In some ways, not having the same gaming literacies in WoW as many of the males did not affect the females’ academic writing literacies in the class at all. All the females chose qualitative and/or quantitative research projects, and, as a result, were able to reproduce clearly written IMRAD (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion) reports typical of the academic genres that usually represent those research traditions. For instance, Mandy summarizes her entire study quite succinctly in her abstract, giving the reader a clear picture of exactly what to expect from her study:
In this study I researched how people's motivations for playing World of Warcraft affected the amount of time they spent playing each week. After analyzing fifty surveys, it was easy to see that there was a definite difference between the amount a time a person plays World of Warcraft and their reason for playing. Those who played World of Warcraft for escape clearly played more than any other reason listed in the surveys. The main reason that people played World of Warcraft was for entertainment, but those who played for escape gamed much more regularly than those who played for entertainment.Here she summarizes the whole IMRAD structure of her research report, beginning with her research question, then specifically stating her research methods. Finally, as Ken Hyland (2004) also notes in his discourse analysis of abstracts in the sciences, she spends the most space detailing her findings and explaining why they are noteworthy.A student writes a Genre Analysis
In fact, for some of the female students, having to analyze actual academic articles related to their major for the genre analysis assignment gave them a richer understanding of the writing within their fields than they previously had access to in the primarily introductory courses to their major they had taken so far as first-year students. For instance, Ally, who was a biology major interested in pre-med, wrote her genre analysis on a medical review article outlining what had been previously done epidemiologically to prevent the spread of Malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. Before writing her genre analysis, Ally was not even aware that review articles like this existed. She explained that writing the genre analysis gave her a richer understanding of the types of writing that were done in biology and medicine than she had gained so far from writing lab reports in her biology and chemistry classes.
The class was designed so that after learning about the three research traditions and the major writing genres that comprise them, students were set loose to play the game for a week or two before they started working on their projects. In this way, students could use play as a form of discovery or invention for their research projects. However, in a 10-week quarter, this play time was quite short. For the students who were just learning the game and were unfamiliar with the gaming conventions of role-playing games, this play time was often not enough to discover and develop complex research projects around the game. For instance, even Mandy, who had a fairly high gaming literacy compared to the other females, complained that she felt she did not have time in class to level up her character enough to fully explore the game and come up with a sophisticated or sufficiently interesting research question. She wrote that she wished that the class could, “Spend more time playing WoW in the first two weeks of class . . . I needed more time to play WoW before I chose a topic to write about for my research paper. It was difficult to choose a topic when I was only a level 4 in the game.” So as a teacher, it was difficult to help female students navigate the complex gaming literacies needed to play the game in the short time available well enough to at least find a research question.
Thus, this lack of play time needed to learn gaming literacies sometimes negatively affected academic literacies as well because it prevented female students from fully exploring the game and discovering topics that were more complex. As a result, at times research questions were rather simple and obvious. Research methods were also quite simple. Because play was such a central type of invention for the class, the female students’ invention process was complicated even more by the fact that their motivations for playing often influenced the types of research projects they chose to do. The tram between Stormwind and Ironforge For instance, Natalie and Ally, who were both motivated to play by achievement, were especially affected because they wanted to learn to play the game better. Consequently, they chose a collaborative project that centered around gameplay. They wanted to know who rode the tram from Stormwind to Ironforge and why, interviewing players who rode the tram about why they were riding it. Unsurprisingly their results were that higher level characters often used the tram to quickly travel from point A to point B. However, because the tram allows lower level characters, who start out around the cities of Stormwind and Ironforge, to quickly get around high level zones and visit the other city, this was one of the few areas in the game that Natalie and Ally actually had access to for their study.
In contrast, male students were often able to develop much more sophisticated research questions as well as research methods around gameplay because of their previous experience playing the game. For instance, a male student wanted to find out the correlation between players’ involvement in PvP play and fighting computer-generated content or player versus environment (PvE) play. His previous gaming experience allowed him to develop a sophisticated measurement for comparing involvement with both types of play: he looked at the type of equipment, clothing, and titles gained through both types of play. However, recognizing the levels of involvement from clothing acquired in the game as well as the meanings behind titles requires a gaming literacy that most of the females were not able to acquire in the timeframe of the class.
A male student analyzes server populations from Warcraft Realms for a studyFortunately, students who were also motivated to play for social reasons fared better because when it came to exploring social aspects of the game world, they were often able to develop sufficiently sophisticated and interesting research topics with appropriate, even creative research methods. For instance, Ally, who was also influenced to play by social reasons, wrote a research project conducting fieldwork that explored whether or not players were more friendly in WoW than people in public spaces such as malls. To gauge friendliness, she waved at players in the game and then at shoppers in a mall, while recording whether or not they waved back at her. She also tried to account for any outside variables that could account for friendliness, waving at the same number of each gender and accounting for other factors such as age and ethnicity, thus demonstrating an awareness of research literacies.
Her analysis of her research findings in her discussion was also quite sophisticated. She was able to draw upon an academic source to explain some possible reasons for her findings that people in real life tended to wave more than they did in the game:
Although WoW is a highly social game, the majority of the social behavior lies within the guilds. “Online game guilds have a hierarchical leadership structure that allows players to act as unified groups to solve joint missions” (Chen, Sun, & Hsieh, 2008, p. 293). However, in real life people are surround by social interactions constantly, so waving back to a stranger is less noticeable and more often than not happens as a reflex. The game of WoW is a place where players are supposed to be more focused on themselves.
In understanding the social hierarchy within many guilds, Ally demonstrates that she understands the game enough to analyze her findings in a sophisticated way. However, in doing this, she’s also demonstrating her learning of academic literacy, specifically using sources to analyze her findings. This intertwining of gaming and academic literacies is even more notable though by the fact that she probably learned about guild structure from reading this academic source and probably not from playing the game (she was not in a guild herself), which means that she actually used her academic literacy to compensate for her lack of gaming literacy.