Arola, Jennifer Sheppard, and Cheryl Ball, “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies” from the New London Group, and “Video Game Literacy” by Kurt Squire.

Since many CIC instructors hold a variety of teaching philosophies and approaches to the level of technology integration in their classes, we also find it useful to identify ways that gaming and play can be used along an integration spectrum.  As a caveat, there are many additional ways that gaming can take place in classes, so this is not an exhaustive set of examples, but rather a starting point.

  • Minimum integration: Game as text used to analyze course theme(s); gamefulness in class activities (example prompt)
  • Medium integration: Game/game element as assignment or class activity in addition to game as text (example prompt)
  • Maximum integration: Game as text to investigate multimodal literacy practices and games as texts/integration points for related compositions in multiple genres (example prompt)

One example of a student-composed game for a multimodal composition class at UW that was later published is now publicly available via the following link (excluding accompanying reflection writing):

Scratch – STEM Curator: Women in STEM

In this game you will play as a museum intern tasked to design a museum to help girls stay interested in STEM, Science Technology Engineering and Math. The purpose of this project is to educate people that the discouragement women face when entering STEM fields is entirely cultural. We as …

This game was featured on Scratch and received positive reviews.  Reflection writing revealed the students’ composition process and intentions.

Students can also interact with and analyze games as texts.  In role-playing games, students can choose an avatar to play, which allows them choices for playing a character that seems closest to who they are in real life or to experiment with an identity at a greater distance.  Because of this, they have opportunities to conduct inquiry into issues of identity and representation without being obligated to reveal vulnerabilities in class.  They can draw on primary sources from their play experience and secondary sources like online forums to explore and research their position within the game world (as well as how this connects to real-world issues of identity and representation).  For example, imperialism, nativism, and racism all appear in the game Skyrim with different material impacts and choices for different characters’ play experiences.  The available (and customizable) races in Skyrim are included below:

Avatars for Exploring Identity Issues

Skyrim character images subject to creative commons license from Wikia.

In the following class activity, various students’ experiences and responses were used to refine the conception of inquiry in research.  Students responded to a set of questions using Survey Monkey, and the class moved from a basic binary question like, “Which side did you choose?” to identifying better non-binary questions and then moving to more nuanced research questions like, “To what extent are the Stormcloaks justified in the civil war?”  The choices players were given from the game designers on any issue in time remained open for investigation and connection to real-world issues.  Students also practiced framing evidence for their own purposes with the graphs produced from class responses.  These were also issues they were invested in through play experience, rather than an abstract research topic that they might not feel authorized to write about yet.

Survey Monkey Results for Class Inquiry

Graphs generated by student participants using Survey Monkey.

In the game Skyrim – like many others – players also choose to develop “skill tree” items as they level up depending on their play style.  For example, they may choose skills to develop related to a warrior (heavy armor, archery, smithing, etc.), mage (illusion, conjuration, destruction, etc.), or thief (light armor, lock-picking, sneak, etc.).  In order to start owning the language of the outcomes and create a revision plan during the portfolio sequence, students created analogies between the available Skyrim skill tree items and EWP course outcomes.  This also modeled the way students could enter the discourse communities of their majors beyond the game and the composition class.

For assessing assignments that deal with gaming and play, we need to consider the following elements:

What are we assessing?

  • Game design
  • Statement of purpose, reflection
  • Achievement of statement goals
  • Fulfillment of assignment goals

Who is involved in developing assessment criteria and how are students internalizing criteria?

  • Creating or co-creating criteria
  • Practicing assessment
  • Revising criteria

Here are some resources available on and beyond campus to explore how you might implement some of these ideas or some of your own.

For Accessing/Analyzing Games:

For Designing Games:

CIC Sample Prompts and Activities:

While many of these examples and resources tend to follow digital medium games, it is important to note that the same play and gaming principles can be available through table top gaming as well.  The UW library system is currently acquiring table top gaming resources that should be available for the 2017-2018 academic year.  Please check with the UW English Studies Librarian Faye Christenberry for questions or updates.