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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.


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