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 gaming...in 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.
Beavis, Catherine, et al. "Literacy in the Digital Age: Learning from Computer Games." English in Education. 43.2 (2009). 162-175. Print.
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: http://www.harrypotterrealm.com/movie/cos_suprise.jpg