This chapter describes the manner in which gamers engage in multiple text comprehension and intertextual practices within the context of the World of Warcraft (WOW). It describes the nature of and issues associated with multiple text comprehension in a knowledge-based society, intertextuality as it relates to massively multi-player online games, and grounds this discussion in survey results from 745 WOW players. This context is highly complex, rich in information, and supports multiple modes of communication. The literacy skills used by gamers in this environment provide us with a more complete understanding of multiple text comprehension overall and within similar complex environments. The authors hope that the chapter will provide valuable insights into the development and application of 21st century skills and help direct the design of future games and the implementation of games in education.
Multiple Text Comprehension
In order for readers to understand multiple texts and draw connections across them, they must first be able to understand individual texts. The skills associated with understanding text in an information society are complex and based, in part, in the manner in which readers interact with texts. Historical models have described reading and literacy in a variety of ways, from a set of basic skills to a highly complex and inherently social process (see Alexander & Fox, 2004). Most models along this spectrum vary primarily in their underlying assumptions about meaning (e.g., existence, location, construction, etc.) and have been the source of great debate.
Early definitions of reading presumed that meaning existed and was inherent to a text. Reading was therefore a skill-based process in which the reader was responsible for “getting the author’s message” (Alexander & Fox, 2004; Leu & Kinzer, 2003). From this viewpoint, reading was reduced to a mechanical process in which the reader applied decoding skills to infer meaning and reading instruction involved training skills (e.g., phonics instruction) (Alexander & Fox, 2004; Leu & Kinzer, 2003). By contrast, more contemporary views describe meaning as being informed by the social, cultural, and personal histories of the reader. Models of reading based on this assumption describe it as a constructive, interactive, and socially cued process (Alexander & Fox, 2004; Leu & Kinzer, 2000; Rosenblatt, 1994; Ruddell & Unrau, 2004; Shanahan, 1990). This latter perspective depicts the reader as an interactive member of the reading process, rather than a recipient of information (Leu & Kinzer, 2000; Rosenblatt, 1994).
Key Terms in this Chapter
NPC, Non-Player Character: NPCs are used in a variety of ways by developers. Functionally, they serve as a mechanism for users to interact with game content. NPCs provide quests, directions, or standardized help with basic game-related concepts. The majority of this information is conveyed using text and is usually stored in the player’s logs. NPCs exist to facilitate play and are not to be confused with MOBs (mobile objects, or monsters) that are designed to provide a challenge, whether via combat or other means.
Persistent Worlds: A persistent world is a virtual environment that functions independently of direct user interaction or involvement. These environments remain even after the user has logged off and is no longer present in the environment. Persistent worlds typically have their own clock and calendar that functions independently
Affordances: According to Gibson (1986), “the affordances of the environment are what it offers the animal, what it provides or furnishes, either for good or ill” (p. 127). With respect to MMOGs, affordances are most closely related to the rules and systems in place that allow users to interact with the game environment and each other. MMOGs are interesting in that they typically present unconstrained sets of affordances in terms of geographic motion and interaction.
Multiple Source Comprehension: Multiple source comprehension is a term used to describe the complex process of developing understanding from many and various “texts.” Traits like authorship, voice, reliability of the information, and so forth, vary across sources and it is ultimately up to the reader to construct meaning from them.
Flame: Flaming is a social act usually involving insults or sarcasm by which one or more members of the community attempt to admonish, belittle, or humiliate another player. Because MMOGs are inherently social, flaming is one mechanism to keep social behavior in check. Behavior such as spamming (repeated sequences of text) or questions the community perceives as basic usually results in a “flame.”
Massively Multi-Player Online Games: The term massively multi-player online game (or MMOG) is a class of multi-user virtual environment (MUVE) that is entertaining and game-based. MUVEs in general are virtual environments in which many users, often thousands, simultaneously interact. MUVEs are typified by 3-D graphics, open-ended navigation through the world, and engaging, interactive content.
Emergence: Game developers constantly update the mechanics and software rules while regularly adding content and expansions. Emergence as it relates to MMOGs is the notion that game content and the players’ understanding of that content develop through regular play and interaction with others.