Why games are different

I’m writ­ing a paper on dig­i­tal gam­ing, and had to lose one of those chunks of thought you pro­duce in the process of writ­ing, but which doesn’t belong in the final prod­uct. This seems like a good place to put it. The point of the para­graph is to con­trast gam­ing with some oth­er new media gen­res that have had more suc­cess being incor­po­rat­ed into teach­ing and learn­ing.

Dig­i­tal sto­ry­telling, pod­cast­ing, blog­ging, and col­lab­o­ra­tive writ­ing with wikis each appear to be dig­i­tal vari­ants of tra­di­tion­al course mate­ri­als and course work, with intel­li­gi­ble tran­si­tion paths for incor­po­rat­ing them into the class­room. In each case, the focus is on cre­at­ing con­tent in more or less under­stood forms, new forms that are not for­eign to tra­di­tion­al forms such as the expos­i­to­ry essay, the aca­d­e­m­ic jour­nal arti­cle, the oral pre­sen­ta­tion, and the film. These new media gen­res dif­fer from their tra­di­tion­al coun­ter­parts pri­mar­i­ly in their inclu­sion of oth­er media types (audio and video) or in the addi­tion­al dimen­sions of col­lab­o­ra­tive author­ship and pub­lic audi­ences. But they retain a tra­di­tion­al empha­sis on being strong­ly dis­cur­sive, and in retain­ing the aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly impor­tant premis­es of lin­ear­i­ty and tex­tu­al­i­ty. By lin­ear­i­ty, I do not mean sim­ple adher­ence to a log­i­cal order­ing of things, where one idea fol­lows from the pre­vi­ous, but rather to a pre­scribed tem­po­ral order of pre­sen­ta­tion that often has what Frank Ker­mode called “the sense of an end­ing.” For exam­ple, although dig­i­tal sto­ry­telling makes use of the chan­nel of visu­al ani­ma­tion, its com­pelling fea­ture for edu­ca­tion­al use is the sub­or­di­na­tion of this chan­nel to the narrator’s voice and to the com­fort­able lin­ear­i­ty of film. Wiki hyper­text appears to be rad­i­cal­ly non-lin­ear, but in its typ­i­cal usage, what emerges are dense­ly linked col­lec­tions of tra­di­tion­al text. Wikipedia, for all of the stig­ma it car­ries among media tra­di­tion­al­ists, is found­ed on very tra­di­tion­al notions of what counts as con­tent. Blogs and pod­casts are the most tra­di­tion­al of all, since they are vari­ants of very tra­di­tion­al forms of writ­ten and oral dis­course. Where these forms are rev­o­lu­tion­ary is in their modes of pro­duc­tion and of dis­tri­b­u­tion, and in the emer­gent struc­tures of par­tic­i­pa­tion that result from these. But these dimen­sions are pre­cise­ly what tend to be absent from their ped­a­gog­i­cal deploy­ment.

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