Digital Literacy and Dragonborn: Observing a World Within Skyrim

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  • DigitalLiteracyandDragonborn:ObservingaWorldWithinSkyrimKeriFrazer

    LIT530ResearchSeminarDr.Parsons12/9/2012

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    Mysister,Lindsey,hasbeeninterestedinvideogamesforthepasteightyears.Ihaveobservedhercharacters,herquests,andherbattleskills,allthetimewonderingwhatintriguedhersomuchabouttheseroleplayinggames.Herinteractionswiththegamingworldstartedtobecomeaserioushobbyofherswhensheenteredhighschool.LindseywouldsavemoneyforthenextElderScrollsvideogame,talktoboysaboutCallofDuty(eventhoughshebarelyplayedit),andfrequentthelocalGameStopstoresjusttoseewhattheyhad.Lindseyisincrediblycomfortablewiththeknowledgeoftechnologyandabilitytoproblemsolve.Sheiswhatyoucouldcalladigitalnative,someonebredintheageoftechnology(NortonMeier,2005,p.430).NortonMeier(2005)talksaboutthecomplicationsofbeingadigitalimmigrant,essentiallythecounterpartofthedigitalnative,andhowmuchofastruggleitcanbetobecomeaccustomedtotheageoftechnology(p.430).Theideaofdigitalimmigrantsmayexplainpartofthereasonthatsomanyteachersseemresistanttousingthenewtechnologieswehave,itsnotthattheydontwantto,butrathertheymaynotknowhow.Ontheotherside,digitalnativesarelearningincompletelydifferentwaysfromtheirteenagecounterpartstwentyyearsback.RichardVanEck(2006)writes,Onecouldargue,then,thatwehavelargelyovercomethestigmathatgamesareplayandthustheoppositeofwork(p.17).Therearegamesthatcanhelpstudentslearnandgrowasreadersandwritersinthisnewage,thequestionishowcanweseparatethosefromtheonesthatmaynotbenefitstudents?

    Wedontneedresearchtotellusthattheadvancementintechnologyhasincreasedvastlyoverthelasttwodecades.WhathappenedtotheCDplayerIlovedwhenIwasseven?Well,likemosttechnologyfromthe1990s,theCDplayerhasbeenreplacedbysmallerandmoreconvenienttechnology.Steinberg,ParmarandRichard(2006)state,

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    DrivenbyMTV,clubbing,music,video,advertising,television,videogames,MangaandAnime,instantmessaging,cellularphones,theWorldWideWed,Disney,andtherelentlesskindercultureofadolescence,todaysyouthareexpertsontheoperationandpurposesofmedia(p.xvii).Thequestionthatremainsinthemidstofallthechangeishowcanwemakethistechnologyworkinourclassrooms?NortonMeier(2005)says,Playersactivelycreatenewvirtualworlds;participateincomplexdecisionmaking;andthinkreflectivelyaboutchoicesthatweremade,includingthedesignofthegame(p.430).NortonMeiermakesthecasethatgamerslearntothinkcognitivelyandsociallybyplayingthesegames(p.430).Studentsworkondecisionmakingskills,creativethinkingskills,andcognitiveskillseveryday.Understandinghowwecanrelatethoseskillstothetechnologywehave,aseducators,canhelpusbuildbetterclassroomcommunities.StudentsarenotstudyingthecontentbecausetheyrenotinterestedinthetextbookversionoftheAmericanRevolution,butmaybetheyreplayingAssassinsCreedIII,ahistoricadventuregamesetinbefore,during,andaftertheAmericanRevolution.Ifweunderstandwhystudentswillspendhoursplayingagamethatisitsownformofliteracy,thenmaybewecandothesamethinginourclassrooms.Forthosewhoarelessinclinedtounderstandtechnology,thetaskbecomesthatmuchmoredifficult.Butevenforthoseofuswhodobelongtothedigitalnativeculture,thereisadiscrepancybetweenhowwewanttoutilizetechnologyandwhetherourstudentsdirectlybenefitifwedoso. Ididnotsetouttouncoversomegreattruthsaboutvideogames.IreallywantedtoanalyzeYouTubevideousageintheclassroomafterIhadgoneintoaschooldistrictthathadbannedtheuseofYouTube(evenfromthefaculty).ThereasonIwassointerestedisbecauseIremembermyteachersinhighschoolusingYouTubeasaresource.Ithoughtit

