I needed to find out why the largest number of females enrolled in a WoW course had never exceeded more than five. More importantly, if WoW was complicating female learning about academic writing and research for the few females who did enroll, I needed to find out why and what I could do to further facilitate their learning. To find out the answers to these questions, I conducted six case studies of the female students from the two WoW sections Richard Colby, my co-instructor, and I taught in 2009. I conducted email interviews with all but one of our female students.
Granted, as a case study of only six students, this is a small sample. However, because so few female students consistently signed up for our classes, getting a larger sample size was almost impossible. When I conducted the study in 2009, out of our two classes, which together totaled 30 students, only seven females enrolled. Six out of seven of these females consented to be part of the study, which is a fairly high compliance rate for a case study.
To recruit case study participants, I talked to the female students enrolled in both our courses in person after class, explaining the overall purpose of the study and how I was going to conduct the study through email interviews. I explained that learning more about female gamers would allow me to teach the course better in the future. I also made sure to let them know that their participation in the study would have no influence on their course grade and that they could leave the study for any reason without negative consequence. I explained that their identities would remain confidential and that their names would be changed. They were given no monetary compensation to participate. As per Institutional Review Board regulations, they also had to sign a consent form that outlined in writing everything I had verbally told them about the study in order to participate in the study.
In the interviews, I asked questions about what games they enjoyed playing and why to discover what their motivations were for playing games. I asked questions about what their ideal class and videogame would look like because I wanted to know what their motivations were for taking the class, what their experiences playing WoW were like in the class compared to playing their ideal game, and what they liked and disliked about the class along with how they would improve the class. Finally, I asked questions about who they played videogames with growing up because I wanted to find out what social networks they had to gain entry into playing videogames and, if possible, if these social networks still influenced their play. I then coded my data, looking specifically at the following:
To gain more context for these interviews, I also observed how the females interacted within my class compared to the males, taking note of where they sat, who they talked with during class, who they played the game with, and who they worked with on projects. When I began my research, I explained my research and interview questions to Richard Colby, as well as what I was looking for in my class observations. I interviewed him at the end of quarter, asking him how the females interacted with the rest of his class.
In the study that follows, I attempt to draw a portrait of what I discovered from the six female student’s motivations for playing videogames, which can partially explain why so few females enrolled in the course as well as explain why those who did enroll had acquired or had not acquired gaming literacies within our two classes. I also look at how having or not having these gaming literacies enhanced or complicated their learning. However, this is only a partial portrait that does not represent or account for all female gaming or learning experiences. What this partial portrait can do, however, is shed light on possible avenues for further research into the complex interplay between gender, games, and learning in the same way as Takayoshi (2007) does in her own four case studies on female gaming literacies:
These women’s experiences, however, are suggestive of the multiple ways that gender might always be present in learning, literacy, and gaming for people of both genders. Indeed, their experiences contribute to our understanding of what we do not know and where we might head in our future attempts to understand the learning practices involved in gaming and their relationship with literacy, literate practices, and literacy learning” (p. 232, italics added).