What digital games and literacy have in common: a heuristic for understanding pupils' gaming literacy

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Literacy Volume 00 Number 0 xxxx 2012 1What digital games and literacy have incommon: a heuristic for understandingpupils gaming literacyThomas Apperley and Christopher WalshAbstractThis article argues that digital games and school-basedliteracy practices have much more in common thanis reported in the research literature. We describe therole digital game paratexts ancillary print and multi-modal texts about digital games can play in connect-ing pupils gaming literacy practices to traditionalschool-based literacies still needed for academic suc-cess. By including the reading, writing and designof digital game paratexts in the literacy curriculum,teachers can actively and legitimately include digitalgames in their literacy instruction. To help teachers un-derstand pupils gaming literacy practices in relationto other forms of literacy practices, we present a heuris-tic for understanding gaming (HUG) literacy. We argueour heuristic can be used for effective teacher profes-sional development because it assists teachers in iden-tifying the elements of gameplay that would be ap-propriate for the demands of the literacy curriculum.The heuristic traces gaming literacy across the quad-rants of actions, designs, situations and systems to pro-vide teachers and practitioners with a knowledge ofgameplay and a metalanguage for talking about digi-tal games. We argue this knowledge will assist them incapitalising on pupils existing gaming literacy by con-necting their out-of-school gaming literacy practices tothe literacy and English curriculum.Key words: digital games, gaming literacy, paratexts,multimodal, heuristic, professional developmentIntroductionHow do we prepare literacy teachers to acknowledgepupils gaming literacy in ways that help them ac-quire the traditional print-based literacies still neededfor academic success? We will address this questionby looking at what digital games and literacy havein common, particularly the complementary print-based and multimodal literacy practices required byboth. Examining this intersection establishes whatteachers and practitioners need to know about chil-dren and young peoples gaming literacy to effec-tively incorporate digital games into classroom literacyactivities.Recent research that connects digital games with lit-eracy argues that when children and young peopleplay digital games, they participate in a complex con-stellation of literacy practices (Steinkuehler, 2007,pp. 299300), which are not generally acknowledgedwithin classrooms. This research, which examines anarrow set of digital games, pinpoints that a con-nection between playing digital games and readingprint-based and multimodal texts (frequently askedquestions (FAQs), walkthroughs; cheats and codes) often at grade levels well beyond pupils acknowl-edged proficiency as measured by standardised tests is an important component of playing digital gamesof which many teachers are unaware (Steinkuehler,2010; Steinkuehler et al., 2009). These researchers alsoargue that these print-based and multimodal readingpractices are an essential component of pupils par-ticipation in digital gaming culture that often remainshidden from teachers and practitioners (Steinkuehler,2007, 2010; Steinkuehler et al., 2009). Our discussionbuilds on this position by examining the connec-tion between pupils out-of-school literacies developedthrough playing digital games (and their reading, writ-ing and design practices on and about games) andmore traditional school-based literacies.This article introduces a new heuristic or model for un-derstanding pupils gaming literacy that we argue canbe used for effective teacher professional development.The heuristic offers a new representation of a gamingliteracy that will assist practitioners in acknowledgingdifferent aspects of pupils gaming literacy and selectgames that support activities that are appropriate totheir curriculum. Using the heuristic as a guide, theywill be able to successfully introduce diverse aspects ofgameplay and game cultures into their literacy teach-ing, learning and assessment practices. It explicatesthe knowledge about digital games and the metalan-guage that is needed to connect pupils out-of-schooldigital gameplay practices with school-based literacypractices, and charts the dynamic complementary in-tersections between unofficial, informal, out-of-schoolgaming literacies and formal school-based literaciesacross four quadrants: actions, designs, situations andsystems. The aim of the heuristic is to raise awarenessamong teachers and practitioners of the complexity ofCopyright C 2012 UKLA. Published by Blackwell Publishing, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.2 What digital games and literacy have in commonthe literacy practices that pupils use during gameplayand consequently alter them to the unique opportuni-ties that digital games provide for connecting the lit-eracy curriculum to texts and practices significant topupils lifeworlds.In this article, we examine what digital games andliteracy have in common by first outlining the keyrole that digital game paratexts (Consalvo, 2007) playin connecting digital gameplay and game cultures totangible literacy outcomes. The term paratext is