Gaming literacy as basic competence

I was planning on writing about this, but of course Steve Wheeler beat me to it http://steve-wheeler.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/skills-or-literacies.html so read his thing …

One of the projects I’m working on is introducing NEETs to education, and much of the discussion yesterday was about whether we should be engaging them with digital skills or digital literacies. Although we had different viewpoints (but eventually came to a mutual decision … we decided to go for skills, a matter of not running before we could walk) what made the conversation easier is that we all had a shared understanding of the distinction. For all of us skills are what we do in training. Upload this video, compress this photo, add this page. A literacy is critically reflecting on the task (why this photo and not that? what does this video mean in this context? how do we address our different audiences). As the word “literacy” has seemed to proliferate it’s worthwhile pulling back on its usage to only really refer to this higher level of engagement.

The question also arises, to what extent can we insist upon literacies amongst the people with whom we work, both colleagues and students. In our NEETs work we were constrained by the literacy literacy (text literacy?) of the learners. Asking people to critically reflect when we really just want them to engage in the first instance, is too much. From an undergraduate however, I would expect them to be able to spell and punctuate accurately, though would be a bit lenient on those that had English as a foreign language. That’s not even a text literacy though, it’s really just a skill. When I taught, if an essay came in with too many errors, they would have to re-do it. Learning where an apostrophe goes takes about 30s to learn. Yet I still review academic papers that can’t get it right. But, I doubt I’d get much argument about insisting on spelling and punctuation from anyone.

What about digital literacies though? The thought cropped up again in reference to this piece: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-21631646 in connection with the boy who ran up a GBP 1700 bill on playing Zombies vs Ninjas. The freemium model in games shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, though how expensive the in-game purchases on this one certainly are to me. What makes the page interesting is an argument between two of the commenters, one called David and one called ravenmorpheus2k about the culpability of the parents and the worth of the article. I think the article is drawing attention to how expensive in game purchases are, not that they exist, but the argument raises some good points. Should parents actually be digitally literate enough to know how freemium games work, and at least have a baseline knowledge of games and gaming before handing a tablet over to their child? And not need to rely on picking this up from a BBC website but spend the time exploring in order to achieve this level of literacy? One commenter says yes, the other says no. No prizes for guessing which is which. The discussion also brings up the “get a life” accusation that most non-gamers will throw at gamers at some point, the argument being that if you’re a proper grown up then you won’t be wasting your time with this sort of thing.

But .. that’s the question. Is a basic knowledge of games an essential digital literacy for existing in the twenty-first century? Is there an onus on parents to learn enough about them to be able to monitor and make literate sensible choices about their children’s activities?

I’m not insisting that everyone becomes a serious gamer (though I think if you’re not your life is impoverished, but e gustibus non disputandem est and all that, but “serious gamer” is certainly not an oxymoron). However, I do think that if you’re not taking your time out to become at least partially aware of your environment, and gaming is a part of your environment whether you like it or not, then the accusation of irresponsibility and laziness is actually fair comment.

Oh and don’t get me started on academic colleagues who don’t know how to install software, or upload images, or find files on their computer, now that would really get me ranting.

Harlem Shake

One of the things that makes social media so fascinating is the speed with which trends appear, morph and then disappear. February 2013 was the month of the Harlem Shake. It seemed to appear at the start of the month, proliferate madly and then by the end of the second week it was already becoming passe … as evidenced by the very first one I saw, which was this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4ZxszoeCiU Since then we’ve seen record attempts (like the one at Warwick) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6mvfhGkyNI , The Norwegian Army doing it, some of the cast of Twin Peaks did it. There have been TV newsrooms, Lego Avengers (probably about the funniest) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwAKxED4uTs, it’s been done in World of Warcraft and Minecraft at the Welsh Open snooker, and now even the Simpsons have had a go. I even know someone who’s done one, or at least the people in his company have https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R33Bvyv-dCo  (though I’m pretty sure that’s him at the start with the box on his head). The syntagm is a simple one, first 15s someone (usually masked) dances to the Harlem Shake while everyone else does routine stuff, then the baseline drops and then there’s a jump cut to lots of people jumping around on the screen. The appeal is that they actually seem like a lot of fun to do, not so much to watch, after a while though. Full story is here http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/harlem-shake

What’s also great about social media is the speed with which it can clash with authorities. An early seemed to arouse the ire of a couple of NYPD officers, then when it was attempted on a larger scale there was a bigger backlash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9LH1CdbSkw  However now it seems to becoming a mechanism for opposing oppression in Tunisia http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2013/02/27/tunisia-does-the-harlem-shake/ The first seem to have unintentionally wound up the authorities, but now there are hundreds of copycat activities going on.

It still seems that the powers that be (or is that the powers that were) in a lot of countries haven’t really come to grips with the power that the Internet can provide. It’s not just about posting videos or images, (or blogs), it’s how when you bring together and connect a mass of different people then doing anything, sometimes funny, sometimes insightful, sometimes just plain stupid, can occasionally just trigger a wave of activity, often without any discernable root (i.e. a stand alone complex). It’s still surprising that that this growing wave of self-expression and/or fun still comes into conflict with the authorities though. You’d have hoped by now that these regimes would have learnt their place. Yes they have their allegiance to the status quo, but with us all connected together to this extent, and able to act together and share ideas, then ultimately, they should probably be shaking too.