games in composition courses

so i’ve been working on a paper about using commercial games – specifically free flash type games available online – in composition classes to help students understand the rhetorical situation. I’m specifically discussing a semester-long assignment that required students to bring in games to lead discussion about literacies ideologies from readings assigned in class. so…….i started thinking of ways to spice up my 305 class (junior level composition)….luckily we were beginning a module on design and designed learning to help them understand how to create their final project. So we played games. We started with my go-to assignment (discussed briefly in the paper so hopefully you’ll be able to see that later in print). Then I asked for self-reflection – how will this lesson help you in your design choices/decisions? One student volunteered that she’ll pay more attention to images as they may argue against her point (vaccine debate) accidentally because of how touchy the overall debate is. So, I switched to image analysis discussions, with my all-time favorite site, petakids.org.

I’ll admit I’m a vegetarian, and I have pets, and I’m raising my son to be vegetarian. I avoid leather as often as possible, and try to buy cruelty free make-up (skin allergies can prohibit this on rare occasions when they flare up). So while I seem to support many of the beliefs of PETA, I have huge issues with their rhetorical approaches. So, since we were on a games kick, my students asked to see the games PETA created for young kids (YAY technology in the classroom BTW). This is where I had an amazing teaching moment, and I’m so incredibly proud of my students right now……

So PETA has a huge anti-Pokemon campaign discussing the ways Pokemon argues for cruelty to animals – and teaches children that cruelty to animals is ok. While I think they need to research videogames research, I’ll save that rant for another post. My students asked me to play a particular game where the Pokemon fought scary-cartoon versions of the Hamburgler in anti-McDonald’s and anti-fast food arguments. So the game begins with RIDICULOUS amounts of text (good for a composition course understanding how too many words can alienate an audience – rhetorical situation – bad for a game). Then the game begins with player-you controlling an old milking cow that is being attached by a big corporate Hamburgler (BCH) of sorts. Since you’re a milk cow – player-you is female (complete with female sign by your player name and health level). As you push through the text (your only player interactivity option) your health fails as BCH attacks you over and over. What made this moment so amazing was how quickly my students identified the accidental arguments being pushed by PETA kids with a female in-game character with no blocking moves and the bad game design with too much text. They then asked me to continue to play, so they could continue to analyze. Up next Pikachu. As a male character for player-you, Pikachu directly confronts BCH and the game begins the tutorial for response attacks against BCH. At this point my students went crazy with important points on the way PETA kids game designed argued for just as offensive worldviews through their gender roles in games – not to mention their skin ads with only female skin as a way to promote more ethical clothing choices. We were out of class time, and they wanted to continue to play to understand how offensive the accidental arguing of a game produced by PETA would be. This was a really important proud teacher moment for me. Games For The Win!

On a side note – PETA needs to consider the role of gender in their game design because the arguments being forwarded about gender roles in kids games are very offensive – especially since they believe games argue so effectively at ingraining worldviews about animal cruelty. I’m considering a letter writing campaign….. 🙂

Side note 2 – this assignment works effectively in synchronous real time classes – I’m working through ideas for Online Writing Instruction versions. immersive learning with students finding the rhetorical ways design argues for worldviews and the way design argues for specific kinds of learning is important. Our choices in online course design argue in similar ways. So I think this is an even more important assignment/discussion/idea for OWI.

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