Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Hogwarts Express

Well, the year has ended now and it is time to get on the Hogwarts Express and head home...

This Pottermore study has some interesting prospects of further study. Research can still be done into how identity is created in the online space as well as how students utilize that space. The project has potential because of its unique aspects to offer further exploration into how new and pro game players interact and how online environments influence that interaction. Similar studies to the Pottermore project have been done and I think further connection between those studies would be beneficial to understanding the growing presence of the online world.

This study could also have potential in the classroom as well. How can games be used in online classroom environments? How does online communication affect how we interpret the world and our offline interactions? The possibilities are endless.

I hope you all have enjoyed seeing this Pottermore project unfold just as much as I have. Until next time...

J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series

Image borrowed from:

The House Cup Ceremony

So now we have come to the end of the year and the House Cup needs awarding. It has been a fascinating study and it is time to wrap up the findings.
So, here it goes. To start off I would like to discuss the role of online gaming. Pottermore is not your typical online game with tasks of the shoot 'em sort or anything like that. It is a primarily single player game (we'll get into how it is not single later!) with a more exploring goal in mind. A. J. Robison wrote that most games succeed with goals that the player can achieve and thereby gain a sense of "a 'win' state" (361). Pottermore is an affinity space (Ellcessor & Duncan) which revolves around the ideas of online games as well as the wonderful world of Harry Potter but it lacks that customary "win state" that most games offer. Pottermore works in a different realm and instead gives the player a wealth of information about the world of Harry Potter as well as a way to continue to access the fantasy that Harry Potter created regardless that the series has ended. The site allows it players to engage in that particular fantasy world and "players' interpretations of games are just one part of the meaning-making conversations that occur between readers and writers," (Robison 361). Everything that we do online (and arguably offline as well) is part of a larger picture. We are in conversation with other pieces of text that we have read, things that we are writing, and those that we have yet to read. The online aspect of Pottermore simply offers a multi-modal environment for further expression and adventure into the fandom and fiction of Harry Potter.
In David Buckingham and Andrew Burn's article "Game Literacy in Theory and Practice" (2007), they wrote, "computer games are almost invariably multi-modal texts (Kress and van Leewen, 2001) - which is to say that they often combine different communicative modes, such as still and moving images, sounds and music, speech and writings, and so on," (326). Pottermore does all of the above. There are multiple ways to engage with the game. I found the communicative properties of the game the most interesting of course and so focused much of my research on that particular aspect while studying the site. Within the game, there are two features that allow the single-player to interact with others (thus the above mention of "primarily" single-player functionality). The chat feed feature allowed for real-time conversations to happen between players, albeit in a limited capacity. This feature is also the primary area for players of Pottermore to create an identity for themselves. So at this point, I think it is relevant to take a look at the initial set-up of a Pottermore account and the personalization features it offers it students. The following flow chart follows the initial steps to becoming a Pottermore student.
Flow Chart Process of Pottermore Account Set-up
As you can see, the site is very restricting in its personalization features and so the main way that players get to personalize and create identity is through the conversations that they have through the Great Hall and Common Room chat feeds. 
Their identity was sculpted through their chats with other students. In Yong Jin Park's article "Digital Literacy and Privacy Behaviors Online" (2011), the author did extensive research into how people viewed and demonstrated online privacy behaviors. Park wrote, "there was evidence that in personal privacy (Turow & Hennessy, 2007) offline status, such as age, gender, income, and education, affects privacy protection behavior," (220). I found this applicable to Pottermore in a few ways. Identity is a very tricky thing to pinpoint. Everyone, whether consciously or not, creates for themselves an identity when they are in an online space. Language, tone, grammar, and other language aspects all create a sense of who the author is or wants to be seen as being. Pottermore is a very restrictive site at least in the privacy settings and ability to create an identity. Therefore, players have to go out of their way to specifically create an identity. They used tag names on the end of their messages, they used specific Harry Potter book references to create an online enactment of specific book events, they also had inside jokes, and perhaps pet names or codes to communicate with each other. All of these could be seen by anybody but the way they crafted their interactions was very exclusive to those who were not in that particular group. Their "privacy" was created through how they used the public chat feature of the game.
I feel that their "ecology of practice"(Buck 9 & 13), or how that was part of their online game playing, is an important aspect of how Pottermore really (perhaps unknowingly) created a special place for those players to create an identity and an online presence that allowed them to explore Harry Potter and its fandom in a more in depth way than most would expect of such a site. Their play on Pottermore was fascinating to watch unfold in how they utilized the limited space of the restrictive site to create identity and communicate with others about similar interests and fulfill their fan enthusiasm for Harry Potter.
Back in the early stages of the study, I created data analysis posts to emphasize some of identity markers that I had found in the research of Pottermore. So to save you the time of reading old posts again, here are a few charts to describe the data I found.

