Gaming Literacy: Game Design as Model for Literacy

Eric Zimmerman

Gaming literacy is an approach to literacy based on game design. My argument is that there is an emerging set of skills and competencies, a set of new ideas and practices that are going to be increasingly a part of what it means to be literate in the coming century. This essay’s proposal is that game design is a paradigm for understanding what these literacy needs are and how they might be addressed. I look at three game design concepts — systems, play, and design — as key components of this new literacy.

Traditional ideas about literacy have centered on reading and writing — the ability to understand, exchange, and create meaning through text, speech, and other forms of language. A younger cousin to literacy studies, media literacy, extended this thinking to diverse forms of media — from images and music to film, television, and advertising. The emphasis in media literacy as it evolved during the 1980s was an ideological critique of the hidden codes embedded in media. Media studies scholars ask questions like: Is a given instance of media racist or sexist? Who is creating it and with what agenda? What kinds of intended and unintended messages and meanings does media contain?

Literacy and even media literacy are necessary but not sufficient for one to be fully literate in our world today. There are emerging needs for new kinds of literacy that are simply not being addressed, needs that arise in part from a growing use of computer and communication networks. Gaming literacy is one approach to addressing these new sorts of literacies that will become increasingly crucial for work, play, education, and citizenship in the coming century.

Click here to close the window.