Digital games, discourses and
literacy: a trajectory
Luiz Henrique Magnani
PhD researcher at Universidade de São Paulo
Visiting researcher at the University of Manitoba -
Centre for Globalization and Cultural Studies
Early concerns (2004)
Video-games and critical literacy: how can we
play video-games in a critical way?
Proposal/methodology: to explore a game (as
researcher/player) testing their technical limits
and the internal logic of their mechanisms
Game selected: The Sims
Some technical limits and allowances
1) Kids cannot work nor do some
domestics labor like cooking;
2) There is no homeless people. Every
“Sim” family has sufficient funds to
buy a regular house and some
3) Some direct relations: more
expensive furniture = more comfort =
4) With more than three kids in a family,
it's almost impossible to play the
-The Sims 1 simulates a U.S. suburban neighborhood.
Some major conclusions:
a) Technical limits and allowance are related to designer
b) Challenging these limits could expose game's ideology(ies)
c) Exploring and discussing these limits may promote critical
literacy in educational contexts
Some major limits:
a) Focus in the object rather than community practices
b) Risk of determinism (where is the player?)
“Turning the game” -
Focus: thinking about potential of digital
gaming for instigate the player to look
critically at his/her own beliefs and value
systems, based on critical education (Freire,
Main proposal: to examine different proposals
of serious/critical games from the perspective
of the author himself, seen as an expert, in
his interaction with the games.
“Interaction” in its complexity started to be
considered: player creates his own path but
limited by designer previous choices. Designer as
legislator (Frasca, 2001)
Game as cultural artifact: context of production
and external relations of power began to be
Serious/critical games advent: some
critical/provocative games arise.
Some major conclusions:
a) Games themselves can be designed in a “subversive” way
b) We need models to understand how games operate in act of
play and in other contexts
c) Interaction with games operates in a kind of dialogic way
(Bakhtin), but the designer is not present anymore.
d) Designer as legislator is a powerful position: we need to
discuss its responsibility
Some major limits:
a) Focus is still in a particular interaction (researcher's one).
b) Without a contextualized game literacy event, it's difficult to
understand how other players can make meanings of a
game in a concrete situation.
Recent perspective – PhD
Focus: player's complex meaning-making
process, considering conflicts among
narratives, communities, identities.
(1) games carry ideological elements which
must be interpreted within their contexts;
(2) the way players construct meanings is not
universal, but conditioned by their own
histories as well as their sense of belonging
to certain localities.
(1) Which strategies can be used for the
construction of meanings at play?
(2) Which relations are likely to be established
between meanings constructed from
videogames and other interpretative contexts
of the world and the others?
(3) Which factors could favor and/or discourage
a critical view and the respect for differences
in such meaning-making processes?
- Cross-cultural approach: games are produced by and
distributed within and among those local groups and
how they might either promote or discourage dialogues
- Truths are built in a complex way. Every cultural artifact
is related with a “local”. (Bhabha, Derrida, Cilliers)
- Narrative as meaning-making: narratives organize and
shape experiences and give us models of the world
“Guile’s machete” (name given to a stroke in Street Fighter game)
naming and shaping Rhodolfo’s (a brazilian soccer’s player)
celebration in a synesthetic way.
Video-games shaping experiences
Narratives about games
Global / Universal? We? Local? Exotic? They?
Some actual questions
How dangerous are the universal claims in video-
How can game’s narratives affect player's
Can subalterns speak in/by games? (Spivak)
Good games: for whom? For what?
“Winnitron Jam” experience
“Boys just wanna have fun”
Some actual challenges
- What kind of methodology could be proper to
deal with these new practices?
- What kind of literacy (or another) concept
could work to deal with video-games
- How can we define players localities or
communities when they participate in
different digital cross-cultural “spaces” with
different positions and interests?
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