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2010: Gaming Across the Curriculum

It is not often that one gets a front-row seat at a major sporting event or concert at Carnegie Hall. But this issue of Currents could be considered your front-row seat to the future of game studies. Our goal in gathering the articles and discussions herein is to stage an important turning point in the study and production of games, namely, the idea of "play as a way of learning." In one sense, it is not a new idea—children have learned by playing since the dawn of time. What is new is the reintroduction of play into the bookcase of ideas on which education is founded. We take this goal seriously, and our work in "serious games" in the past few years has confirmed that it is more important than ever to blur the boundary between work and play as a first step toward reinventing education and educational spaces. Gaming-across-the-curriculum (GAC) is our means of articulating the affiliation with other recent models of rethinking learning (such as writing-across-the-curriculum and communication-across-the-curriculum), although we like to think of play as a trope with which all learning models must contend. To contend with play means both to think of play as what education has often displaced in the name of learning, and to think of play as the very means of re-placing itself in the game of education. Thus, we understand play as highly rhetorical and GAC as the appellation under which the sign of "play" plays itself out. The authors who took our call to play with GAC "seriously" have all done so in creative and innovative ways, and the editorial staff of Currents has taken on the paradoxical task of "working" on this issue about "play" with equally artistic and scholarly flourish. The Roundtable interviews the staff conducted literally round out the issue of play by putting play on the table, so to speak, with a collective of serious game designers. Together, this community of players who think, design, and write represent the most current of Currents in gaming-across-the-curriculum.

Currents 2010 stages an important turning point in the study and production of games, namely, the idea of "play as a way of learning."

Jonathan Alexander and Elizabeth Losh pose the question, “Whose Literacy is it Anyway?” by profiling “a first-year, year-long course sequence focused on a multi-disciplinary approach to computer gaming." The sequence, entitled "Computer Games as Art, Culture, and Technology," was designed and taught at the University of California, Irvine, from 2006-2009.” Alexander and Losh teach some valuable lessons along the way, not the least of which is how games help students cross “disciplinary divides” in positive ways.

In “Computer
Games Across the Curriculum: A Critical Review of an Emerging
Jennifer de Winter, Daniel Griffin, Ken S. McAllister, Ryan M. Moeller, and Judd Ethan Ruggill offer a cautionary tale, actually a number of tales, for teachers who plan to integrate games in their pedagogy. The article tackles practical and theoretical concerns, challenging educators to understand both the limitations and benefits of “computer game based composition pedagogy.”

Kimon Keramidas’s essay, “What Games Have to Teach Us about Teaching and Learning: Game Design as a Model for Course and Curricular Development,” broadens the conversation in order to situate the problem of rethinking education by using game design principles for “reconsidering the structures of classroom experiences, syllabi, and even program development.”

A useful set of strategies to “encourage experimentation with games in the classroom” emerges through Max Lieberman's “Four Ways to Teach with Video Games.” Lieberman suggests that the difficulties of teaching with games can be balanced with an experimental motivation.

Zachary Waggoner focuses on key issues in teaching writing in his “Life in Morrowind: Identity, Video Games, and First-Year Composition.” Waggoner calls attention to the prominence of pop culture and the curiously scant attention to video games in composition textbooks.

The history of games as “aesthetic machines” is traced in Scott Reed's “Stings and Scalpels: Emotional Rhetorics Meet Videogame Aesthetics.” In the process, Reed underscores the challenge of “shifting the rhetorical landscapes in which we work.” Moving deftly from Aristotle to Ulmer, Reed’s essay identifies key concepts and conceptual keys with which to make such a shift.

Trevor Hoag and Tekla Schell hand us a telescope in “The Avatar That Therefore I am (Following)” with which we are able to envision and inhabit the virtual world of Second Life. As Hoag and Schell follow their avatars, they invite us to follow their teaching in order to prioritize developing “a sense of community” in our classrooms.

Yet another valuable tool for teaching with video games is introduced in Keith Morton's “Machinima-to-Learn: From Salvation to Intervention.” Using the popular practice of creating videos from game play, Morton explains how such "machinimatic" interventions can be integrated into our teaching to foster new ways of learning and new modes of legitimizing such pedagogy as scholarly work.

Matt King explores the question of rhetorical play in Rhetorical Peaks and What It Means to Win the Game” through a rich tapestry of commentary, criticism, and game design. The prototype game he and his team developed at UT Austin situates the player in the “fictional town of Rhetorical Peaks,” where unique design, rhetorical allusions, and procedural theory bring the classroom and concept into sharp contact. King’s work is a prime example of gaming-across-the-curriculum in action.

Nonny de la Peña and Peggy Weil, co-creators of Gone Gitmo, a virtual installation of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility on Second Life, respond eloquently to questions that ask them to situate their work squarely within the nexus of serious games, learning, and the developer-gamer-learner relationship. The interview is prefaced with a fascinating video tour of the Gone Gitmo project in Second Life.

Finally, Currents spoke with Mikkel Lucas Overby of Copenhagen-based Serious Games Interactive, an award-winning, research-based developer of games, simulations, and virtual worlds that works with corporations, state agencies, NGOs and other organizations. As with many of the contributors to this special issue of Currents, Overby works to inflect the distinction between "serious" and "unserious" games, as well as making important contributions to the major themes of teaching, game design, narrative, structure, funding, culture, emotion and rules, each of which mark important defining features of gaming across (and beyond) the curriculum.

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