Cognition and literacy in massively multiplayer online games
C. Steinkuehler.
Handbook of Research on New Literacies , Erlbaum, Mahwah NJ, (2008)

For the current youth generation, the Internet has always existed. Online technologies have profoundly contributed to a dramatic techocultural shift in contemporary society, transforming how we learn, work, play, and socialize. Information from multiple sources on everything from Athabascan birch bark baskets to the calculation of z-scores is there for the googling. Global social networks – made visible, designable, and searchable via services such as “Friendster” ( and “MySpace” ( – are increasingly becoming the must-have/must-do activity for businesspeople, college students, and fan communities alike. And whether it’s collaboration on a formal project or informal socializing among peers, our modus operandi has shifted from face-to-face get-togethers, a couple of emails, and the occasional phone call to the overlapping “multimodal, multi-attentional spaces” (Lemke, n.d.) on today’s computer screen – email in-boxes, webpages, collaborative authoring softwares (such as wikis and blogs), multiple instant messaging windows of conversation, videostreaming, file-sharing, voice over IP (VoIP), and even shared online 3D environments where players can fashion digital versions of their corporeal selves and get together in a server-stored tavern for a virtual beer. For those who have grown up with such technologies, this heterogeneous, networked, online global, “flat” (Friedman, 2005) world is the unremarkable mainstream. While the older, “world on paper” natives gasp and wonder and worry about the furious pace and penetration of online technologies into everyday life, the younger generations just adopt them, adapt them, and move on to the next (Lankshear & Bigum, 1999; Lankshear & Knobel, 2003). The American educational system has done its best to keep pace, providing Internet connections to virtually all schools (99% in 2001), 87% of which are accessible to students via classrooms, libraries, computer labs, and other regulated spaces (Kleiner & Farris, 2002). Still, the culture of schooling carries on with business as usual – as it was ten or twenty years, ago,3 that is. As a Pew Internet & American Life Report (Levin & Arafeh, 2002) on the digital disconnect between children and their schools details with excruciating clarity, 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.
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