April 1st, rent is due, payday for some, and the kicking off of what is now a gamer tradition.
Blizzard’s annual April Fools joke.
This year they posted a new string of products called “Blizzard Kidzz” a line of educational games drawn from Blizzard’s gallery of games World of Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo. As usual everyone gets a nice chuckle out of it. However, Blizzard may not be far off.
Geek and Gamer culture actually has a lot to offer the mainstream world beyond sheer entertainment. Games like World of Warcraft can teach kids several things ranging from how to save money (damn Master Flying) to interpersonal skills to lessons in morality.
How Geek Culture Can Improve Education
According to recent studies, the United States trails many other nations in education. Asian nations like Japan and India far surpass us in academic pursuits. So what is the difference?
For one, it’s culture. Our culture differs from other countries to the point where learning just isn’t fun. Its hard enough to get kids to go to class let alone motivate them to higher achievements. How can we get kids motivated to learn when they would rather watch TV and play video games?
The answer is simple, embrace it.
What if teachers used classic films like Star Wars to enhance their lesson plans? A lot of popular geek films draw from the same inspirations as classical literature.
The first Star Wars film, Episode IV draws parallels with Arthurian tales. This and many other comic book heroes serve as an example of the classical hero’s tale. On the flip side, the overall Star Wars saga could also be used as an example of a heroic tragedy in the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker. For a more direct example, The Matrix is a direct example of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.
What about other parts of Geek and Gamer culture?
Look at it this way. You have a regular kid who plays video games. This kid will spend hours playing Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, or any other popular game over and over again. This happens because the kid is getting a level of entertainment and accomplishment that motivates them to continue playing.
In her book Reality is Broken, Jane McGonigal states that playing games is the opposite of depression. Essentially, gamers gain satisfaction and a more positive mental state because they choose to tackle difficult obstacles that pretty much are unnecessary. There are hundreds of thousands gamers in the world that every day who volunteer to take on what is essentially work all in the name of continuing to play a good game.
So how can we put this to work in our education system?
By embracing the games that kids are playing, we can merge the two worlds to create an environment where learning is fun again and kids do not resist learning. Let’s look at World of Warcraft.
World of Warcraft stands as a good example of a game with immense potential for teaching. Playing through the game or Questing, involves accomplishing various tasks that are given to you by Non-Player Characters (NPCS) that populate the various areas. The Quests usually require some moderate effort of the player for a reward usually involving in game currency and experience points. Countless opportunities to merge educational value in a game lie outside of questing.
Sticking with Warcraft, the games auction house can very easily teach introductory economics. The Guild’s fourth season colorfully illustrates this where Zaboo’s Mom helps Vork establish an elaborate trading market that helps him earn fifty thousand gold while causing the economy of the entire server to go into disarray. Also with the announcement that Diablo 3 will also have an auction house but contain the potential for players to earn real money for selling in game items. This presents a unique opportunity to learn examples of supply and demand firsthand.
A better example of this was when Wrath of the Lich King, Warcraft’s third expansion, launched. Prior to launch we were aware of the new profession and its dependence on Herbalism for materials. Intuitive herb farmers stockpiled herbs form all levels prior to the launch and then sold them at a high profit. In this case stacks of herbs that normally would sell for one gold were selling for twenty times that amount. A very interesting case of supply and demand.
Warcraft and other Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOs) break the stereotype that games promote antisocial behavior. In fact many are designed to require you to interact with other player. This is especially true when it comes to raiding, where you have to team up with up to 24 other players to tackle extremely powerful bosses, many of which require expert coordination. These create opportunities to teach players both team work and leadership, both skills that prepare students for entering into the real world workforce.
The viability of this option is not quite so far fetched. Academics are already paying closer attention to MMOs for their own research. Scientists studying the social effects of a pandemic looked to events such as the “blood plague” that sprang from the launch of the Zul Gurub raid instance in Warcraft . Social scientists such as Bonnie Nardi already study the social aspects and effects of MMOs.
Companies who offer Home Schooling solutions like K12.com are creating avenues that would very easily be able to adapt achievement systems similar to World of Warcraft, Playstation Network, and Xbox Live. These achievements would help to motivate kids to try to complete unique tasks that would earn vanity items for an online avatar. There is also the new App for IPhone called Epic Win which turns your to do list into an rpg where you get experience for completing your daily tasks.
With Geek and Gamer culture growing in acceptance by popular culture we could very see a time where teachers will start turning to Geek and Gamer media to enhance lesson plans and make learning fun again. It may not solve all problems, but it may be that needed push to pull us out of the educational trenches.