A. Approach Step
B. Thesis Statement: Video games promote literacy by helping players develop reading, critical thinking, communication, and digital literacy skills.
C. Method Statement: This paper will discuss the role that video games play in developing literacy.
A. Literacy Through Practice Reading Skills
1. Decoding unfamiliar and fantasy vocabulary
2. Navigation through organization structures within the game
B. Literacy Through Development of Critical Thinking Skills
1. Most games have a logic and rules that players must decode and interpret
2. Games force players to make choices based on observation and inferences
C. Literacy Through Communication with Other Players
1. In order to be effective at some games, clear communication is necessary
2. Exposure to potentially millions of players around the world means practicing with a lot of communication styles
D. Digital Literacy for New Media
1. Nonfiction text features and visual elements are unique to platforms and need to be decoded
2. Understanding how text, images, and sound work together to produce content is a type of literacy
Rescuing the princess, beating back alien hordes, and organizing a raiding party to steal the treasure of a nightmare demigod do not, at first blush, seem congruous with skills such as summarizing, comparing and contrasting, and understanding sequence of events in a text. This is because literacy is a skill that is taught through traditional educational materials and practices are conservative and limited to print, particularly nonfiction text and fiction as it appears in books, magazines, and newspapers. These technologies, while important, are old, and the type of literacy that is taught and tested in schools does not incorporate all of the skills people need to understand and communicate effectively using the media around them. Likewise, educators and parents are reluctant to use tools that they see as just entertainment; however, this is a missed opportunity. Video games promote literacy by helping players develop reading, critical thinking, communication, and digital literacy skills. This paper will discuss the role that video games play in developing literacy.
One-way video games develop literacy is through the practice of reading skills for games, such as role-playing games (RPGs). These are games in which a player assumes the role of a hero or heroine and plays through a game with several objectives while developing the character they are playing. As Harushimana (2013) points out, video games such as this require players to actively engage the text on screen in order to figure out how to play the game, and many of these games have story structures that are similar to major novels or epics (44–46). With these new gaming trends, players are actively practicing reading skills such as decoding, inferring, and using context to determine meaning, and they are exposed to story structures that they will recognize in literature and drama. Another feature of these games are the many menus, submenus, and inventory and item lists players must be able to access, understand, and utilize while playing the game, sometimes during real-time in which speed is a factor. Learning how to recognize nonfiction text features and organizational structures is a type of literacy development. Therefore, many video games, especially those that are text heavy such as RPGs, help players develop and practice active reading skills that contribute to literacy.
Another way video games help develop literacy is through the development of critical thinking skills. Video games, like almost every game, are set up to include challenges and problems that must be solved in order to advance. In a game such as Tetris, players must use spatial intelligence to fit shapes together. In a game such as Resident Evil, players must use clues to link together solutions to puzzles in order to advance through the game. As Levasseur (2011) points out, “Games… cultivate problem-solving, that, with that right kind of scaffolding, could begin to gain traction with… exploratory questions and knowledge.” In other words, the problem solving that occurs in video games is a good foundation for the type of critical thinking skills one needs in order to develop literacy. Furthermore, games force players to make decisions based on information and an inference for what the “correct” action is. For example, Donkey Kong is mostly a reflex-based game; however, players can recognize and anticipate patterns in the game that allow them to score points or advance levels. That pattern recognition is a type of critical thinking and occurs only from repeated observation through trial and error. This trial-and-error methodology of games helps develop critical thinking skills (Levasseur 2011).
A third way video games help increase literacy is through the direct communication players have with each other. In the game World of Warcraft, there are several objectives in the game that cannot be completed without collaborative effort, regardless of how strong or skilled a single player is. In order to achieve these objectives, players must communicate effectively and clearly to devise strategy, assign tasks or objectives to members within the group, and resolve the outcome to everyone’s mutual satisfaction. Games such as World of Warcraft are global, meaning that players from around the world can play together, and at any one time there may be tens of thousands of people playing. Because of this, players will be introduced to a number of communication styles, often during periods of excitement and stress, and learning how to effectively communicate and listen to these different types of communication styles helps develop literacy in a way that is similar to reading a bunch of different writing styles—Faulkner, Browning, and Ibsen for example. Decoding each player is like decoding an author.
Finally, video games themselves are a type of medium through which a specific literacy develops and are among other types of literacies in this field of “digital literacy.” Understanding the menus for accessing games and digital content require understanding different formats for how information is arranged. The generation of people known as “Millennials” are among the first generations to experience a new type of literacy based on the prevalence and influence of multimedia as the best methods of obtaining information (Gee 2007). As Millennials obtain information from various sources, such as through social media, television, and online, they must become fluent and literate in the format and language of these sites. Video games expose players to different formats and increase an overall comfortableness with information conveyed digitally. The hours that players log playing video games gives them a lot of practice in interpreting information from a digital source, thus increasing literacy (Harushimana 2013, Gee 2007).
In conclusion, while it is true video games are diversions and some have little merit beyond button mashing and wasting time, they are a form of media that can be effective tools for helping children develop and practice literacy. Teachers do not need to trade all the books in their classrooms for video game consoles, but more effort should be made to understand the importance and power of video games for helping people develop literacy, critical thinking skills, and the ability to intelligently navigate in an increasingly digital world.
Gee, J. (2007). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Harushimana, I. (August 2008). Literacy through gaming: The influence of videogames on the writings of high school freshman males. Journal of Literacy and Technology, 9. Retrieved from http://www.literacyandtechnology.org/volume10/harushimana.pdf.
Levasseur, A. (3 August 2011). The literacy of gaming: What kids learn from playing. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2011/08/the-literacy-of-gaming-what-kids-learn-from-playing215/.
Walsh, C. (2009). Literacy in the digital age: Learning from computer games. English in Education, 43, 162–175. doi: 10.1111/j.17548845.2009.01035.x