This data set brings up some fascinating information about how students interacted in their own Houses (especially compared to the open chat between the Houses in the Great Hall, more about that later!). This space offered the students a place to openly communicate with their fellow House members. Newbies were accepted as new House members and on some occasions were given pointers (not shown in this data set). They were comfortable enough though to correct themselves. This may not be the case in more open environments for reasons such as embarrassment or hesitation to use that space in the first place. I also found it interesting that students discussed non-Pottemore material in this chat feed. One student commented about writing their own fanfiction about the world of Harry Potter. It seems then that the House Common Room chat operates similarly to how a real common room would. The participants are open and feel at least a moderate sense of comfort and the ability to communicate with others. The topics are open as well especially given the odd posts directed at the creators of the site to add a special chat feature that allowed more privacy between just friends (students can friend each other just like on Facebook in Pottermore). 

So then, this brings up some other interesting points when put in conjunction with data set #2.

This brings up a few points on this issues from A. J. Robison’s article that games are “multimodal, multi-dimensional, interactive, experiential “text” that will likely be interpreted in complex, often unanticipated ways,” (361). She further explores the idea of complex issues with gaming interpretation in her summarization of how a game writer knows that the game he/she produces will not be seen in the same context as how that game was originally intended to be seen (362). Players all bring something different to their game experience and so that creates another aspect of how identity and games interact in the online world.

Identity is created through how players interact with each other and game interface online. Their personal experiences influence how they react and create meaning within the game. It also affects how they will interpret the game and how they will use the available features of said game to create meaning for themselves and for those around them in the virtual world. Pottermore, though restrictive in its personalization features, nevertheless allows its players to explore an amazing world of online communication and interaction through its chat features. It creates and builds an identity for those players and it allows them to explore Pottermore through a different light than the creators perhaps had intended. Identity is the key to every online (and arguably offline) interaction and how that is shaped and expressed is important because it defines who we are.

So, I hope you all have had a good time reading about this project. The House Cup goes to you...

Black, Rebecca and Constance Steinkuehler. "Literacy in Virtual Worlds." Eds. L. Christenbury, R. Bomer, & P. Smagorinsk. New York: Guilford, 2009. 271-286. Print.

Buck, Amber. "Examining Digital Literacy Practices on Social Network Sites." Research in the Teaching of English 47.1 (2012): 9-38. Web. November 10th, 2013.

Buckingham, David and Andrew Burn. "Game Literacy in Theory and Practice." Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia 16.3 (2007). 323-349. Print.

Ellcessor, Elizabeth and Sean C. Duncan. "Forming The Guild: Star Power and Rethinking Projective Identity in Affinity Spaces." International Journal of Game-Based Learning (n/a) (2011).

Henkin, Roxanne, Janis Harmon, Elizabeth Pate, and Honor Moorman. Editorial. "Merging Literacy and Technology." Voices from the Middle. March 2010: 1.3. Print.

Park, Yong Jin. "Digital Literacy and Privacy Behavior Online." Communication Research 40.215 (2013): (n/a). Web. November 10th, 2013.

Robison, Alice. "The Design is the Game: Writing Games, Teaching Writing." Computers and Composition 25 (2008). 359-370. Web. November 10th, 2013. 

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series

Images borrowed from:

Monday, December 9, 2013

Flourish and Blotts (Revised)

Hello and welcome to the library...

A wealth of information available on digital literacy studies and gaming awaits.

So to help you all along, I have done some background research on the topics of digital literacy, identity in online environments, and gaming practice. Not much has been done on sites like Pottermore but there is some interesting research out there about the online environments of games and how players interact with the online interfaces as well as how they create identity through the online experience.

A. J. Robison in “The Design is the Game: Writing Games, Teaching Writing” (2008) had several key points that I think help ground some of the information that I have found in Pottermore. She noted that “players’ interpretations of games are just one part of the meaning-making conversations that occur between readers and writers,” (Robison 361). In the gaming world, no one is an innocent bystander. All game interaction is a network of reading and responding to something that was written before. In the study, Robison described this interaction in the context of how a game writer creates a “story” which the game player will later interact with and create their own meaning from. “Chris knows that his games might not be played exactly as he intended: each player’s experience with a game is slightly different, either because of what he or she rings to the situation, what the game was designed to do, or a combination of both,” (Robison 362). This concept is crucial to understanding how gaming works. Each player is different and that is important to acknowledge especially when looking at such a unique game as Pottermore. The player always brings something to the table.

