Exploring the Notions of Gaming and Procedural Literacy through the Multimodal Analysis of Portal 2: Puzzle Maker

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This essay explores what the concepts of gaming and procedural literacy entail in a computer game as a case study and on how social semiotics, through multimodality theory, could explain the meaning-making practices afforded by it. Consequently, this
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  Computer Games, Virtual Worlds, and Education Summer 2014 Omar Ceja Salgado Exploring the Notions of Gaming and Procedural Literacy through the Multimodal Analysis of Portal 2: Puzzle Maker FINAL I confirm that I have read and understood the Institute’s C ode on Citing Sources and Avoidance of Plagiarism. I confirm that this assignment is all my own work and conforms to this Code. Word count (number of words): 5182 Student evaluation submitted: N Copy posted on Moodle: Y Names of Tutors: Diane Carr Alison Gazzard MA in Media, Culture and Education Institute of Education, University of London    Page  2  TABLE OF   CONTENTS Introduction _______________________________________________ 3 Literature Review: The Concept of Literacy________________________ 4 Theory: Gaming and Procedural Literacy _________________________ 7 Methodology: Multimodality Theory ____________________________ 10 Analysis __________________________________________________ 11 T HE S OFTWARE  ____________________________________________ 11 A PPLICATION  ______________________________________________ 13 Conclusions _______________________________________________ 22 Illustrations _______________________________________________ 25 Games Cited ______________________________________________ 25 References _______________________________________________ 25 TABLE OF FIGURES   Figure 1.0 Puzzle Maker Layout _______________________________ 14 Figure 2.0  Puzzle Marker's Interface ____________________________ 16 Figure 3.0  The Visual Mode ___________________________________ 17 Figure 4.0  The Notion of Danger through the Image Mode in the Game View and the Editing View ________________________________________ 19 Figure 5.0  Iconic Signs in the Game View ________________________ 20    Page  3  INTRODUCTION The notion of literacy is dichotomized between the written word and the image. As Kress (2003) asserts, the shift from printed books to cultural practices that require a screen as a medium has brought about “a revolution in the uses and effects of literacy” (p. 1), hence the tendency of naming new forms that are distanced from the traditional practices of reading and writing. This essay explores what the concepts of gaming and procedural literacy entail in a computer game as a case study and on how social semiotics, through multimodality theory, could explain the meaning-making practices afforded by it. Consequently, this paper serves as a contribution to the debate over the value and the possible limitations of naming new forms of literacy to address emerging cultural practices. This work draws from my own practical involvement in a game authoring system, as well as from my experience of popular culture. The selected software, Portal 2: Puzzle Maker  , combines a gaming and editing mode which enable users to not only get involved in the interpretational aspects of gameplay, but also in the representational side of design and production. This combination of authoring tool and game could better allow me to discuss what gaming literacy and procedural literacy mean. I have chosen a multimodal approach for my analysis since the conception of modes of representation and the idea of articulating spaces for meaning-making practices fit both, the peculiarities of the selected software and the notions behind procedural literacy and gaming literacy.    Page  4  LITERATURE REVIEW: THE CONCEPT OF LITERACY In a broader sense, literacy is a term that has been used to indicate an ability or knowledge within a domain. It has traditionally made reference to language skills such as reading and writing, but the recognition of different social practices as instances of mediation has made it necessary to reconsider the definition and extension of the term. As Buckingham (2003) argues, “literacy today […] is inevitably and necessarily multimedia  literacy; and to this extent, traditional forms of literacy teaching are no longer adequate” (p. 35). Through the analogy to reading and writing, the term has been used in emergent or, as the author poses, “controversial or low-stat us areas” (Buckingham, 2003, p. 36) to denote their cultural importance. Such notion raises the question of the usefulness of naming different forms of literacy in the hope of addressing the particular structures, feature s, affordances, and practices of these “new media” forms, and whether they could be considered “low - status” given their current commonplace position as instances of mediation. For almost three decades now, the emergence of new technologies and cultural practices has brought about an interest in utilizing them for educational purposes, and with it several attempts to expand the concept of literacy to those practices and new forms of media (see Buckingham, 2003; 1993a; Burn & Durran, 2007). Television literacy (Buckingham, 1993b), the literacy of the moving image (Burn, 2007), cross-media literacy (Burn, 2004; Mackey, 2007), computer literacy (Blake & Hoffman, 2003), cineliteracy (British Film Institute, 2000), procedural literacy    Page  5  (Bogost, 2005; Mateas, 2008), and gaming literacy (Buckingham & Burn, 2007; Partington, 2010; Apperley & Beavis, 2013; Squire, 2008; Zimmerman, 2009) account for some of such attempts. On that regard, Beavis and O’Mara (2010) argue that the competencies that are embedded in these varied practices, as is the case of computer games which are distanced from the print form, pose “challenges in terms of how they might be conceptualized as literacy […] [and] what it means to be literate in the 21 st  ce ntury” (p. 65). Consequently, these new forms of literacy as reading and writing need to be rethought due to the multimodal nature of current media practices. They can no longer only be interpreted from the linguistics position of reading and writing discussed above, but through the meaning-making affordances they entail. That is, the concept of literacy could also be understood through the field of social semiotics. Gee (2013) asserts that computer games as digital media represent  “forms of literacy in the sense that they are forms of taking meaning (reading) and making meaning (writing)” (p. 61). Kress (2010), on the other hand, states that  “semiotically speaking, sig n-making is meaning- making and learning is the result of these processes” (p. 178). Although the former takes a linguistics standing on his arguments, and the latter develops his propositions from the field of social semiotics, the core of their discussions in regards to meaning-making is what I take as relevant elements for my arguments on gaming and procedural literacy in computer games as cultural practices. For Kress (2010)  “ learning  is the result of a semiotic/conceptual/meaning-making engagement with an aspect of the
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