mo-bilised to describe the print and multimodal texts usedand often developed by game players that circulate inthe complex nexus of literacy practices that make updigital gaming cultures. We argue digital game para-texts can work as a useful segue because they con-form most closely to the textual requirements of theofficial curriculum to introduce digital games intoliteracy and English curricula. Second, we discussgaming literacy, arguing that when teachers acknowl-edge pupils gaming literacy through the consump-tion and design of digital game paratexts, it providespupils with increased opportunities to acquire tradi-tional school-based print and multimodal literacies.Finally, we introduce a heuristic for understandinggaming (HUG). We maintain that the HUG presentsteachers and practitioners with the essential knowl-edge and metalanguage about digital games andpupils gaming literacy practices that will assist themto connect pupils out-of-school consumption and de-sign of digital game paratexts with school-based liter-acy practices in ways that are authentic and not ad hoc.Digital game paratextsThe term paratext is useful for helping teachers andpractitioners familiarise themselves with the wide-ranging print and multimodal texts that circulatein digital gaming cultures. Digital game paratextsrepresent print and multimodal texts (walkthroughs,video tutorials, fan fiction, fan art, for example) thatare easily accessible to teachers and practitioners,when digital games themselves are not. GameSpot(http://www.gamespot.com.au) has over 40,000 digi-tal game FAQs, guides and walkthroughs, over 250,000cheat codes and 100,000 reviews contributed by thecommunity of game players.Many paratexts are not only relevant to pupils out-of-school lives but are often difficult expository and pro-cedural texts, above pupils grade level, that they arewilling to engage with and work to decode and un-derstand. A study of pupils in Years 69 who strug-gled with literacy or do not experience success inschool showed that those that played digital gamestackled (e.g. decode, understand and apply to theirgameplay practices) texts written at Year 12 or a highschool graduate level (Steinkuehler et al., 2009). Apressing issue remains as to why so many teacherscontinue to fall short of helping pupils who strugglewith reading, writing and design inside schools, whenclearly many of these same pupils experience liter-acy success outside school with texts related to digitalgames.Through their out-of-school consumption and designof paratexts pupils are engaging in many difficultprint-based (as well as multimodal) literacy prac-tices directly related to school-based literacy practices.Apperley and Beavis (2011, p. 133), describe para-texts succinctly in relation to literacy. Paratexts refersto both the texts and the surrounding material thatframe their consumption, shape the readers experi-ence of the text and give meaning to the act of reading.It is:an umbrella concept that connects the familiar no-tion of intertextuality the processes of reading textsas linked and always already known and the need fora diversity of texts to be part of any literacy/Englishprogramme to explicit industry-based practices, par-ticipation in global culture and existing practicesof digital gameplay (Apperley and Beavis, 2011,p. 133).Digital game paratexts aptly demonstrate where andhow digital game cultures and literacy are related. Ifthe writing, reading and design (as well as speakingabout and listening to pupils and peers gameplay talk)of digital game paratexts can be viewed as a legitimatemedium of expression in the literacy classroom, thenthe possibility of digital games becoming worthy ofacademic inquiry in schools might become acceptable.It would also shift the field of literacy in a directionthat does not view gaming as something distinct (neg-ative, violent, sexist and an activity that takes awayfrom reading) and in direct competition with school-based literacy practices.The challenge for teachers and practitioners is inhow to include digital game paratexts in the liter-acy curriculum and make strong conceptual linksbetween them and the kinds of print-based liter-acy practices that are assessed through standardisedtests and aligned with local, state and national stan-dards. We are not advocates of preparing pupilsto simply do well on standardised assessments;rather we are hoping teachers can leverage pupilsinterest and affinity with digital games and theirparatexts to provide opportunities for them to ex-perience success with school sanctioned literacypractices.Gaming literacyGaming literacy suggests a changing stake in whatit means to be literate in the era of ubiquitous com-puter and Internet access and increasingly naturaluser/playermachine interfaces (Beavis et al., 2009;Copyright C 2012 UKLALiteracy Volume 00 Number 0 xxxx 2012 3Zimmerman, 2009). During gameplay, pupils draw ontheir gaming literacies to accomplish difficult but mo-tivating tasks and develop new knowledge by nav-igating the complex, changing virtual environment.Buckingham and Burn further this notion:game literacy also implies that there is something spe-cific about this medium that distinguishes it from others that we positively need game literacy as distinct fromprint literacy or television literacy, or even a broader no-tion like media literacy (2007, p. 325).For us, gaming