Re: [xmca] Pre-Textual (Mis)Understandings

From: Rachel Cody <rcody who-is-at>
Date: Tue Jul 15 2008 - 11:37:18 PDT

Hi all,

I have been a reader of xmca for awhile but often am intimidated by so
many great posts. I have done a bit of fieldwork in different MMOs,
including World of Warcraft, looking at the social structures of the
games. So this topic has given me a good pause to think about how to
distinguish cultures and communities.

I would agree that WoW (or any other game) as a game does not constitute
a culture, but I believe the communities within it do depending on how
culture is understood. I think it is a bit analogous to email - I would
say that email does not constitute a culture, but communities that use
email as a medium for interaction may. Some communities (typically
defined by guilds) in MMOs can last several years, and while this is a
short time in comparison to a culture within a nation-state, it is a
significant amount of time for people to spend 4-8 hours a day with one
another. Over time, these communities may develop a history, their own
language and jokes, and their own rituals. This may or may not be
considered a culture, but I have a hard time understanding where the
boundaries of culture end or begin and would definitely like to hear any
thoughts on it.

I think different skills that people acquire in WoW or other games are
more or less transferable to any skills outside of the game. I wouldn't
expect any player in WoW to be able to actually kill anybody or hunt or
know how to fish. But being able to add statistics on different gear
pieces, adjusting numbers to percentages based on a formula that
Blizzard (creators of WoW) provides, or doing complicated algebraic
equations to figure out the best magical spell to cast in a given
situation may be more transferable. Similarly, I think some of the
things players learn to be successful within a social group may be
transerable, regardless of the medium. But I don't think it's
necessarily restructuring a learning process.

I'm still trying to think and work through all of it, though!

