Steinkuehler on Cognition and Literacy in Massively Multiplayer Online Games

Cognition and Literacy in Massively Multiplayer Online Games (PDF, Via c.a. steinkuehler – MMOG research) I got a good deal more out of this Steinkuehler article… including some long quotes where she summarizes and ties together important passages from other research. Much of this relates to the social negotiation of meaning in Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORGPs), which the delphi study I have planned (for Summer and Fall of this year) will also focus on. Naturally, these quotes are categorized based on the section of my own paper they might appear in. They appear with minimal annotation, and they appear sans any formating – I’ve dragged and dropped from my outliner.

I’ve got dozens of referral posts in the queue and I may make time to get a few out this evening, but for now I’m caught up with the games in education quotes and it’s back to outlining for me. Now, on with this post…

NOTE: I’ve noticed some of the page numbers on the online version of this article are now different from the version I downloaded a couple of months ago. I’ve used the numbers that match my own annotations on the older version. Most are very close by and I hope this isn’t too inconvenient.


– [ ] “what students do with online technologies outside the classroom
is not only markedly different from what they do with them in
schools (e.g. instant messaging, blogging, sharing files,
consuming and producing media, engaging in affinity spaces,
gaming, building social networks, downloading answers to
homework, and researching for school projects and assignments),
but it is also more goal-driven, complex, sophisticated, and
engaged. If we care to understand the current and potential
capacities of technology for cognition, learning, literacy, and
education, then, we must look to contexts outside our current
formal educational system rather than those within. Video games
are an excellent starting point for such investigation.”
(Steinkuehler, in press, p. 3)


– [ ] Steinkhuehler is interested in “the situated meanings individuals
construct, the definitive role of communities in that meaning,
and the inherently ideological nature of both.” (Steinkuehler,
in press, p. 17)

Socially Negotiated

– [ ] “the online affinity groups that emerge around games function as
a kind of push community, engaging members in identities, values,
and practices markedly similar to the intellectual and social
practices that characterize high level, conceptual communities of
innovation in fields such as science, technology, and
engineering” (Steinkuehler, in press, p. 3-4)
– [ ] “videogames are sites for socially and materially distributed
cognition, complex problem solving, identity work, individual and
collaborative learning across multiple multimedia and multimodal
“attentional spaces” (Lemke, n.d.), and rich meaning-making…
Massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) are the quintessential
example of such communities… they are a thoroughly
collaborative space, not only beyond the game (in fan sites,
discussion boards, game information databases, etc.) but also
within the game itself” (Steinkuehler, in press, p. 4)
– [ ] “MMOGs instantiate the notion of social construction – that,
oftentimes, the
sense we make of events, contexts, and other people are
sociocultural products, not natural facts. Formulating such games
as a highly visible medium for understanding… how socially
constructed worlds of meaning are collaboratively achieved”
(Steinkuehler, in press, p. 6)
– [ ] “In MMOG communities, as with other participatory cultures
(Jenkins, 1992, 2004), consumption is production, manifested in
gamer-authored practices, products, and social networks”
(Steinkuehler, in press, p. 9)
– [ ] “Through their in- and out-of-game activities, game communities
effectively assert their right ‘to form interpretations, to offer
evaluations, and to construct cultural canons. …fans raid mass
culture, claiming its materials for their own use, reworking them
as the basis for their own cultural creations and social
interactions.’ (Jenkins, 1992, p. 18)” (Steinkuehler, in press,
p. 9-10)
– [ ] Wow… amazing summary of collected research: “[MMORPGs] create
rich political systems, hierarchies, and power structures
1992; Rosenberg, 1992) and the means for their enforcement (Lin,
& Sun, 2005; Reid, 1994; Taylor & Jakobsson, 2003). They
collaboratively construct a sense of “space” and “place” in
worlds that exist, in reality, on servers alone (Clodius, 1994;
Ducheneaut, Moore, & Nickell, 2004). They generate social
capital, often in the form of formal guild and alliance networks
(Clodius, 1996a; Steinkuehler, 2004d; Steinkuehler & Williams,
2005). They devise rituals and performances that connect the
individual to the social networks of which they are a part
(Clodius, 1995; Clodius, 1996b) and generate in-game antics and
adventures, archetypes and characters, and derivative fan art and
stories (Steinkuehler, 2004c; Steinkuehler, 2005d). Such
communities instantiate their collective intelligence (Levy,
1999) in the form of unofficial user manuals that are far more
accurate than official ones, authoring and maintaining
database-backed websites that function as “how to” manuals for
the game (Squire & Steinkuehler, 2005; Steinkuehler, 2005e), and
they create in-game apprenticeship systems (Galarneau, 2005) that
enculturate newcomers into valued cultural practices: Gamers who
have already mastered the social and material practices requisite
to gameplay apprentice, through scaffolded and supported
interactions, newer gamers who lack such knowledge and skill
(Steinkuehler, 2004b). Game communities are even part of the
on-going production cycle of the actual game designs themselves
(Humphreys, 2004): They debug games not only during beta testing
periods but also on a continued basis once the game goes retail;
they offer ideas for fixes and improvements to game companies’
“property” via official discussion boards and focus groups that
are implemented (or ignored) at the companies’ will; and, when
all technical solutions fail, they generate in-game social norms
that balance flawed game design (Steinkuehler, 2004a). MMOGs are
not merely designed objects; they are emergent cultures. And
those cultures are created, maintained, and subsidized by the
labor (of love) of those who actually play them.” (Steinkuehler,
in press, p. 12-13)
– [ ] ” participants in virtual worlds collectively create cultural
resources for the construction of members’ identities, not
through shared geographical location, nationality, or other
demographics per se but through shared social, (virtual)
material, and discursive practices (Carlstrom, 1992; Cherney,
1999; Clodius, 1997; Masterson, 1994, 1996; Raybourn, 1998; Reid,
1994; Schaap, 2002)” (Steinkuehler, in press, p. 13)
– [ ] ““it is through MMOGs that players have the greatest
ability/responsibility to explore, construct, and resist those
concerns of dominant culture’s representations” (Walls, 2005, as
cited in Steinkuehler, in press, p. 13)
– [ ] “individuals can project themselves into roles that may not have
available to them in the everyday offline world – not just
fantasy roles, such as an elf or princess, but also sociocultural
roles, such as the powerful leader of a successful campaign”
(Steinkuehler, in press, p. 14)
– [ ] “the sense we make of our world at any given time… is
contingent on the cultural models we bring to bear on it”
(Steinkuehler, in press, p. 18)
– [ ] “the social and material practices of a given group of people
associated around a set of shared interest, goals, and/or
activities (e.g., gamers within a particular MMOG community).
These practices include shared discursive resources such as word
choice and grammar (e.g., “l337 speek”) and other communicative
devices involved in language-in-use(e.g., text conventions for
prosody, gestures or emotes); shared textual practices for both
production and interpretation (e.g., in-game letters, unofficial
player written manuals, discussion board flame wars); customary
practices for social interaction (e.g.,social conventions for in-
game group hunts); characteristic ways to coordinate and be
coordinated by material resources such as tools, technologies,
and systems of representation (e.g., conventions for the use of
VoIP technologies while in-game); and shared folk theories (e.g.,
the belief that female characters receive more gifts in MMOGs
than male characters, regardless of level), appreciative systems
or ways of valuing some “things” and not others, (e.g., selecting
avatar equipment based on function rather than form); and
epistemologies (e.g., the privileging of a game community’s
collective intelligence instantiated in game databases over
official hardcopy game manuals).” (Steinkuehler, in press, p.