literacy includes and extends thedefinition of complementary literacy fields becauseit specifically emphasises the elements of game-play and a complex understanding of computersystems.As noted earlier, elements of paratextual consump-tion and design inherent in digital gameplay practicesthat constitute pupils gaming literacy are complemen-tary to many school-based literacy practices, but theyare also different and often more complex. We arguethat paratexts are equally important for understandinggaming literacies. When children and young peopleread, research and design paratexts they are engagedin relevant print-based and multimodal literacy prac-tices, making these activities a fluid example of situ-ated learning (Gee, 2003; Stevens et al., 2008). Acquir-ing gaming literacy does not just involve learning howto play digital games, but also the intertextual naviga-tion, comparison and reading of the official and un-official paratexts, and contextualising the informationcontained in light of the credibility of the particularsources.Paratexts are often descriptions, guidelines, instruc-tions and strategies for digital games. However, theyshould not be regarded as merely practical, but alsoas imaginative and creative outputs that include writ-ing, digital artwork, visual and audio design and newgame designs (Newman, 2008). Paratextual productionis grounded in complementary proficiencies that drawon childrens and young peoples traditional and mul-timodal literacy practices that are important to liter-acy pedagogy. While the pedagogical value of reading,writing and designing paratexts is clear, we arguethat further work is necessary to re-situate these ac-tivities and practices in the literacy classroom. Inwhat follows, we present a model for professionaldevelopment that familiarises teachers and practi-tioners with a metalanguage and knowledge aboutdigital games that are needed to connect pupils out-of-school digital gameplay practices with school-basedliteracy practices. By exploring four quadrants aroundgameplay and paratexts: action, design, situation andsystems, the model charts the dynamic complemen-tary intersections between unofficial, informal, out-of-school gaming literacies and formal school-basedliteracies.A heuristic for understanding gaming(HUG)We conceptualised the HUG in order to demonstrateto teachers and practitioners an in-depth under-standing of digital games. The HUG evolved fromour experiences with high school teachers actionresearch projects on playing, researching and de-signing digital games in their literacy classroom.The project was funded by the Australia ResearchCouncil and ran from 2007 to 2011 with the AustralianCentre for the Moving Image, the Department ofEducation and Early Childhood Development andthe Victorian Association for the Teaching of En-glish (see Beavis et al., 2009; project website: http://www.learningfromcomputergames.com/). The heu-ristic provides a substantiated metalanguagefor connecting out-of-school digital gameplay withschool-based literacy practices. The heuristic offersan informed explication of digital games on theirown merit that provides teachers and practitionerswith a coherent and legitimate way of talking aboutdigital games with pupils. This allows them to validlyacknowledge children and young peoples gamingliteracy and proficiencies with confidence. Addition-ally, the HUG assists educators in conceptualising,developing and providing informed feedback onclassroom tasks and assessments when researchingdigital games or incorporating the consumption anddesign of digital game paratexts into the literacycurriculum.The HUG acknowledges first and foremost that digitalgames are played as well as read. This debate has beencentral to the discipline of game studies. This debateoften centres on the difference between narrative un-derstandings of games and how they might otherwisebe understood in terms of actions, algorithms, codedrules, designs and systems. The narrative of a digitalgame (what is happening when one looks at the screen)is the result of a process of playing the game, which in-volves actions both from the player (by pressing but-tons, for example) and the hardware/software of thegame system. In response to this debate the HUG ac-knowledges both the narrative and the play of digi-tal games and demonstrates to practitioners how theirinterplay produces gameplay experiences (Figure 1).Take reading a book: you have to turn the pages andyou move your eyes across the page; your body isphysically engaged. Reading a book is not just ac-tive in terms of interpretation, it is also physically ac-tive. With digital games, the physical role of the player(reader) has more importance. While digital gameshave narratives that can be read actively, the physi-cal process of playing the game is also crucial, and tomake progress through the game it is essential to mas-ter the particular physical responses that are requiredto succeed. This is challenging, even frustrating, butthe engagement of the body and the importance of theCopyright C 2012 UKLA4 What digital games and literacy have in commonFigure 1: HUG: a heuristic for understanding gamingperformance of the player take on a significance in dig-ital games that is qualitatively different from the effortrequired when reading (see Aarseth, 1997).The crucial issue is that actions taken by players in