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    wasstrangethatsomethingsousefulwouldbebannedinschool,thoughschooldistrictsdefinitelyhavelegitimatereasonsforwantingtoblockaccesstothatparticularsite.Istartedtothinkaboutthekindsoftechnologyweuseandwhethertheuseoftechnologyhelpsstudents.DianeOblingerandJamesOblinger(2005)write,Theabilitytousenontextexpressionaudio,video,graphicsappearsstrongerineachsuccessivecohort(p.2.2).Teenagersareusingtechnologytocreatewebsites,postvideos,updatetheirstatuses,andtheseareallformsofliteracy.ShinandHuh(2011)write,Whilepeopleofallagegroupsplayvideogames,gameplayingisespeciallymoreprevalentamongtheyouth(p.946).Itisclearthatteenagersaretheoneswhoaremostinterestedandengagedinthisformofliteracy.DianeandJamesOblinger(2005)refertothisgeneration,thosewhogravitatetowardsvisualliteracyexpressionandsocialinteractionviatechnology,astheNetGen(p.2.7).TheresearchIworkedonwithmysisterwouldshow,throughmyowninterpretationsthatsheisateasewithtechnologyandexpressesherselfthroughvisualliteracy(Fieldnotes,12/8/2012,p.1).

    IwaspickingupmysisterfromclassonedayandsheimmediatelyhookedupheriPhonetomycarstereo.ShebegantoplayasongthatatthetimeseemedsooutlandishtomethatIcouldntimagineanyoneevercreatingasongquitelikethis,Whoserapping?Dovahkiin!Dragons?Imnotoverkeenmydragonshoutflowissweeterthanasodastream(Bull,2011).ThesongwascreatedbyaYouTubesensation,DanBull,whocreatesmanydifferentgamingraps,thelyricsbasedontheactualgamesthemselves.Istartedtothinkaboutwhatitwasthatmadesomeonewanttocreatearapbasedonagame.Ibegantobemoreinterestedinhowthisworldofgamingfunctionedbothinsidethegameandoutsidethegame.Inmymind,Iwasbeginningtostumbleoveraformofdigitalliteracy,

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    onethatIneverwouldhaveconsideredasanythingliterate,atleastnotinmyreality.Youngkidsandadolescentswereengagingintheirownformofliterateculturethatperhapsoutsiderscouldntunderstand.Ifiguredthatmysisterwasapartofthisphenomenon,somethingthatIdidntevennecessarilyunderstand,andsoIbeganmyquesttolearnmoreabouttheworldofgamingasaformordigitalliteracy. ResearcherslikeJamesPaulGee,LoriNortonMeier,andConstanceSteinkuehler

    supporttheideathatvideogamescanactasaformofliteracy(Gee,2003,p.4)(NortonMeier,2005,p.430)(Steinkuehler,2010,p.61).Theremaybeteachersandadults(orthosewhoaredigitalimmigrants)whoarenotcomfortablewiththeideathatthistypeoftechnologyhaschangedthewayliteracyfunctions.Darby(2011)examinesthewaysinwhichstudentshavehadtoadapttothechangingtechnologyandliteracy,Theabilitytointerpret,analyse,selectanddecodemultiplemessagessimultaneouslytocreatemeaning,iskeyfor21stcenturystudents(p.23).Studentswhoarefamiliarwithtechnology,thosedigitalnatives,arerequiredtofunctionwithvisualliteracyandhigherlevelthinkinginordertoparticipateintheworldtheyenjoy(Sheffield,2007,p.2).ThisworldincludesYouTube,Facebook,Tumblr,EBooks,videogames,andallformsofentertainment.Icantturnonthetelevisionwithoutseeingaboxintheupperrighthandcornerofmyprogramwithahashtagandatwitteraddress(#thevoice).Smagorinsky(2000)writesaboutideaofthepurposesofliteracyasabletoconstruct,preserveanddocumentframeworksforsocialpracticeandtoenablecommunicationwithinthoseframeworks(ascitedinDarby,2011,p.23).Darby(2011)suggeststhatthepurposesofliteracyhaventchanged,buttheskillsrequiredtobeconsideredliteratehave,asfarasthe21stcenturyisconcerned(p.23).