Social Change

– [ ] “large percentages of MMOGamers play online with “real life”
romantic partners, family members, co-workers, and friends (Seay,
Jerome, Lee, & Kraut, 2005; Yee, 2005a)” (Steinkuehler, in
press, p. 15)

21st Century Skills

– [ ] “We know that videogames are a push technology, providing people
entrée into other important technologies, such as computers”
(Steinkuehler, in press, p. 3) Like Papert’s Gears, or Dewey’s


– [ ] “I propose the following five areas of research: (1)
Investigation into the complex ways in which the small, routine
activities of participants constitute, and are constituted by,
macro-level Discourses within the game (Steinkuehler, 2004a,
2005a, 2005c), (2) exploration into the cultural resources game
community participants leverage in the authoring of identities
(both their own and others) within such virtual worlds
(Steinkuehler, in press), (3) research that examines how
individuals are enculturated into
such Discourses (Steinkuehler, 2004b), (4) analysis of the
literacy practices within and beyond such virtual spaces and how
they operate to create and maintain a coherent world of both
practice and perspective (Steinkuehler, 2003, 2004c, 2004d,
2005b, 2005d, 2005e), and (5) exploration of
how the Discourse of MMOGs is caught up in conversation with
other Discourses and how participation in them is situated within
gamers’ everyday lives (Steinkuehler, 2004a; Steinkuehler &
Williams, 2005).” (Steinkuehler, in press, p. 21)
– [ ] “the proper unit of study for research on MMOGs is not individual
‘identities’ per se but rather their construction as crucially
situated within the context of broader discourse(s) that inform
them.” (Steinkuehler, in press, p. 22)


Steinkuehler, C. A. (in press). Cognition and literacy in massively multiplayer online games. In D. Leu, J. Coiro, C. Lankshear, & K. Knobel (Eds.), Handbook of Research on New Literacies. Mahwah NJ: Erlbaum.

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