theprocess of playing a digital game have consequencesthat impact on the final narrative. While a book is sub-ject to multiple possible interpretations, a digital gameis an algorithmic encoding of a set of rules that struc-tures the many possibilities (which are also open tointerpretation) that gameplay may enact. With books,readers create imaginary worlds, yet the book remainsunchanged. Each game as played is different. Whilereaders and gamers alike may participate in on- andoffline communities of interest where paratexts areshared, consumed and designed, digital games arequalitatively different because they provide the oppor-tunity for and encourage players to design and re-design digital games on a number of levels.Digital gaming has its own changing contexts andsituations that are equally important for practitionersto understand. Like books, games have a system thatneeds to be understood in order to make sense of thecontent. Books are a medium that follows a specific for-mat; if you do not understand the conventions of thesystem you will be unable to recognise if those conven-tions are being followed or inverted, or appreciate howthese conventions may change (with the introductionof the e-book for example). We believe this approachto understanding games, illustrated by the HUG, willallow practitioners to apprehend the complexity andskills that underlie gameplay and gaming literacy. Inwhat follows, we map gaming literacy across thesequadrants: actions, designs, situations and systems.ActionsDigital games require that teachers and practitionersget pupils to consider what physical actions they per-form when they are playing digital games. Actionmarks a key difference between digital games andother media. Actions define both the characters interms of the type and variety of actions that the avatarcan perform and the virtual spaces of the digitalgames. Actions define how the space(s), and the ob-jects in it, will be used by the players. The conceptof digital games as actions (Galloway, 2006) supportsthe argument that avatars in digital games were se-lected in a manner that disregards representationaltraits in favour of the constitution of character assets of capabilities, potentials and techniques offeredto the player (Newman, 2002). In short, the HUGhelps practitioners understand how in digital gamesaction informs choices as much as visual or narrativepreferences.Digital games are enacted in multiple ways. Galloway(2006, pp. 58) introduces two key distinctions: (a) ac-tions are performed either by the hardware and soft-ware, or by the player; and (b) actions can take placeeither within or outside the virtual world of the game.Action extends this distinction to examine the dynam-ics of interaction between the player and the com-puter. This concept is extremely useful for practitionersCopyright C 2012 UKLALiteracy Volume 00 Number 0 xxxx 2012 5because it draws out critical distinctions in what mightbe otherwise understood as amorphous, homogeneousand unspecific reflections on playing digital games.Furthermore, the notion of action highlights how dif-ferent games require specific approaches that incorpo-rate particular knowledge and gaming literacies. Forexample, players must recognise how their avatarsmove, and the actions they can perform (e.g. kick,jump, shoot).Understanding the distinction between the actions thatplayers may take in the game and actions that are madeby players that configure the game is important for un-derstanding the different forms of literacy that are inte-grated in digital games. For example, jumping in SuperPaper Mario (Intelligent Systems, 2007) is an action thatclearly takes place in the game, while cycling throughthe Pixls to chose the best special ability takes placeoutside of the game as events in the game are sus-pended while the player makes this strategically im-portant decision. The distinction between player andsoftware/hardware actions is also important for prac-titioners. This knowledge allows them to focus onwhich parts of the game are controlled or influencedby player actions and which parts the game softwareenacts. This illustrates how the relationship betweenplayer and the game may be adversarial or coopera-tive. Sometimes the game hardware will animate andperform both opponents and allies in a game, for ex-ample, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Infinity Ward,2009). In other games, the game hardwares role is pri-marily environmental. For example, the Nintendo DSprovides the physics of the game world (the worldpresented by the digital game) in N+ (SilverBirchStudios, 2008). But the hardware may have a more co-operative role by providing strong managerial or ad-ministrative support, like in the SimCity series (Maxis,1989) where it enacts and monitors the decisions thatplayers take.Understanding these nuances in action is paramountto the professional development model we present.This is because action is much more than simply play-ing a digital game. It illustrates how the player mustnegotiate their ambiguous relation to digital games which provides both support and challenge this canbe usefully used by teachers and practitioners to en-courage the development of a critical approach to thinkthrough how they are positioned within the game. Thenotion of action also extends to the way players inputinformation. While highly generic in some