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    SanfordandMadill(2007)researchedagroupofadolescentboysandfoundthattheyparticipateinliteracythattheyenjoy(p.434).TheboysinthatstudywerealladolescentswhowerereadingandplayingYuGiO,readingsciencefictionandfantasy,andfoundinterestingraphicnovels(p.434).Similarly,mysisterfindssolaceinplayinghergames,namelySkyrim(anElderScrollsgame),andconnectinghergameplaytothecharactersshecreatesinthefictionbooksshewrites.SheiscurrentlyworkingonwritingabookthatdoesntdirectlyrelatetoSkyrimorhergameplay,butoffersimilaritiesbetweenthetwo.Forexample,herstorysequenceisbasedonalongtimelorethatextendsfurtherthantheactualbookitself.Skyrimisalsobasedheavilyinloreandfictionthatisnotjustpresentinthegame.ThislorethatLindseyhascreatedhasnothingtodowiththegamesheplaysinSkyrim,butIinterpretthatthefactshewrotetheloremeansthatshewantssomecongruencyinhergameplayandhernovelwriting.

    GamerswhoappreciateorfollowtheElderScrollsstoriesknowthattheyarebasedonaworldsetinTamriel,afictionalcountrythathasstruggledthroughwarandconflict.ThevideogamescomewithmapsofTamrielthathelpplayerslocatethevillagesandtownshipsthattheywilleventuallyplaythrough.IhaveincludedamapofTamrielbelowtoofferavisualaidasIexplainthehistoryandloreofSkyrim.SquireandJenkins(2011)writeabouthowgamersarentjustlearningthroughthegames(asintherulesofthegame),thegamersarelearningawholesystem,loreandhistoryincluded(p.5).SquireandJenkinswrite,Videogameplayersdevelopafeelorintuitionofhowsystemsworks(p.5).Thisintuitionmaybewhatleadsgamers,likemysister,todeveloptheirownunderstandingofthegamethroughwriting,reading,andotherformsofvisualliteracy.Icantexplaintheexcitementthatmysisterhaswhenshebeginstotalkaboutthelore

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    behindSkyrimorhowthelastElderScrollsgame,Oblivion,relatetothenewergames.IobservedmysisterplayingandconnectingSkyrimtoherownreadingandwriting.

    (ElderScrollsWikia,2011)ItwasevidentfromthemomentmyresearchbeganthatIwasgoingtobeobservingaworldcompletelyunfamiliartome.Mysisterhandedmethebook,TheInfernalCitybyGregKeyes,anovelthatisbasedontheElderScrollsseries.

    LindseyisnineteenyearsoldandisacoupleyearsolderthanthestudentsthatIwillbeteaching.Itmaynotseemlikeacoupleofyearswouldmakeadifference,butIwouldarguethatshehasauniqueinsightthatmanyfourteenfifteenyearoldswouldnothave.Forexample,Lindseyoncespoketomeabouttheracismthatshehasseenwithinthegame.ThereisalotofconflictinSkyrim,thebiggestofwhichresultingfromtworaceswhodonotgetalong.Lindseysuggeststhattherearetimeswherethegamementionsthetension

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    betweentheracesandthisreallyservesasatypeofsocialcommentary(Fieldnotes,09/16/2012,p.3).Therearemanywaysthatvideogamesrepresentandperpetuatestereotypesandvariousstigmas,buttheycanalsodefythosestereotypes. Skyrimisnotmyfirstinteractionwithdigitalliteracy.Iplayedvideogamesgrowing

    up,moreofthelikesofSuperMarioBrosthananintenseroleplayinggame.Irememberonegameinparticular,AssassinsCreed,wherethemaincharacter(whomyouarecontrolling)stopstheantagonistfromburningbooks.Whatmessageisthissendingtoourstudents?Doesthesceneinthisgameactasapoliticalstatement,andifitdoes,arethegamersthinkingcriticallyaboutgamestheyareplaying?InmyownresearchIfoundthatLindseydidtendtothinkaboutthecriticalas