Video Games: New Way of Being in the World

10 01 2007

Article abstract published by Columbia University’s Teachers College Record online, by a Wisconsin prof of “cognition, learning and literacy”:

Virtual Worlds, Learning, & the New Pop Cosmopolitanism
by Constance Steinkuehler — November 17, 2006

American schools largely remain locked within a Ford type factory model of industry and efficiency; games, on the other hand, are forward leaning, recruiting intellectual practices, dispositions, and forms of social organization that are aligned with many of today’s “new capitalist” workplaces. Massively multiplayer online games (MMOs), in particular, function as naturally occurring, self-sustaining, indigenous online communities of learning and practice, and our study of them can tell us something important about how such communities form and function out “in the wild” (Hutchins, 1995).

Perhaps most interesting, however, is the constellation of intellectual practices that constitute gameplay in such spaces and the way these coalesce into a form of cosmopolitanism found in the least likely of places: the context of pop culture. Games are incubators of a new pop cosmopolitanism–a discourse, or “way of being in the world” (Gee, 1999), marked by a willingness and ability to navigate an increasingly globalized, diverse, networked, socio-technical world. If our world is indeed becoming increasingly “flat” (Friedman, 2005), then gaming communities such as those found in MMOs are, in some respects, our proverbial canaries in the coalmine.

There is a great generational divide on the matter of video games. For those older than 35 or so, games are, at best, an unfortunate waste of time and, at worst, Trojan horses introducing our youth to violent, misogynistic themes. For those younger, they are a (if not the) leading form of entertainment, a resource for creativity and innovation, and a new campfire around which to socialize.

While public figures such as Hillary Clinton urge concerned parents to effectively boycott such media that “offend their values and sensibilities” (Clinton, 2005), their popularity with children and young adults only continues to increase (Ipsos-Insight, 2005), with more than eight out of every 10 kids in America having a video game console in the home, and over half having two or more (Rideout, Roberts, & Foehr, 2005). The National Endowment for the Arts (Bradshaw & Nichols, 2004) bemoans the huge cultural transformation of “our society’s massive shift toward electronic media” (video games given as the quintessential example) that purportedly “make fewer demands on their audiences…require no more than passive participation, … [and] foster shorter attention spans” than do print media; yet, the gamers I research engage in rich intellectual practices that rival those found in contemporary classrooms, build social capital through participation in online communities, and report on the transformative role that video games play in their social and intellectual lives.

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Is Truth Important?

10 01 2007

Harry Frankfurt, author of “On Bullshit” and now of its sequel “On Truth”, is Jon Stewarts’ guest interview on the Daily Show tonight.

He seems like he’s really thinking about each question seriously, trying to answer it thoughtfully and –dare we say it? — truthfully?