respects,increasingly how information is inputted into digitalgames has changed. This is apparent with the touchscreen on the Nintendo DS, tablets, smart phones andintroduction of motion sensors to gaming consoles. Re-cently, also several popular digital games series havebeen released for consoles that have specialised con-trollers, for example, Guitar Hero (Harmonix, 2005).By understanding the actions taking place in digitalgameplay as outputs read from, and inputted into thegame by the players, practitioners can provide activ-ities and assessments that extend pupils often taken-for-granted gaming knowledge and literacies.DesignsDesign embraces several crucial related meanings: theprocess of multimodal meaning-making and designthat is involved in re-presenting and recontextualis-ing game information through paratexts; the elementsof production within digital games that players en-counter and interact with during the course of play;and the process of redesigning games. For practition-ers the concept of design links digital game paratextswith both playing and designing games. To under-stand the significance of design it is necessary to con-sider how through play a virtual game world is pro-duced in a continuous, iterative reciprocal process ofinteraction between player and hardware.A common feature among contemporary digital gamesis to allow players limited control over the games de-sign elements. Design in this context is about play-ers making decisions that change how the game isplayed. This means they design the game to fit theirpreferences. Many design choices are aesthetic, focus-ing on the appearance of the players avatar or thegame world (see Kafai et al., 2010). The customisationof avatars is common and varies in detail from thecartoonish appearance of a Mii on the Wii, to the de-tailed choices permitted in avatar design in Mass Effect2 (BioWare, 2010). In some popular games such asThe Sims (Maxis, 2000) players design parts of thegame world. Design impacts on the actions possiblein the game world and consequently how the game isplayed. For example, in Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts(Rare, 2008) players design vehicles with different abil-ities that provide distinct affordances when navigatingthe game. In such cases, design involves shifting intoa different mode of play that is outside the narrativetime and space of the game world. But design may alsobe included within the process of play. For example inLittleBigPlanet (Media Molecule, 2008) the design andredesign of each level is a core part of the game.Aside from how design may be included as a part ofthe game, many digital games are now sold with soft-ware development kits that include features allowingplayers to redesign, share and distribute their designs(levels, objects, avatars, etc.). Through the popularityof these features, design has become the basis for manyrobust game cultures. Other design oriented activi-ties include: making digital games, with software likeGame Maker (YoYo Games, 1999); and making mods defined as amateur modifications of commercialgames (Jenkins, 2006, p. 289) for example, Counter-Strike (Valve Corporation, 2000).Design is important for practitioners because it of-fers an authentic connection with out-of-school lit-eracy practices that may not be found in designCopyright C 2012 UKLA6 What digital games and literacy have in commonopportunities found in more conventional classrooms.Design and redesigning are tangible examples of gam-ing literacies that illustrate how practitioners can de-sign activities, assignments and debates around digitalgames and their paratexts. By producing new designsand representations using the game, pupils engagein transformed practice (New London Group, 1996)where they redesign existing meanings to create newdesigns, which in turn transform game systems. De-sign also allows players to experiment with the knowl-edge of the conventions of gaming that they have ac-quired. This provides practitioners scope to developactivities where pupils reflect on how systems of rules,behaviours and relationships guide interactive game-play and design.SituationsThe situations of gameplay are about understandingthe locations and/or contexts where digital games areenacted. When anyone plays a digital game, it happensin a situated context that is integral to understandingthe learning and sociality that occurs during the ex-perience of gaming (Gee, 2003). For example, a prac-titioner may play a digital game and not be fully ableto ascertain its possible relevance to literacy educationwithout questioning where, with and by whom thegame is usually played. The significance of the actionsin gameplay cannot be fully understood if the contextor situation has been ignored. Gameplay is not just anevent on a screen, it is enacted in a specific location bya person (or people) using specific technologies. Theconcept of situations is important because it articulatesthe overlapping connection between digital gamingand offline activities, and how gameplay experiencesare shaped by everyday life (Apperley, 2010). Theseunderstandings help practitioners to focus on theuncertain and variable environment where, throughgaming, pupils out-of-school, digital and/or gamingliteracies are developed. Having knowledge of howsituations shape pupils various literacy proficiencieshelps practitioners connect