James Paul Gee (2004) devotes a chapter to “affinity spaces” — online and/or face to face interactive spaces consisting of people held together because of shared activities, interests, and goals — in his book, Situated Language and Learning: A Critique of Traditional Schooling. Affinity spaces are sustained by fans of all sorts of things (e.g. comic books, movies, celebrities), including video games. For video games, these include the enormous number of websites of all kinds — sites featuring tips and strategies, artwork and fan fiction, game patches and modding resources, and all the other kinds of online and offline interactions centered around a game (e.g. World of Warcraft, Lineage, etc.). Gee notes eleven defining features of an affinity space:
- A common endeavor is primary, not aspects such as race, class, gender, or disability that can often hinder communication.
- Newbies, masters, and everyone else share common space
- Some portals are strong generators (whatever gives the space some content)
- Content organization is transformed by interactional organization
- Both intensive and extensive knowledge are encouraged
- Both individual and distributed knowledge are encouraged
- Dispersed knowledge is encouraged
- Tacit knowledge is encouraged and honored
- Many different forms and routes to participation
- Many different routes to status
- Leadership is porous and leaders are resources
Gee contrasts these features with those of the spaces found in typical classrooms, and
notes that in many respects, classrooms are lacking. For example, classrooms usually don’t encourage students to gain intensive knowledge, nor do they encourage distributed knowledge or multiple routes to participation. Gee poses the question: “What does it matter that schools don’t use affinity spaces? Why should they?” His answer is centered on the fact that affinity spaces have become very significant for young people today, as they are “confronted with and enter more and more affinity spaces…[and] see a different and arguably powerful vision of learning, affiliation, and identity when they do so.” (p. 89). Learning takes place within those spaces that is complex, social, and personal. Faced with the “lack of imagination” of a classroom space that seems to “pale in comparison”, Gee believes young people may start to ask the question, “Why school?”
References: Gee, J. P. (2004). Situated language and learning: A Critique of traditional schooling. London: Routledge.