The Hidden Literacies of Massively Multiplayer Online Games

The Hidden Literacies of Massively Multiplayer Online Games

P. G. Schrader (University of Nevada, Las Vegas, USA) and K. A. Lawless (University of South Florida, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-842-0.ch012


Given the multitude of available options, citizens of a globalized, knowledge-based society must have the ability to locate, evaluate, and apply information across sources. Further, the manner in which information is consumed around the globe has become increasingly multimodal. Unfortunately, students are rarely presented with formal opportunities to engage in and with multiliteracies. As a result, there are very few opportunities for researchers to understand the nature of skills necessary to function in a multiliterate world. In serving this purpose, this chapter examines the multiliteracies associated with Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs). Specifically, it will examine the nature and affordances of the associated technologies as they pertain to the multiliteracies of consumption and production. A call for additional research with direct ties to education is also addressed.
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Over the last century, media and our notion of “text” have evolved. Newspapers and magazines from the early 1900s are easily indentified by their abundant use of text, tight columns, and small fonts while employing relatively few images (Crow, 2006; Kress, 2003; Kress & Van Leeuwen, 2001). By contrast, the multimodal aspects of modern media have become more pronounced (Kress & Van Leeuwen, 2001). At a minimum, characters and image are used together to communicate information, challenging our traditional definition of “text.” More generally, words, images, and other elements function as simple components of a larger, complex frame (Kress, 2005). Collectively, these attributes and the technological characteristics of emerging technologies have allowed for new and highly complex environments, notably ones in which users interact and exchange information.

Modern technology affords the presentation of information in a variety of modes (e.g., audio, visual, video, text, spatial, etc.). One only needs to consider any news website to verify this point. A single article might have videos, sound bytes, advertisements, and animations woven into the text. In addition, one might consider commercial websites, media kiosks, or smartphone interfaces and they will see that this scenario is far from isolated or unique. As a result, there has been a shift in what it means to be literate and productive in a modern, multimodal world (Goldman, 2004; Kitson, Fletcher, & Kearney, 2007; Leu, 2000; New London Group, 1996). In this sense, “reading” and “literacy” rely not only on the content within each element, but also each element’s position, relationships among elements, as well as aspects of the reader (Kress, 2005; RAND Reading Study Group, 2002).

Beyond the attributes of presentation and transmission, the affordances of modern media have also influenced the way we access and interpret information. On a global scale, users may find information via television, papers, magazines, blogs, forums, and/or podcasts, just to name a few. By contrast to previous generations, there has been a multimodal explosion associated with all classes of media on nearly any topic, which may be accessed from virtually any resource. Although the interpretation of multiple sources is not a new concept, the ubiquity of these resources have made it necessary to further examine the complex skills associated with locating, evaluating, and implementing information (Schrader, Lawless, & McCreery, in press; Spivey & King, 1989). Often termed multiple source comprehension (or intertextuality), these skills are integral in a multiliterate world.

Unfortunately, multiple source comprehension introduces complexities beyond those typically present in single source learning. For example, a learner must not only determine the relevance of a particular resource but also make this evaluation in relation to other resources. Competing sources may afford alternate perspectives or provide conflicting information, challenging the learner to critically evaluate and compare these points of view. However, connecting information across resources can be a daunting task, particularly for individuals with low domain knowledge, interest, or motivation (Lawless & Kulikowich, 1996, 1998). This challenge is exacerbated when information is presented in multiple formats, which requires the reader to simultaneously interpret information across sources and modes.

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