Teachers Playing World of Warcraft

There is a certain thrill for me watching adult learners exploring a totally alien environment.  Maybe it’s the mad scientist in me?  I’m having those very sorts of opportunities in August as Peggy Sheehy and I lead teachers from around the world through quest-based learning experiences in 3DGameLab.  Our group’s quests revolve around the concept of using World of Warcraft (or similar MMO’s) in the classroom.  Our first week has simply been a chance to orient folks to World of Warcraft.  Simply put, we just want them to play the game, immersing themselves in the fantasy world of Azeroth.

As we move into week two, we’re asking our participants to look at the game through the lens of education and instructional design.  World of Warcraft is an incredibly complex game.  This first week has reminded me of just how much I take for granted:  the jargon, game culture, and of course the technical side of things.  We have a range of prior knowledge among our participants from those who have multiple level 85 characters, the highest level in the game, to those who have never experienced any virtual world, much less a game-based virtual world.

One of the first quests for our explorer-teachers this week is to examine how the game’s designers essentially are instructional designers.  The game has to teach you how to play the game.  This requires a great deal of thought, planning, and testing on the part of the designers.   Blizzard Entertainment, the makers of World of Warcraft, have become masters of this, as their subscriber numbers (around 12 million) indicate.

We asked our teachers both newcomers and veterans alike to reflect on their first experiences in the game and to consider what lessons we might apply to our classroom instruction.  The first responses coming in are very telling:

After a couple of unhappy days, something happened that turned it around for me. People started helping me – not only that, but on two different days, very advanced players went on quests with me. What a totally different experience it was! I loved playing. It was so much fun, and I was learning a tremendous amount by following their lead and asking questions. It’s lonely to struggle by yourself, and many times I thought that this must be how students feel when they get stuck and are not allowed to work with anyone else.

This response really highlights the value of the social component, something that good games typically foster but too often our classrooms discourage.  Another teacher shared this observation:

Each quest would expand the area you could investigate. Each quest would introduce you to more and more challenging obstacles to overcome. Some quests taught you how to fish, earn money with a trade, and use different talents. You were not tossed in the middle of the pool with all your skills in place, you had to learn them one or two at a time. New skills built upon previous knowledge.

This mastery-based approach is not common in our schools, primarily because time for learning is a set constant.  The mentality is, “if you don’t get it, sorry, we have to move on.”  Keeping your experiences within your “regime of competence” is a concept also reflected by this educator:

WoW is good at starting you off small – just a few spells, easily defeated baddies, and quests that let you go practice your skills without aggroing mobs. The game is also good at keeping you within your skill realm. You won’t find any level 30 foes in the level 1 areas so you’re usually pretty safe from biting off more than you can chew.

On the concept of feedback to the player (what we might call assessment), one of our educators shared this observation:

I could see that I was making progress, and that was motivating. Also the frequent advancing in levels at the beginning stages. I was so happy when my level went up! I’ve rarely seen this technique done in education, but it could certainly be borrowed.

I was so impressed by the thoughtfulness and reflection of these educators I had to go ahead and share it.  There are many more educators who’ll be sharing their reflections on exploring World of Warcraft this week.

Are you a gaming educator?  What parallels can you make between game design and good instructional design?

2 Responses to “Teachers Playing World of Warcraft”

  1. Thuan says:

    I am a former WoW player and often miss the time I spent playing. Nowadays, I am too busy to return to it but maybe one day I will.

    The beauty of the game definitely lies in the game designers ability to provide game content for the variety of player types. I can name three kings of players but I am sure there are more. You have the pure gamer. This person plays the game like any other game and may approach the game alone without interacting with the other gamers. It may be a longer route levelling up but it can be done. There are the social players, who thrive in group work and tackling challenges collaboratively. Then there are PVPers. These players want to fight other players.

    The game accommodates to these varying players and as the developers release new content they increase quality of play for the diversity of players. Students are essentially players. They enter the game of school with varying playing styles. Schools have to consider this diversity in order to keep the students playing the game. If they feel like school isn’t fitting to their style, they leave either physically or mentally. Games lose interest if they get boring or if they are to hard for the individual. Blizzard works to create the bridges for comfort and play.

    Now I will take another approach in looking at WoW as a source for teaching practice. I will talk about end game content. This part is extremely complex and interesting but I think I will only discuss one part of it. End game content must be done in groups. The challenges cannot be done alone. Although, players will surprise you. When discussing the diversity of players, its important to consider the differences. At the same time, once players reach end game, they do need to conform to some extent in order to experience the tougher
    challenges. Like teaching, we want students to approach school in the ways they know best but we also want to take them to a place where they can be social individuals working together to take on the future. I know it sounds corny. But Blizzard has done this, and has one of the largest number of subscribers to their game service. I think its worth thinking about

  2. [...] Edurealms has a brilliant article exploring the educational value of World of Warcraft. Check out the article: Teachers Playing World of Warcraft. [...]

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