school curricula, teaching,learning and assessment to pupils experiences withdigital games, paratexts and other popular culturetexts.When digital games are played, people and technolo-gies are being aggregated. There may be one or manyindividuals playing; they could be playing from differ-ent locations over a network, or from the same room.Often a group will play, taking turns to play and watchothers play. When people play games together, theyare learning from each other; even in the situation of acompetitive multiplayer game there is substantial co-operation and learning from each other before, duringand after gameplay. Knowledge and information aboutthe skills and techniques required to succeed in (or oth-erwise enjoy) the game are often shared and playerslearn from one another, directly and indirectly, throughthe exchange of gaming capital in different situations(Apperley, 2010; Consalvo, 2007; Walsh and Apperley,2009). The accumulation of gaming capital is a key fac-tor that determines players status in relation to otherplayers within the context of gameplay. It is impor-tant for practitioners to be aware of these relations be-cause they are complicated and contentious; differentgroups consider particular games more or less impor-tant. For example, Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos (BlizzardEntertainment, 2002) may be rejected in favour of TeamFortress 2 (Valve Corporation, 2007) because the lat-ter game is newer, or the fantasy elements in WarcraftIII are considered to be childish or cliched. However,within the situation of playing a particular game, gam-ing capital represents skill and experience. It does notnecessarily stem from a total command of the game be-cause expertise and skill in each part or element of thegame are often acknowledged. For example, in GrandTheft Auto IV (Rockstar North, 2008), a player may berecognised for their skill at driving, their accuracy atshooting, or because they have a great recollection ofthe locations of the stunt jumps. Through gameplay,pupils demonstrate their gaming capital, but impor-tantly often exchange it with others in different situ-ations to enrich their own experiences or accumulateother forms of cultural, symbolic, economic and socialcapital (Bourdieu, 1984).Digital games and paratexts are situated in and pro-duced through social and technological networks.Thus, some situated knowledge of how such tech-nologies work is ultimately required. This may not behighly technical knowledge, but players develop skillsthat allow the necessary objects to be connected (theXbox 360 to the modem, network, stereo and televi-sion). This is important for practitioners as it illustrateshow gameplay and gaming cultures are imbricated in ageneral technological knowledge involving download-ing and uploading data, and managing technologicalinterfaces to produce, and switching between varietiesof actions. When practitioners consider this situationalknowledge of pupils then they can craft classroom ac-tivities (print and multimodal literacy practices) thatallow pupils to demonstrate their technological knowl-edge and also valorises their gaming capital by in-tentionally creating new situations where their out-of-school literacies are acknowledged and put to use toengage in print-based activities. This is crucial, becausechildren and young people that play games, but are ex-cluded from gaming cultures, are unable to capitaliseon the skills they develop because they may lack a wayof articulating their knowledge in relation to existingliteracy practices or skills.SystemsDigital games are systems that engage players throughrules and delineate particular actions, designs and situ-ations. These systems are dynamic, recognising the ac-tions of the player(s) and responding to accommodatethose actions. If players both read and play games,Copyright C 2012 UKLALiteracy Volume 00 Number 0 xxxx 2012 7then what they have learned through gameplay andthe use of digital game paratexts is how the system orset of rules within the game operates. Systems-basedunderstandings allow practitioners to recognise thesignificance of the rules, and the kinds of claims thoserules make (Walsh, 2010).Players learn the rules of the system through game-play, accepting them as absolute. Usually Niko can-not go inside most buildings in Grand Theft Auto IV;Mario can only use one Pixl at a time in Super PaperMario; and gravity causes Ezio to fall from rooftopsin Assassins Creed 2 (Ubisoft Montreal, 2009). A par-ticular challenge for practitioners is to separate the in-flexibility of rules as an essential aspect of gameplayand success in the game from the claims those rulesmake about the world. Take the colonial-era historicalnation simulator Europa Universalis II (Paradox Interac-tive, 2001). What kind of claims is it making about theworld, when a player of a fledgling European nationenters an army into a newly discovered area of the maplike New South Wales and the software politely asks ifthey wish to Attack Natives? Such issues are worthopening for discussion, particularly when actions thatmight otherwise be questionable are contextualised aslogical within the competitive dynamics and systemsof the game world.When practitioners particularly literacy teachers understand that digital games are systems it allowsthem to be discussed as something other than narra-tives. This