Lost (and found) in translation: Game localization, cultural models, and critical literacy

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© Cynthia L. Selfe and Gail E. Hawisher, 2007. In What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy (2003), James Gee revisits concepts that have been central to the development of soci-ocultural literacy theories over the past two decades. As opposed to the idea that reading and writing are cognitive skills that exist independent of context, literacy as a social practice (Street, 1984) is predicated upon the notion that meaning is always situated-“local, grounded in actual practices and experiences” (Gee, 1996, p. 41). In such local contexts learners build abstract concepts as they connect them to experiences or embodied knowledge. Rather than thinking of people as either literate or not, depending upon their ability to read and write, Gee argues that we need different literacies to function in different “semiotic domains," which he defines as “any set of practices that recruits one or more modalities… to communicate distinctive types of meanings” (2003, p. 18). Video games, for Gee, represent a group of related semiotic domains marked by the same kinds of literate practices that might characterize successful literacy in other domains, such as school, home, or community. According to Gee, semiotic domains are reciprocally constituted by internal and external “design grammars." The internal content of a game is shaped by the external features of its play and its intelligibility within a broader community of game-playing “affinity groups," while the external context is continually shaped by the practices and desires of the individuals who play the games. Within the world of the game, learners have opportunities to test the cultural models that inform their literacy in other semiotic domains as they encounter different worlds and different approaches to learning. In these ways, video games provide an environment that can foster active learning-that is, learning that involves experience, affiliation, and the acquisition of resources for future learning (p. 23).

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Gaming Lives in the Twenty-First Century: Literate Connections