Excerpted from What Video Games Have to Teach us about Learning and Literacy by James Paul Gee
When people learn to play video games, they are learning a new literacy. Of course, this is not the way the word "literacy" is normally used. Traditionally, people think of literacy as the ability to read and write. Why, then, should we think of literacy more broadly, in regard to video games or anything else, for that matter? There are two reasons.
First, in the modern world, language is not the only important communicational system. Today images, symbols, graphs, diagrams, artifacts, and many other visual symbols are particularly significant. Thus, the idea of different types of "visual literacy" would seem to be an important one. For example, being able to "read" the images in advertising is one type of visual literacy. And, of course, there are different ways to read such images, ways that are more or less aligned with the intentions and interests of the advertisers. Knowing how to read interior designs in homes, modernist art in museums, and videos on MTV are other forms of visual literacy.
Furthermore, very often today words and images of various sorts are juxtaposed and integrated in a variety of ways. In newspaper and magazines as well as in textbooks, images take up more and more of the space alongside words. In fact, in many modern high school and college textbooks in the sciences images not only take up more space, they now carry meanings that are independent of the words in the text. If you can't read these images, you will not be able to recover their meanings from the words in the text as was more usual in the past. In such multimodal texts (texts that mix words and images), the images often communicate different things from the words. And the combination of the two modes communicates things that neither of the modes does separately. Thus, the idea of different sorts of multimodal literacy seems an important one. Both modes and multimodality go far beyond images and words to include sounds, music, movement, bodily sensations, and smells.
None of this news today, of course. We very obviously live in a world awash with images. It is our first answer to the question why we should think of literacy more broadly. The second answer is this: Even though reading and writing seem so central to what literacy means traditionally, reading and writing are not such general and obvious matters as they might at first seem. After all, we never just read or write; rather, we always read or write something in some way.
There are many different ways of reading and writing. We don't read or write newspapers, legal tracts, essays in literary criticism, poetry, rap songs, and on through a nearly endless list in the same way. Each of these domains has its own rules and requirements. Each is a culturally and historically separate way of reading and writing, and, in that sense, a different literacy. Furthermore, in each case, if we want to "break the rules" and read against the grain of the text—for the purposes of critique, for instance—we have to do so in different ways, usually with some relatively deep knowledge of how to read such texts "according to the rules."
So there are different ways to read different types of texts. Literacy is multiple, then, in the sense that the legal literacy needed for reading law books is not the same as the literacy needed for reading physics texts or superhero comic books. And we should not be too quick to dismiss the latter form of literacy. Many a superhero comic is replete with post-Freudian irony of a sort that would make a modern literary critic's heart beat fast and confuse any otherwise normal adult. Literacy, then, even as traditionally conceived to involve only print, is not a unitary thing but a multiple matter. There are, even in regard to printed texts and even leaving aside images and multimodal texts, different "literacies."
Once we see this multiplicity of literacy (literacies), we realize that when we think about reading and writing, we have to think beyond print. Reading and writing in any domain, whether it is law, rap songs, academic essays, superhero comics, or whatever, are not just ways of decoding print, they are also caught up with and in social practices. … Video games are a new form of art. They will not replace books; they will sit beside them, interact with them, and change them and their role in society in various ways, as, indeed, they are already doing strongly with movies. (Today many movies are based on video games and many more are influenced by them.) We have no idea yet how people "read" video games, what meanings they make from them. Still less do we know how they will "read" them in the future.
Please answer questions based on following passage.
1. According to the first paragraph, the broadest definition of "literacy" is A) The ability to analyze literature B)The ability comprehend basic cultural cues C)The ability to read and write D)The ability to compose poetry
2. All are mentioned as being types of "visual literacy" EXCEPT A) Musical tones B) Interior Design C) Diagrams D)Modern Art
3. An example from a science textbook of the phenomenon the author describes in the third paragraph could be A) A genetic tree that coincides with the discussion of specific mammal classes in the text B) A diagram of a specific chemical reaction that is used to explain a broad definition in the text C) An illustration of a plant cycle that accompanies a chapter on photosynthesis D) A cartoon that references the same methods discussed in the text about laboratory safety
4. What is an example of a "multimodal" text? A) A dictionary B) A movie script C) A photo album D) An art book that describes the art as well as reproduces images of the original prints
5. The idiom in the sixth paragraph, "read against the grain of the text" is closest in meaning to A) Reading to understand the underlying meanings and themes of the author's words—not just a literal interpretation B) Reading text that defines different types of wheat and grains C) To read the text from right to left rather than left to right D) To read books that use recycled paper and other green alternatives
6. In the seventh paragraph, the author suggests that literacy is multiple, meaning that A) To be "literate" can mean participating in any form of expression B) One's literacy increases exponentially as greater mastery of reading and writing is achieved C) Different genres and modes of expression require different background knowledge and perspectives to understand them D) Literacy can only be gained by exploring every type of media and expression
7. Why does the author give the example of superhero comics to explain multiple literacies? A) To explain that comic books are written for children and purely for entertainment. They require only a basic knowledge of the action that occurs in the story B) To once again refer to his earlier points about "multimodal" texts C) To insist that even when an author may intend multiple meanings and interpretations, they are rarely successful in conveying those to readers D) Things that may seem on the surface to be only meant for a particular group of people can actually have very profound meanings to those who possess other types of literacy
8. The author suggests that all of the following require different types of literacy and the ability to decode meaning EXCEPT A) Rap music B) Comic books C) Academic papers D) Symphonies
9. The author says that video games A) Are not yet entirely understood in terms of literacy, but are already impacting other forms of expression such as filmmaking B) Are unrealistic and should not fall into the same categories as the other texts he describes C) Are too violent to risk experimenting with for the purposes of understanding literacy D) Are irrelevant in academic discussion because no one has yet determined how to explain the ways that people understand them
10. What would be the most logical information for the next paragraph to contain if the article continued? A) A technological definition of video games, how they are made, and how they are played B) A historical explanation of the very first video game and its evolution C) Examples of the way that some people currently interpret video games and what they mean to them D) A price comparison of video game consoles and whether or not quality has a direct impact on literacy