underscores how curriculum design, teach-ing, learning and assessment using digital games canacknowledge pupils gaming and out-of-school litera-cies in a manner that does not simply re-appropriatethem as yet another curricular text. Equally impor-tant is understanding that pupils can break or alterthe rules of the game through modding or modify-ing the system. When pupils use or design mods theyare not just changing the physical appearance of thegame, but also the digital games system of rules (e.g.the algorithmic codes). Practitioners could encouragepupils to demonstrate their understanding of howthat system works on multiple levels. When pupilsengage in design and redesign of digital games andparatexts, practitioners have the opportunity to initi-ate classroom activities that segue knowledge of dig-ital games into learning how to programme throughreworking a narrative or redesigning audio andvisual features of a digital game that they can thenwrite about or present to their peers. This is a criti-cal aspect of the pupils gaming or procedural liter-acy (Bogost, 2007); an increasingly valuable set of lit-eracy practices necessary to understand the interplaybetween the culturally-embedded practice of humanmeaning-making and technically-mediated processes(Mateas, 2005, pp. 101102).An understanding of systems, which incorporates thenotion of procedural literacy, assists practitioners inunderstanding how digital games allow players to seethe world through a particular paradigm that is under-stood through actions, designs, situations and systems.This then allows them to design school-based literacyactivities that encourage and promote an approach toreading digital games claims about issues in the ma-terial world. We argue that practitioners can encouragethis approach by discussing the rules of the game, thesignificance of the rules (over other rules), the claimsabout the world the rules make, and pupils individ-ual responses/nonresponses to those claims (Bogost,2007).Practitioners can draw on the HUG to discuss the realor imagined actions presented through gameplay. Thisengages pupils on a level where they can approach therelationship between the rules of the game and theirgameplay actions through a critically engaged modeof play. With this kind of metalanguage about game-play, practitioners can surpass institutional under-standings of literacy centred on an autonomous neu-tral set of reading and writing skills or competencies(Walsh, 2010, p. 37). This creates space within the cur-riculum in which pupils can design paratexts wherethey use their gaming literacy to engage in print-basedliteracy activities and multimodal design.ConclusionA great deal of scholarly work indicates that digitalgames have significant educational value, particularlyin the area of literacy. Furthermore, they have an im-portant role to play in classroom activities. This arti-cle provides a framework and heuristic for teachersand practitioners who are interested in including digi-tal games in the classroom.The HUG is a work in progress, and it is intendedas a starting point for projects that practitioners candevelop according to their own contexts and cir-cumstances. A timely next step would be to usethe heuristic for understanding gaming (HUG) todevelop both pre-service and in-service teacher profes-sional development courses and programmes to fur-ther connect pupils gaming literacies to literacy teach-ing and curriculum. Understanding pupils gameplayon its own is important, but understanding how theactions, designs, situations and systems affect game-play and contribute to individuals gaming literacy isentirely more complex. While the heuristic illustratesthe strong connection between the educational valueof paratexts and gameplay itself, it remains impor-tant that teachers and practitioners continue to explorethe dynamic segues between digital games and para-texts that will be useful in their own teaching andlearning.We have argued that digital game paratexts are apractical starting point for introducing digital gamesand gaming literacies into the literacy curriculum fortwo reasons. First, they require less experiential andCopyright C 2012 UKLA8 What digital games and literacy have in commontechnical knowledge of digital games to teach andthey are easier for practitioners, unfamiliar or dis-tanced from the cultures of digital gaming, to integrateinto their teaching and learning activities. Second,for children and young people who are already fa-miliar with paratexts, both as users and design-ers, the paratext provides an authentic segue be-tween their immersion in gaming cultures and game-play practices and school-based literacy outcomes. Bydrawing on the knowledge presented in the HUG,teachers and practitioners have considerable scope tofocus not only on paratexts, but also on the elementsof gameplay and gaming cultures that are appropriatefor the demands of their particular institutional affor-dances and their literacy curriculum and assessmentactivities.ReferencesAARSETH, E. (1997) Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Bal-timore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.APPERLEY, T. (2010) Gaming Rhythms: Play and Counterplay from theSituated and the Global. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures.APPERLEY, T. and BEAVIS, C. 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