Rachel wrote:
> As always David a very thoughtful and well written post. I am curious if
> you write your posts stream of consciousness or if you labor over them.
> Me, personally, I switch between the two. Some posts I will write on word
> and will ruminate on them for days before they either get sent or deleted,
> others, such as the present, I write stream of consciousness and then hit
> send.
> That was just an aside. What I really wanted to say was exactly the
> thinking you have about the confusion between learning and development when
> speaking of the ZPD. I would agree that world of warcraft or any 'video'
> game does not constitute a culture and therefore cannot produce a true ZPD.
> I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about golf the other day
> and was commenting about how I hadn't been able to sink any birdie putts my
> last round and he states, "just today I scored 7 birdies." My jaw dropped
> and I needed to know the specifics. He then states, "It was Cyprus
> Pointe." You'll see my surprise when I tell you our conversation took
> place in Minnesota and Cyprus Pointe is in California. Then the light bulb
> wen off and I said, "that was playstation wasn't it?" He says, "well,
> yeah but I still got 7 birdies." We then continued to debate the
> difference between the game of golf and video games. He didn't want to
> make the distinction because his stance was that I wouldn't be able to
> shoot that good of a score. He had learned how to play the game to a high
> skill level but that, i don't believe, equates to him developing as a
> golfer. Is this along the lines of what you are talking about?
> eric
> David Kellogg
> <vaughndogblack@ To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
>> cc:
> Sent by: Subject: [xmca] Pre-Textual (Mis)Understandings
> xmca-bounces@web
> 07/14/2008 08:39
> PM
> Please respond
> to
> vaughndogblack;
> Please respond
> to "eXtended
> Mind, Culture,
> Activity"
> A friend of my wife's recently got a job in a laboratory at the University
> of Washington. She had been a doctor and a researcher at one of the most
> important hospitals in Beijing, and this was a major career step sidewise,
> if not down.Her American co-workers were quite conscious of this, and many
> of them were mortified by the fact that when they tried to explain the ins
> and outs of the cell line work to her, she would answer "I know", even when
> they had just explained something that was quite specific to this
> particular line of work in this particular laboratory and she could not
> have possibly have any previous knowledge of it.
> In Chinese there is no real distinction between the phrase "I see" and "I
> know"; we say "zhidaole" in both situations and we rely on what Koreans
> call "the color of eyes" (that is, empathetic understanding of the
> interlocutor's state of information) to disambiguate. Usually, it works
> perfectly well, but clearly it's going to work less well in a foreign
> language, and not at all if there is some less empathetic understanding
> gets in the way (e.g. that the interlocutor is pretending to know more
> than she actually does in order to establish a position commensurate with
> her superior training).
> Let us call these pre-textual (mis)understandings "pre-texts". I don't mean
> to say that they are rationales for deliberate misconstrual of what someone
> is saying. I simply mean that they are the portion of context that one
> brings to the text before one has actually read or heard any of the text
> itself.
> For example, there are two very powerful "pre-texts" to understanding the
> zone of proximal development, both of which appear to me to be serious
> distortions and neither of which was a deliberate fabrication. The first is
> a pre-textual understanding of the zoped as a zone of proximal LEARNING
> which is unrelated to DEVELOPMENT, that is, unrelated to learning whole new
> ways of learning that are a) volitional and b) open-ended.
> Here's an example, from the extremely interesting paper by Nardi and Harris
> on World of Warcraft guilds that Michael Evans kindly circulated this
> morning:
> "Vygotsky spoke of the 'zone of proximal development' in which a learner
> advances by being offered a challenge and the appropriate resources to meet
> the challenge. The resources are supplied by a teacher or more experienced
> peers [31]. The zone is the difference between what the learner can do with
> and without the aid of the teacher or more experienced peers. In WoW, the
> zone of proximal development is unusually flexible because aid from more
> experienced peers is available from so many sources. While it is not
> possible here to undertake a detailed comparison to other learning
> environments such as traditional classrooms, apprenticeships, or online
> tutorials, we cannot think of another context of learning with the access
> and flexibility we observed within World of Warcraft and its associated
> online resources."
> You can see that the "pre-texts" here are: a) that World of Warcraft really
> DOES constitute a culture, b) that internalizing this culture constitutes
> development, and c) that this is chiefly a matter of being offered various
> types of resources. All three of these pretexts seem highly questionable to
> me.
> First of all, I think that part of the play-like attraction of WoW lies
> precisely in its lack of a coherent culture of its own and its long-term
> disconnect with the surrounding culture from which it takes its (extremely
> diverse) names and its (utterly monolithic) operating language. Secondly, I
> don't see that mastering WoW will help me learn a new open-ended way of
> learning that is capable of restructuring all of my previous learning.
> Finally, if merely providing resources for problem solving is the essence
> of the zone of proximal development, I don't think we can say that
> LSV originated or discovered anything at all.
> The second very powerful but not necessarily very helpful pretextual
> understanding we bring to the zoped is something that Mike pointed out to
> me the day before yesterday. We often consider that the learning which must
> lead development in the zone of proximal development can be considered
> quite independent of teaching. It is, after all, learning and not teaching,
> and just as we can consider shopping as an act of buying quite independent
> form the activity of selling, we should be able to consider learning on its
> own. At most, the difference between learning and teaching is merely a
> shift of point of view, like the difference in classical economics between
> use value and exchange value that Wolff-Michael Roth points to in his
> editorial in the current issue of MCA.
> But the Russian word Vygotsky uses in many of his writings on the zoped
> (and especially the key passages of Thinking and Speech 194-197) apparently
> CANNOT be so considered; just as the Arabic word for "study" means "recite"
> and the Chinese word for "study" means "read", the Russian word apprently
> INCLUDES the idea of teaching, and that's why the Minick translation of
> Thinking and Speech, which is often has the rather stilted flavor of an
> overliteral reading, uses the word "instruction" instead of "learning".
> Goodman and Goodman, for example, seize on LSV's study of play in Chapter
> Seven of Mind in Society to argue that teachers can neither create nor
> control the zone of proximal development. Similarly, Mercer and Mercer and
> Fisher, and many other writers have argued that group zones of proximal
> development are quite impossible. According to Mike's (re)reading, what
> really needs to be explained is not the group zone of proximal development,
> but the so-called "individual" one.
> Wertsch has a very EARLY article called "From Social Interaction to Higher
> Psychological Processes A Clarification and Application of Vygotsky's
> Theory" in Human Development 2008;51:66?79 (Reprint of Human
> Development1979;22:1?22). In it, he argues that the translation of
> "Thinking and Speech" as "Thought and Language" reflects a similar
> pretextual misunderstanding, because (he says) the latter title reflects an
> interest in language as a system rather than as an activity or a "language
> game".
> If we conceive of "Thinking and Speech" as being chiefly concerned with
> language systems, we will only look at the growth of grammar and
> vocabulary. Wertsch actually veers pretty close to this position when he
> tries to use Ervin-Tripp's categories of directives to establish a "second
> level" of intra-psychological regulation. No wonder he finds his second
> level not very satisfactory!
> (Actually, I don't know of ANY applied linguists who have tried to read
> "Thought and Language" as a book about linguistic systems. On the contrary,
> the view of mainstream applied linguists such as Mitchell and Myles and
> Larsen-Freeman is that sociocultural theory is ONLY a theory of learning
> and has essentially NO theory of language at all! This bizarre and
> completely unsupportable opinion is the outcome of the very bad habit that
> applied linguists have of considering theories of language and theories of
> learning as being two entirely separable things that are only united when
> we design a particular "method" of instruction.)
> But then Wertsch shows that what grows in the child's mind is really a way
> of understanding the specific language game we call (in Korean classrooms)
> "Listen and Do". Since we are talking about two to four year olds, this
> ability to respond to directives really is providing more than learning, it
> is providing a new way to learn and to relearn what has already been
> learnt. It is, in a word, re-structuring; it really does have an unlimited
> potential that is of undoubted relevance to the child's participation in
> and eventual contribution to a real culture. The simple game of "Listen and
> Do" has revolutionary potential that the world of WoW does not (not least
> of which is the ability of the child to clearly see in whose hands the
> directive power lies and how to get that directive power into their own
> hands).
> Even here, outside the classroom (Wertsch's work discusses child-mother
> interactions), we can see the relevance of the concept of instruction. For
> most of human history, this is probably what instruction meant. Only in the
> early nineteenth century (say, with the work of Von Humboldt) do we see a
> deliberate attempt to create public, group zones of proximal development
> supervised by professional instructors as part of universal enculturation.
> And only in the early twentieth century (say, with the work of LSV and his
> colleagues) can we find attempts to make that group zone of proximal
> development socially as well as personally restructuring and open-ended
> with respect to the future of the individual and at least potentially with
> respect to the future of culture itself.
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
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Received on Tue Jul 15 11:39 PDT 2008

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