A Pedagogy of Play: Integrating Computer Games into the Writing Classroom by Rebekah Schultz Colby and Richard Colby


Colby & Colby discuss the use of video games in the writing classroom. They begin the piece by tracing the ways that games have been looked at for educational purposes. They also discuss how the history of games in education “in some ways parallels the theoretical and pedagogical evolutions of writing instruction” (300). They acknowledge that some administrators and even students may have difficulties seeing games as serious within the classroom because of work/play dichotomies within our culture. However, based on their own use of games, particularly for the purpose of this article, World of Warcraft, they think a pedagogy of play “emphasizes active participation, leading to the production of rhetorical texts for a gamespace community” (301).

In order to incorporate games successfully into the class, they argue for emergent learning. “In a game of emergence…the player explores the gamespace, creating challenges which constantly change within the context of play” (qtd in Colby & Colby, 305). The focus for the course was on students completing writing assignments that would be viewable for a larger audience, rather than an imagined audience or professor as audience that plays out in most composition classrooms. “For instance, as a result of playing WoW, students could design forums, blogs, websites and various gamespace guides” (305).

Colby & Colby then explain the setting of WoW and why they chose the game as their selection for the course: it is an objectives-based game, has an active community outside of the gamespace, and it is a social game. They then walked through how to introduce WoW into the course and provide examples of how they do these things.

  1. Finding out about student expertise with computers and games.
  2. Students given working introduction to rhetoric and research methods.
  3. Students begin playing WoW — “looking for rhetorical exigencies that create opportunities for emergent learning” (309).
  4. Assessment

They provide some examples of student projects, including an economics major who wrote a profession guide about jewelcrafting, focusing on the game’s economy in relation to the profession and the goods the player could create.

Jesper Juul Makes a Reappearance

When I first picked my two articles for the PAB, I didn’t realize the connections that I’d end up making between them, especially since one was written in 2001 about narratology and the other in 2008 about video games in the writing classroom. Colby & Colby actually cite and discuss Juul’s later piece written in 2005, “Half-real: Video games between real rules and fictional worlds.”  I had felt unsatisfied with Juul’s discussion of narrative and games from the article in 2001, unsure if he’d shifted away from all-in anti-narrative or not. He’d mentioned definitely not seeing the connection earlier. By 2005, Colby and Colby think that “Juul later revised his own distinction between narrative and play to include both narrative and play” (301, emphasis in original). That to me felt more realistic based on my own time as a gamer, that both elements are present in games as a whole, though individual games may use more or less of one.

It is also Juul that provides the emergent theory that Colby & Colby use as one of their driving decisions to use games in the writing classroom.

Giving Some Love to Rhet/Comp 

This article has probably ended up being my favorite one I’ve read so far for my PABs. This likely is for a few reasons that I’ll admit.

  1. My MA is in Rhet/Comp. As much as I love Game Studies, I’m still also a Rhet/Comp person. I’ve also taught writing courses at my MA institution and I’d always considered adding games to the class in some useful way.
  2. I love WoW. And if geeking out over Star Wars or TMNT in the last couple PABS wasn’t enough, I’m way more obsessed with WoW and achievement points.

It also was really easy to see how the assignments would blend both writing and World of Warcraft. I do think while the idea is great and I’d definitely be willing to use it, it’d be important for the instructor to be very familiar with the game that they chose for their classroom. I say this for troubleshooting reasons, as well as being able to help students navigate the space. Games like WoW have an incredibly long history for one game now. Starting in 2004, the game is still over 10 years later releasing expansions. Also, the Warcraft story line even precedes 2004. It has a lot going on in terms of community. So if an instructor isn’t familiar with it, it’d take A LOT to get familiar with it enough to use it as a teaching tool. There are games that perhaps might be more useful in that regard.

WoW also has another drawback that I’m not sure Colby & Colby considered– It’s a subscription based game, meaning that it costs money to play each month. Also, the game is about 50 dollars (thankfully Blizzard updated all accounts so you don’t have to purchase all the old expansions too). For a semester just for the game we’re looking at: 4 months of gameplay at $15 dollars each and $50 for the game. This doesn’t include anything else students have to purchase.

I think for me, this article helped me connect some of my scholarly interests in Rhet/Comp with Game Studies. It helped me resituate myself I think for my class goals, but also the goals for my PhD and research. I know that I enjoy studying games for reasons beyond the classroom, but I also really enjoy looking at how games could be incorporated into the classroom and this article helped put that back on the radar for me.

Completely unfamiliar with World of Warcraft? I made this video a couple years ago to discuss myself as a female gamer in a class.


Blizzard Entertainment. World of Warcraft. Activision Blizzard, 2015. Online Video Game.

Juul, Jesper.  “Games Telling Stories? A Brief Note on Games and Narratives” Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research 1.1 (2001): n. pag. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

Shultz Colby, Rebekah and Richard Colby. “A Pedagogy of Play: Integrating Computer Games into the Writing Classroom” Computers and Composition 25 (2008): 300-312. Web. 13 Sept. 2015.