Game Research Special Interest Group: Games Literacy in a Ludified Culture

Understanding games and play as a key element of contemporary media literacy

Motivation and Impact

In contemporary media and culture, play is no longer an activity limited to games. Rather, it has become a key characteristic of the use of social media, apps, mobile technology, educational software and so on. Through their design, these media technologies invite, even urge, users to participate playfully, creating what has been called a ludified culture or society. This project aims to broaden the understanding of games and play as a key element of contemporary media literacy. This becomes even more relevant as Digital Literacy has been added to, the new strategic plans for primary and secondary education in The Netherlands, and media literacy for the adult population has been added to the multi-annual strategic plans of Netwerk Mediawijsheid, the government-funded centre of expertise for media literacy. Games and play should be an active part of this increased and much-needed attention for (digital) media literacy, as citizenship in contemporary mediatized society is increasingly playful.

Whereas previous work on games literacy - often called ludolitery - has primarily focused on games themselves, we aim to broaden the scope to include examples of gamification and ludification in media culture. Games themselves have changed into this direction too, with more and more games turning into media platforms, with new social dimensions of play and revenue models. From Fortnite to Pokémon Go, from SNSs like Facebook or Reddit to selfcare apps like fitbit or Headspace - all turn play in new directions. Human nature is inherently playful (ie. we are “homo ludens” following Huizinga), but we are increasingly involved in playing - but also being played by - games and gamified/ludified media technology. Ludoliteracy, we argue, should mean the act of critical self-reflection on playing with and being played by the media we surround ourselves with. In this Special Interest Group we do not just look at games and playful media through this broadened ludoliteracy lense, but also investigate playful practices themselves and their effects on players/users, and identify how we can introduce new forms of games literacy within an educational and research context.

The primary aim is to closely collaborate through research projects and knowledge valorization activities with key partners in the field of media literacy, cultural heritage and media production. This should increase the ability amongst media users (gamers and non-gamers alike), educators and creators to more critically reflect on the history, and the social, political, economic and cultural characteristics and impact of games and play.

Research focus and questions

More specifically, we organize our special interest group around three core pillars which are supported by the expert knowledge of the various researchers involved. These three pillars are 1) Games, 2) Play, and 3) “Players” which all invite focused research topics but in combination give us a more complete insight into literacy in a ludified culture.

Underlying these three pillars are the following core research questions:

  • What characterizes contemporary game forms and play practices and how does this require new media competencies?
  • How do we cultivate these competencies in analyzing these games and play practices and teach users and non-users to critically reflect on embedded dominant values and ideologies?
  • How do we assess the role, value and impact of games and play literacy in contemporary society?

Team members

  • Karin van Es, René Glas, Sjors Martens, Jasper van Vught, Stefan Werning (Department of Media and Culture Studies, Faculty of Humanities)
  • Karin Fikkers (Department of Languages, Literature and Communication, Faculty of Humanities)

Affiliate Scholars

  • Hartmut Koenitz, Teun Dubbelmans, Christian Roth (HKU)