Session C.5 “Possibilities and Limitations of Gaming Pedagogies”
Last month was my first time attending Computers and Writing and I was thrilled and refreshed by the experience. I wanted to attend so many sessions and workshops, but the laws of physics seem to dictate that I can’t be in two places at once, which is a shame. Admittedly though, it could be that I had an ulterior motive to see everything that I could because I’m the graduate assistant for next year’s conference being hosted by East Carolina University! Nonetheless, my favorite panel that I attended was panel C.5 on Friday. This panel, titled “Possibilities and Limitations of Gaming Pedagogies” comprised three graduate student presentations about their research and experiences with game studies in pedagogy and I loved every moment of it.
The panel began with Greyson Sanders’ “A Theory of Concentricity: Magic Circles, Nepantla and the Worlds They Unlock” all of which was rather new to me. Essentially, magic circles describe where situations take place; when it comes to gaming or play, the magic circle occurs when play happens and the rules of the game define the circle. The circle is also dependent on players’ continued consent or willingness to keep playing. Nepantla is a concept from Latinx and Chicanx cultures that describes liminality or a state of being in between, which Sanders learned about via the work of Gloria Anzaldúa. Sanders relates the magic circle to Nepantla in his presentation. Work like this, which asks us to look more closely at boundaries and what happens when they are pushed or utterly broken is vital in the college classroom, which was my takeaway from the presentation. When studying the use of games in the classroom, teacher-scholars are already breaking preconceived ideas about what the magic circle of the literature or writing classroom should be. Additionally, it can be incredibly useful to understand that many students will feel like their school experience across all ages is a Nepantla or magic circle in which they don’t know the rules or get to establish their own boundaries.
Next came Megan Tyler’s “Making Games in First Year Writing” which piqued my interest because I’m especially interested in students making games as a part of the composition process. In the course where Tyler asked students to make games, they made text adventure games for persuasive purposes with a variety of interesting results that Tyler shared at the panel. Multiple students made character selection screens in which players had choices about who they played, which affected the game play. For me, the standout example was a student who created a game about the wage gap across gender and race. Depending on the character a player chose, they could have an automatic game over before ever playing further in the game, powerfully and succinctly demonstrating what navigating life can be like for many people. Something else that stood out to me about Tyler’s presentation is the fact that she does not require students to choose the game creation assignment. I was surprised to hear that some students are not at all willing to try an assignment like this, because I would have loved the opportunity when I was an undergraduate student! Nonetheless, giving students a few options is something I absolutely stand behind, so I hope to one day be able to include a game option, just like Tyler.
Our third presentation was “When It All Goes Sideways: Adjusting and Adapting In Gaming Pedagogy Courses” by Jennifer Justice. It worked out nicely that Justice followed Tyler for the presentation, because Tyler’s presentation got the audience thinking about times when what we think will happen does not. One facet of the presentation that I took to heart was regarding the failure of technology. Teaching with and about games can be a technology-heavy endeavor, so planning ahead or finding ways to be prepared to lose access to the tools we rely on is crucial. This idea of being ready for tools and lessons going sideways was something I had considered some in the past, but based on the presentation and discussion to follow, I don’t think I’ve given enough forethought. Further considerations that we need to keep in mind, especially in writing classes, are that the game itself or technology itself is not always the point; sometimes it is a means to an end and students need to know those ends, and so does the instructor. We should not only know those ends so that we can adapt when plans don’t smoothly, but also to clearly articulate the purpose behind the activity to students from the start.
At the panel, we had a small audience of folks who were all engaged in the panel and contributed questions that enriched the presentations we had seen. I was grateful for this close-knit group, with everyone dedicated to gaming pedagogy and its application in the writing classroom. I was told multiple times before getting to the conference that I would likely find an academic family here, that I would feel at home, and I did. The only way I could have been any happier, and more thankful, or any more intrigued by the hard work of all involved was if I could have attended every panel, participated in every workshop, and seen every poster. I look forward to keeping up with Justice, Tyler, and Greyson to see where their work takes them, and implementing their great advice at every chance I get.