Temporality in games-based learning spaces: A comparative case study

Shree Durga, Elizabeth King and Barbara Johnson


Contemporary scholars in digital media, literacies and game studies have come to present a particularly vibrant and an anarchic depiction of sociocultural learning -- one that defies vertical hierarchy, normative depiction of competence and lays utmost emphasis on learner autonomy (Brown & Adler, 2008; J. Gee, 1991; JP Gee, 2004; M. Knobel & Lankshear, 2006; M. Knobel, Lankshear,C, 2007; Lankshear, Gee, Knobel, & Searle, 1997). Much of the learning in contemporary digital production spaces, thus, may be thought of as being highly affinity-based (JP Gee, 2004). However, learning in affinity spaces is a constantly evolving process of self-organized participation in fan-based activities, sustained through a quagmire of complex socio-technical structures, over log periods of time that are inherent to affinity-spaces (J. P. Gee & Hayes, 2010). A crucial challenge then, for educators and researchers alike, is to "zoom" in and out of participation over wide scales of time, yet depict a coherent learning narrative within these spaces (Lemke, 2001).
Drawing on longitudinal ethnographic research of three games-based affinity groups (J Gee, 2005) -- a) an affinity-based game modding community--Civfanatics, b) a friendship driven affinity group of boys in an after-school World of Warcraft gaming club and c) online gaming community in GaiaOnline, in this paper we present a comparative case study of participants' learning trajectories as they traverse wide and concurrent time scales, affecting microsocial and macosocial learning contexts (Lemke, 2001; Roth, 2006). Each case, presented in the paper will pursue a unique challenge and explore a key question examining temporality in affinity-based learning spaces:
a) How can scales of time be construed in longitudinal digital production activities, such as game modding, as participants steer through cycles of inspiration, iteration and completion of a mod?
b) What are the challenges associated with voluntary co-presence and obligatory time commitments in a friendship-based affinity group and how do they impact learning?
c) What is the definition of "now" and how does fluidity of times scales impact presence in virtual affinity spaces and the functioning of virtual work groups?