29 Pages


WithSteve Holmes

In Procedural Habits, I describe the ways in which “habit” functions as an important concept for understanding rhetoric and writing practices in contemporary videogames. My decision to focus on this particular term has to do with an undeniably positive development. By now, it is no longer necessary to begin a research study about videogames by stating something along the lines of “rhetoric and composition researchers have not examined videogames.” While it is true that videogames were not featured in many past major works in digital rhetoric, the last few years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of articles, conference presentations, journal special issues, and edited collections on this topic. 1 Consider the following examples:

Jennifer deWinter, Daniel Griffin, Ken S. McAllister, Ryan M. Moeller, and Judd Ethan Ruggillist offer a wide range of pedagogical suggestions for gaming-across-the-curriculum pedagogy, commenting “students can read, analyze, and write about the medium; study game artifacts as material objects within a critical cultural pedagogy; develop personalized game narratives with the help of computer game toolsets; write technical walk-throughs.” 2

Richard Colby describes how we can ask our students to draft textual proposals for new persuasive games or videogames that use Ian Bogost’s idea of “procedural rhetoric.” (i.e., a concept that describes how videogames can make effective arguments by modeling real-life interactive procedures) 3

Extending the ideas of Cynthia L. Selfe and Gail E. Hawisher’s foundational edited collection on non-digital gaming literacies in Gaming Lives , 4 Rebekah Shultz Colby employs the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) The World of Warcraft (WoW) to help her students learn how to conduct field research in a videogame as well as perform written analyses of its various literacy forms, including gender. 5

John Alberti extends a number of previous calls in our field for writing teachers to use the social media gaming spaces that students are actually writing in as a bridge toward more formalized academic 2writing, arguing “the absorption, devotion, and even self-reflection engendered by a social networking site such as Facebook can be seen as useful and desirable when directed toward more officially sanctioned forms of discursive activity.” 6

Matthew S.S. Johnson calls researchers’ attention to the ways in which “gamer-authors” use writing to engage one another in discussion online beyond the immediate activity of play, often revising the texts that they create in order to recruit new members as a form of public writing. 7

Kevin Moberly argues that players’ forms of writing in the MMORPG WoW engage “social-political structures” that require a “critical, social-constructivist pedagogy that uses computer games to not only help students understand how reading and writing ‘plays out’ in the academic discourse communities in which they are involved but to help them come to terms with how reading and writing ‘plays out’ in the larger discourses of consumer culture.” 8

Drawing in part on James Paul Gee’s pedagogical understanding of gaming literacy from What Videogames Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, “applying the fruitful principles of learning that good game designers have hit on, whether or not we use a game as a carrier of these principles,” 9 Jonathan Alexander argues that writing teachers should envision complex computer games as central texts in the writing classroom. Alexander comments, “…games are also textually rich and require quite a bit of reading, writing, and critical thinking. Indeed, at the most basic level, gaming involves complex use of multiple modes of writing and a need to develop a sense of how text and visuals interact.” 10

While this term in no way characterizes all the various ways in which writing teachers have asked students to play or write in and about videogames, 11 a number of composition scholars have also engaged “gamification” (or, the more generalized and often industry-facing use of game mechanics and signifiers in non-game contexts) as a way to reimagine a writing class, such as offering badges or points to complete peer review for student writers in the classroom. 12