Games, Fanfiction, and Literacy Practices

Black, Rebecca W. and Constance Steinkuehler.  “Literacy in Virtual Worlds.”  Handbook of Adolescent Literacy Research. Eds. Leila Christenburry, Randy Bomer, and Peter Smagorinsky.  271-286.  New York: Guilford (2009). Print.

One Sentence Summary

Fanfiction websites and online games, among other virtual practices encouraged through electronic media, are literacy practices like any other; furthermore, such practices transfer beyond the boundaries of the virtual universe, and the complex suite of literacy practices users develop through electronic media buttress, rather than replace, traditional, print-based literacy practices.

Key Words

Literacy Practices, Games, Digital Composition, Multimodal Literacies

Key Quotes

“Instead, being or becoming literate is an ongoing process that shifts according to participants, context, and the nature of the activity.” (273)

“MMO gaming is participation in a domain of literacy, one with fuzzy boundaries that expand with continued play:What is at first confined to the game alone soon spills over into the virtual world beyond it … and even life offscreen.” (282)


There is/was (this was written 10 years ago) a clash between those (National Endowment for the Arts) who see virtual,electronic media as a threat to literate practices  because the merely encourage passive participation and those (any number of empirical researchers) who see electronic media as a part of a larger ecological literacy environment.

In the latter view, fanfiction websites become  multimodal playgrounds that nurture literate practices such as individual and collaborative compositions, reading across genres, deep reading, comparative reading, reading for comprehension, process writing, publishing, identity formation, etc.

Massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs), likewise, provide users with an array of interactive literacy activities that promote critical and analytical thinking.  Furthermore, specialized jargon, unique language patterns, layered conversations and other interrelated literacy practices are abundant within games and between gamers.

Gamers and fanfiction writers and readers are able to transfer the practices they develop beyond the interpretive communities from which they play.  In other words, the literacy practices they engage in generalize to other domains.  To the point: virtual games and literacy events are not replacements for literacy activities, rather they are literacy activities in and of themselves (283).

Questions that arise, then, that probe why virtual games and other literacy activities are discouraged or disparaged are apt.  Why are games sneered at in some quarters; how can the cries of a crisis in literacy be explained?  Perhaps the same patterns emerge when asking questions about the motivations of those who would seek to ban books they do not agree with, or whether or not Luddite proclivities are at the heart of the alarmist rhetoric surrounding games and other electronic literacy practices.




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