For many theorists of learning, helping students develop procedural literacy will be a necessary component of 21st century education. Procedural literacy helps us attend to the ways that computers and computational texts work – namely, through code that enacts processes. When we look at the front page of nytimes.com, we encounter a page that was assembled and delivered in a radically different way from the print version of the newspaper. Understanding and critically engaging with this sort of text requires an attention to the processes working behind the scenes. Games and gaming provide one approach to this mode of engagement.
While some games have educational value simply by playing them, we can ask students to take up games more generally as objects of study and as writing platforms that facilitate analysis, cultural critique, and argumentation. In “The Rhetoric of Video Games,” Ian Bogost outlines the notion of procedurality and procedural rhetoric, concepts that help us attend to the ways that processes, logics, and systems of rules constitute a form of persuasion and expression in themselves. By representing the processes that define various systems and aspects of the world, video games make arguments about how the world works – or how it should work, could work, or doesn’t work.
Asking students to analyze games and to produce procedural texts of their own helps work toward the larger goal of procedural literacy. For example, this McDonald’s videogame produced by Molleindustria requires players to engage in corrupt practices in order to run a successful franchise, and the game thus makes an argument about the real-world fast food company. Students could complete a quick analysis activity by playing the game in or outside of class and then having a class discussion or writing a short paper about its procedural rhetoric.
In terms of procedural authorship, Twine and Inform7 offer students a forum for writing English-based code to build an interactive story or game where players must explore the world created by the student and make relevant decisions along the way. By designing the action of the game themselves, students get to make an argument about the real-world situation modeled in the game world.
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