Similarly to how a player always brings their background to a game so does he or she bring their offline everyday activities to the game as well. Their identity offline is brought to their online identity even if the player does so unknowingly as Amber Buck documented in her study of a college student and his social media use (9). It is helpful to think of this idea as “chronotopic laminations, which [Prior and Shipka (2003)] define as the dispersed and fluid chains of places, times, people, and artifacts that come to be tied together in trajectories of literate action, the ways multiple activity footings are simultaneously held and managed,” (Buck 22). In her study, she also identified a collaborative pattern to how people interact on the Internet. Everything is a process of collaboration and building upon what came before. “Living a ‘literate life in the information age’ (Selfe & Hawisher, 2004) increasingly means learning to navigate these spaces, managing one’s identity and online data, and considering complex issues of privacy and representation,” (Buck 10). Identity is built upon one’s interactions with others.

Generally, there are privacy settings that one can use to also help create their identity and it plays a key role in how one can be perceived by others. It can help denote newbie or pro status as well as a knowledge level about basic online habits (Park 26, 28). Technical familiarity can also be an issue in this aspect of identity creation (Park 230). Park concluded that there is “user awareness in three dimensions: (a) technical familiarity, (b) awareness of institutionalized practices, and (c) policy understanding,” (22). All of these things function to some degree in online environments and how identity can be perceived in those environments as a result.

A few final thoughts on general are always interesting as well when studying this kind of environment. Catherine Beavis et al addresses the issue of gaming and education and how contemporary educational spaces do not rightly acknowledge technology in the classroom (163-164). In a general sense, most people, including gamers themselves, do not think of games as texts (Beavis 169). Nor is the game’s multi-modality usually acknowledged (Henkin 7). It does give gaming a whole new meaning though. Instead of it being a mindless activity that teachers disregard, it can become a valuable learning tool since online interaction is becoming such an important part of the working world today.

Following in that line of thinking, David Buckingham and Andrew Burn also address gaming and the multi-modal nature of modern games (326). They also noted that most people who play games have some outside motive for playing the games, much like the fandom base around Pottermore. “In some cases, children played the game because of a passionate commitment to the overarching idea, character or narrative, as in the case of a group of five ardent Harry Potter fans,” (Buckingham 333). Games provide so much to the user in ways of access to cultural aspects of life that we take for granted.

Hopefully the research above will help you all position this Pottermore study and gain a fuller sense of how open this research field is to those who play games and those who do not. There is so much to learn about how games influence and open opportunities for meaningful conversation and learning.

Works Cited
Beavis, Catherine, et al. "Literacy in the Digital Age: Learning from Computer Games." English in Education. 43.2 (2009). 162-175. Print.

Buck, Amber. "Examining Digital Literacy Practices on Social Network Sites." Research in the Teaching of English 47.1 (2012): 9-38. Web. November 10th, 2013.

Buckingham, David and Andrew Burn. "Game Literacy in Theory and Practice." Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia 16.3 (2007). 323-349. Print.

Henkin, Roxanne, Janis Harmon, Elizabeth Pate, and Honor Moorman. Editorial. "Merging Literacy and Technology." Voices from the Middle. March 2010: 1.3. Print.

Park, Yong Jin. "Digital Literacy and Privacy Behavior Online." Communication Research 40.215 (2013): (n/a). Web. November 10th, 2013.

Robison, Alice. "The Design is the Game: Writing Games, Teaching Writing." Computers and Composition 25 (2008). 359-370. Web. November 10th, 2013.

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series

Image borrowed from:

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Preparing Potions: Mrs. Scower's Magical Mess Remover (Revised)

Step 1: Choose a Cauldron (The Site)
For this fascinating project, I chose to explore the wonderful world of Pottermore. Now why would I do that you ask? Well, I thought this particular site would offer (and it did!) and interesting look into how a website dictates how identity can be created by those who use that site. Pottermore is a very strictly designed game. There are features that allow for extensive exploration into the world of Harry Potter as well as many little tidbits to unlock that reveal more about the author and about the world she created. It is a very popular site with the fan base of Harry Potter. At this point, as of December 8th, 2013; there are over twenty million students on Pottermore. The site, while entertaining for the knowledge base also has a limited chat feature and I wanted to explore how this plays into the online single-player gaming world that is Pottermore. Identity is very limited through very little interaction between players yet there seems to be a vibrant community that interacts with in-depth use of the chat features and it adds to the experience that those players have within the site. And consequently, I chose this particular site to further explore this gaming phenomenon.

