FREE Online Training Workshop on OERs, Copyright & Creative Commons Licensing

2012 is a significant year for open education and OER, celebrating 10 years since UNESCO coined the term “Open Educational Resources”. In joining the global celebrations, the OER Foundation will host a free online training workshop on OERs, Copyright and Creative Commons licensing (OCL4Ed).

When: 20 June –  3 July 2012 (to coincide with the UNESCO World OER Congress in Paris).

Where: Online

Cost: Free

Info via The OER Foundation team, COL Chair in OER at Otago Polytechnic, UNESCO-COL Chair in OER at Athabasca University.

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PhD update and DiGRA conference

Sorry for falling off the blogosphere… been crazy busy. What’s been happening since 2011? Lots and lots! My supervisor and I collaborated on a paper for a special issue of the journal Language & Education – ‘Grand Theft South Africa’: Games, literacy and inequality in consumer childhoods. A pre-publication version of this paper is available on Marion’s blog. Otherwise, I handed a second draft of my PhD thesis in today. The title has changed to “Identities at play: Exploring children’s digital gaming in two settings in Cape Town” and you can view my new abstract here. I also started working full time at the Centre for Open Learning at UCT.

I had a quick browse through the Nordic DiGRA 2012 program which looks absolutely amazing – I would love to attend next year once my thesis monster is in and I have something interesting to present in addition to sight-seeing in Finland. I wish I could have gone to the PhD workshop earlier on in my studies – there are less than 10 Game Studies scholars in SA, so PhD students, you’re sooooo lucky! I hope those of you who are going all have a great time and I wish you a very successful conference:) An added plus is that Finland is home to the best goth rock bands ever! HIM, Nightwish, Sonata Arctica… yes, I have multiple reasons I’d like to go to Nordic DiGRA:)

Nordic DiGRA 2012

Abstract

Update: Been a busy PhD (Media Studies) student – submitted my first full draft, now editing chapters, strengthening arguments, etc. I thought I’d share this for now…

Image from No Soap Box http://www.nosoapbox.com

Thesis title: Performing and configuring ludic identities: Exploring children’s digital gameplay in two settings in Cape Town

Abstract

This thesis offers new ideas about situated meanings of gameplay in the South African context by illustrating how gender, ethnicity and age play out for children in this context through domestication of gaming media within peer relationships as well as in relation to institutions that govern childhood such as the school and family.

It explores the diversity of gameplay and its various configurations, shifting it away from the focus on agonistic or conflictual play which is hegemonic in Game Studies and other dominant technicities. This contextual study of gameplay is situated in relation to Cultural Studies, Childhood Studies, Game Studies, New Media Theory and studies of digital literacies and game literacy.

The study explores how children in two Cape Town settings; an after-school Arts and Crafts club and a holiday club; construct ludic (i.e. playful) identities in various relationships. The study documents children’s identity construction through digital game play in their relationships with peers, and also in response to the gatekeeping role of adult regimes of control, such as parental rules and the regulations of ratings bodies. Children’s playground discourse mark digital games and related technologies as objects of conspicuous consumption that signify middle class assimilation. Boys and girls mark their gender identities through appropriations of particular games within same-sex and cross-gender peer groups. The children in the two research settings played a range of age-appropriate laptop and PlayStation 3 games. Fifty children participated in this study. More than 100 hours of gameplay were observed and recorded over a period of six months. Social network analysis and discourse analytic methods were used to understand children’s appropriations of digital games in relation to peers and adult authorities. The children’s interactions with the games and peers suggest that they valued particular kinds of play, interpreting game rules according to their own interests to make single-player games playable for more players at the same time.

Analyses of children’s negotiation of game rules question Game Studies definitions of ‘play’ and ‘games’. Theoretical contributions of this study include: proposing wider definitions of ‘play’ and ‘games’, challenging ‘magic circle’ (Huizinga, 1949) views of play which see such spaces as ideologically neutral, expanding on definitions of configuration in New Media Theory by considering children’s social configurations and meanings of games during play, recognising normative models of childhood and access inscribed by notions of game literacy, and how rhetorics of play (Sutton-Smith, 1997) position research on children and digital games in particular ways. It also provides a more nuanced understanding of how children navigate existing power relations with adult authorities in the process of constituting their ludic identities.

This thesis approaches children’s ludic identities as relational constructions, not residing in the minds of individual children, but rather performed and configured through discursive interactions. The children’s gaming practices in this study are treated as instances of appropriation (Silverstone 1994, Nyamnjoh 2002), which involves an assemblage of social practices and local meanings that children use to perform and configure gendered identities in relation to the platforms and games available, their peers and adult authorities. A cultural studies approach highlights the contextual nature of gameplay by drawing on Butler’s (1993) notion of gender performativity.

Presentation at SACOMM 2011

My presentation on how children use character customization to express gendered identities went very well. Feel free to email me at mz.pallitt@gmail.com if you would like a copy of this paper. I would love to upload it, but don’t want to make it available online because I’ll probably include it in my thesis and may want to publish it in an academic journal at some stage.  However, see below for my PowerPoint presentation. The notes contain many of the discussions from the paper.

Screen Play: Children's character customization in The Sims 2 & Little Big Planet (PowerPoint presentation) To download, visit http://ow.ly/d/k0f

Play, configure, perform

Apologies for being away from blog-planet for so long – have been working on my thesis and conference papers. Working on my Theoretical Framework at the moment and trying to cover children’s configurations in games and gender performativity and relate it to game literacy. (see The Cultural Studies Reader Blog for a summary of gender performativity and Judith Butler’s notion of gender as performance). I also found this blog post from 2009 on the Queering Theory blog about Hanna Montana in (gender) trouble very interesting. On finding this article on Bryn Mawr News, I realised Butler is still very much alive. I wonder what she would think of her theory being applied to children’s gameplay.

I found that children perform gendered identities in relation to games and gaming technologies. For example, the PlayStation 3 and specific game titles were ‘boyed’ whereas the laptop and different game titles were ‘girled’ in one of my field sites. From a feminist persprctive, technology is a process of production and consumption, a form of knowledge and a site of gender domination in addition to a power struggle (Cockburn 1992, Lemish & Cohen 2005, Bosch 2007). Games can be seen as commodities that boys and girls use to construct meanings of their gendered identities. Different games acquire symbolic value and become signs of the self. Both boys and girls use games as a kind of conspicuous consumption, although in gendered ways, showing off things about games that are aligned with normatively gendered interests because they perform this for their peers. This kind of discussion forms an important part of my thesis.

Judith Butler - idea of 'doing' gender is central. Butler says: 'There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; ... identity is performatively constituted by the very "expressions" that are said to be its results.' (Gender Trouble, p. 25). In other words, gender is a performance; it's what you do at particular times, rather than a universal who you are.

“Butler suggests that certain cultural configurations of gender have seized a hegemonic hold (i.e. they have come to seem natural in our culture as it presently is) — but, she suggests, it doesn’t have to be that way. Rather than proposing some utopian vision, with no idea of how we might get to such a state, Butler calls for subversive action in the present: ‘gender trouble’ — the mobilization, subversive confusion, and proliferation of genders — and therefore identity.

Butler argues that we all put on a gender performance, whether traditional or not, anyway, and so it is not a question of whether to do a gender performance, but what form that performance will take. By choosing to be different about it, we might work to change gender norms and the binary understanding of masculinity and femininity.” (Source: http://www.theory.org.uk/ctr-butl.htm)

I want to merge the idea of cultural configuration and gaming as configurative practice, drawing on new media theorists Moulthrop (2004) and Eskelinen’ s (2001) work.  New media such as digital games demand a new relationship to media, as it entails a “turn from consumption to participation, from interpretive to configurative practices” (Moulthrop 2004). Regarding games as configurable media in particular “we have to interpret in order to be able to configure” (Eskelinen 2001).  Configurative practices involve the “manipulation of dynamic systems that develop in unpredictable or emergent ways” (Moulthrop, 2004).  According to Moulthrop (2004), Eskelinen (2001) defines ‘configurative practice’ rather narrowly as the player’s strategic operation upon elements of a game, but he argues that it is possible to broaden this term significantly if we conceive of configuration as a way of engaging not just with immediate game elements, but also the game’s social and material conditions. My thesis examines children’s gameplay as configurative practice – a social and active process where gender performativity is a very important part of play – and analyses these configurations and performances as they are produced in play. This has implications for game literacy which will be my final chapter.

On being a healthy and productive postgrad student

Research aside for a bit – let’s talk about our wellness, productivity and health. I’m sure winter has taken it’s toll on you guys as well – flu and colds, etc. It is important to pump those vitamins this time of year. I’ve been taking Bestum (a really good multi-vitamin) and a good old fashioned Vitamin C pill every morning for the past two months. I had a bit of a bad cold for a week, but that was all. Here are some other remedies I’ve found to help ensure your health and productivity:

Feeling tired and overworked? Go for a Vitamin B12 injection or get B12 in pill form. A great supplement for getting your energy back!

Can’t concentrate? Fall asleep reading? Burn some rosemary essence. The Roman scholars wore wreaths of rosemary around their heads. It helps to improve concentration and I find it helps you stay focused for longer. Read more about rosemary at Organic Facts.

Is your hair falling out from stress? Although rosemary is also used in hair products, I find bergamot essence really helps when mixed with your shampoo. If you don’t like the herby smell, follow use with a nice smelling conditioner. Bergamot is also a stress reliever, much like Lavender. Additionally, it is cheaper than products like V-Gro (which also requires you use most of the products – pills and hair care products). It only costs around R 25 and can be purchased at most pharmacy stores and holistic shops.

Trouble sleeping? Worried and can’t relax? Burn some lavender oil or incense to calm you down. Lavender is also good for breathing. There are many uses for lavender oil, such as calming tired feet, pimples, insect bites, etc. Read more

Additionally, it is good to detox at any time by adding salt crystals to your bath or soaking your feet in it. It cleanses your aura (if you believe in that type of stuff) and renews your energy field.

I’ll be honest and admit to being a bit of a skeptic, but I’ve found that most of these remedies and supplements really do work. Give it a try:)

Game Studies goes South: Games Panel for SA Media conference

My supervisor, Marion Walton, is putting together a games panel for one of our local communications conferences. Earlier today we were chatting, agreeing upon the need to educate local scholars about Game Studies, while at the same time being cautious about findings from elite contexts. Here is some further info:

Proposal: Games Studies goes South This panel reports ethnographic approaches to play practices and digital gameplay in different sites in Cape Town, in the context of the regulation of  the games industry in South Africa. Contributors explore the significance of games as commodities in the local context, identify digital literacies shaped by local socio-technical practices and differential levels of access, and theorize how commercial games produced in the North are being interpreted, reconfigured and appropriated in these South African contexts.

Rationale Digital games are an increasingly important part of consumer culture and feature particularly prominently in the lives of children and young people around the world. Game studies has only recently begun to address the ways in which gaming is a situated social activity (Buckingham, 2006, Burn, 2007; Pelletier, 2009) and to apply the insights of cultural and gender studies to gaming (e.g. Dovey and Kennedy, 2006; Carr et al., 2005). Nonetheless games studies researchers have not yet explored the significance of global differences in access to digital games, consoles and other consumer electronics, beyond an interest in how gaming in public access venues such as cybercafes can provide a pathway to ICT use in developing countries (Kolko & Putnam, 2009). Existing scholarship does not address the global diversity in gaming and play cultures, neither does it account for local cultural appropriations of games or explore how young people experience substantial inequalities in access to consumer goods, electricity, communicative infrastructure and bandwidth and how this shapes their play with digital games. In South Africa, basic mobile phones or public access computers are the most common digital gaming platform, while more expensive consoles and smartphones remain the preserve of a relatively small middle class. Different regimes govern access to leisure time and to spaces for leisure in these contexts, and this plays a role in shaping distinctive modes of gaming.  This panel reports ethnographic approaches to play practices and digital gameplay in different sites in Cape Town, in the context of the regulation of  the games industry in South Africa. Contributors explore the significance of games as commodities in the local context, identify digital literacies shaped by local socio-technical practices, and theorize how commercial games produced in the North are interpreted, reconfigured and appropriated in these South African contexts.

Papers:

Mobiles, games and play in South Africa

Marion Walton, Centre for Film and Media Studies, University of Cape Town

In South Africa, sharply unequal levels of access to consumer goods, the internet and electrification all co-exist in the same country.  Studying games in this context is a reminder of the complex ensemble of material and economic resources required for digital gameplay, which are not available to all young people around the world. This paper reports ongoing research with young people in the Makhaza section of Khayelitsha, and explores the significance of mobile games in their media ecologies and orientations to consumer culture. Like the large majority of South African gamers, they play free games, often those preinstalled on basic mobile phones or downloaded from WAP sites and passed around via bluetooth in a peer-to-peer commons or proximate social network.  In their mobile gaming, a focus on local and social interactions and shorter bursts of casual gameplay reflects the fact that airtime, phone processors, screen space, memory, and electricity are often scarce resources.

Screen Play: Children configuring gender through character customization in The Sims 2TM and Little Big PlanetTM

Nicola Pallitt, Centre for Film and Media Studies: University of Cape Town

Digital games are semiotic domains that offer a variety of options for customization, which in turn allow players to personalize gameplay. It is also a common form of player  control, yet little is known about this game feature and even less about how children employ such tools and choices in their gameplay. This paper offers a multimodal analysis of children’s character customizations in two games – The Sims 2TMand Little Big PlanetTM– informed by  theories of gendered performance and interaction with configurable media. The children’s choices demonstrate that such avatar transformations are influenced by gender and wider patterns of gendered consumption. This discussion allows for a more nuanced understanding of children’s gameplay and how digital games become a stage for performing social identities. Additionally, it highlights how children engage with games as a form of digital media which challenges outdated ideas of the television as text. This paper describes how television and laptop screens become virtual playgrounds where hegemonic discourses around gendered identities are a site of struggle and play, but often reaffirmed in the process of play.

Games and Learning: a perspective on low-income, resource-constrained youth and PC gaming in a public access venue in Cape Town

Anja Venter, Centre for Film and Media Studies, University of Cape Town

This paper reports on pilot findings from a ethnographic study of PC gaming amongst low-income, resource-constrained, urban, teenage males in a public access venue in Cape Town, South Africa.  Framing their activities using the communities of practice model as outlined by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, I explore how the popular definitions of “gamer” and traditional gaming communities of practice are challenged in a resource constrained environment.  Findings include evidence of gamers re-appropriating technology and social relationships to create learning communities, exploration of the material and social limitations and challenges for successful collaborative play, and describing the socio-technical ecology currently found in this venue.  

Sex, violence and harm in games: An analysis of the guidelines for classification of the Film and Publication Board of South Africa

Marion Walton, Muya Koloko and Nicola Pallitt, Centre for Film and Media Studies, University of Cape Town

Game ratings are intended to protect children from potentially harmful experiences of media by targeting particular categories of disturbing, violent or sexual material. This paper analyses assumptions about video game play as revealed in the policies and practices of South Africa’s Film and Publication Board. We focus specifically on the interpretation of guidelines used to rate games according to the presence of  ‘classifiable elements’ such as violence and sexual content, the use of public input, and raters’ interpretation of the guidelines. In particular, we identify how rating practices and policies make particular assumptions about games – what games are, the contexts in which gaming takes place and how they construct a specific narrative of childhood. We compare regulatory policies to some actual gaming practices in South Africa, and situate both in relation to current discussions of children, media, vulnerability and agency.