Step 2: Collect the Ingredients (Participants)
I chose to look at how players used the chat features in Pottermore to create an identity where in other areas of the game there really is no opportunity to interact with other players. While in other games, there is usually a way to create a character (or at least chose one to identify with) there is not really an opportunity for that sort of personalization in Pottermore. The only avatar creation is a one-time deal in the very beginning when the student buys a pet and that pet’s picture (very generic and easily the picture for thousands of other students) becomes the avatar photo for that student. The only other personalization is the house which each student is sorted into (also at the very beginning). Since there are only four houses and the students are placed into houses based on their answers to questions, this is also not a very definitive identity-creating scenario. Therefore, if a students wishes to create something more unique to themselves on the site they must go out of their way to create their identity through the chat features (also very limited). There are two areas for chatting: one is in the student's House Common Room where players from the same house can chat with each other and the second chat area is in the Great Hall where students from all four houses can chat together. I chose to look at how all students use both of the chat features to interact with each other.

Step 3: Collect Your Tools (My Part)
My place in this whole collection scheme was to get to know Pottermore. I created my own account and played the game. As an avid Harry Potter fan, I was interested in the site not only for its research potential but also for its Harry Potter lore and extras. I think this offered me an interesting perspective as a researcher because I was personally vetted in the game as well as how the game allowed certain types of interaction in the online world. Most of the interaction was between the user and the game itself and as such I was fascinated by the chat features that seemed somewhat out-of-place. As far as my play goes, I played the game and explored the world of Harry Potter through the single-player aspects just as much as any other player would. For the chat feature, I only introduced myself and asked one question in my House Common Room chat. Other than that, I stood back and watched how others had created an identity for themselves on the different chat features of the game. It was a really fascinating way to watch how the limitations of the primarily single-player game opened a world of creative interaction through chat.

Step 4: Prepare the Ingredients (Data)
As I said before, I chose to study the chat features of Pottermore. To choose specific data sets to study, I frequently read the chat feeds from the two different  conversation areas: the Great Hall and the Gryffindor House Common Room (since I was placed in Gryffindor House of course). I then chose some of the more interesting or enlightening clips that seemed particularly relevant. I tried to choose data that highlighted some of the ways that the students created identity in Pottermore. Some such defining characteristics that I watched for were tags, code names, specific book references that seemed to create a closed discussion, and unusual comments. I only chose consecutive posts from the chat feed to gain a more authentic feel for how that particular aspect of the game is really used by the students. Once I chose highlighted sections, I renamed each player (both their tag names and their student names) to protect their anonymity.

Step 5: Stir Twice Counter-clockwise and Wait Five Minutes (Analysis)
I chose to look at the chat feeds and study how students had made an identity for themselves through that particular online space. There were specific tags that students used to identify themselves when using the chat features and I chose chat feed that demonstrated that use of identification as well as other defining characteristics. I analyzed the data sets for identification markers, group identity, friendships, and action clues. Some of the data was especially interesting to look at in regards to how new players versus pros used the site. Later in the study, I also did a separate analysis that went through the initial steps of creating a Pottermore account and discussed how the site limited its players in identity creation so as to give the analysis a more in-depth perspective when it comes to identity and site limitations.

Step 6: Bottle and Save for Later (Traditions)
I focused my study on the idea of how identity can be created in an online space. For reference, I chose to follow the idea of affinity spaces from Rebecca Black and Constance Steinkuehler's "Literacy in Virtual Worlds" and Angela Thomas' "Digital Literacies of the Cybergirl" for information on how identity can be created in online environments. Their studies also lent me a model for how to structure a study based on online practices.

Works Cited
Black, R. W. & Steinkuehler, C. "Literacy in Virtual Worlds." In L. Christenbury, R. Bomer, & P. Smagorinsky (Eds.), Handbook of Adolescent Literacy Research (pp. 271-286). New York: Guilford, 2009. Print.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic Press, 2000. Print.

Thomas, Angela. “Digital Literacies of the Cybergirl.” E-Learning 1.3 (2004): 358-382. Print.

Image borrowed from: