Let me start by saying that the majority of my knowledge about World of Warcraft comes from representations in the media, particularly the television shows, The Big Bang Theory and South Park. It is almost needless to say that these representations are not always flattering to the WOW player.
However, even as I watched these shows, I knew that these representations did not represent the entirety of the massive online community that is WOW.
In her book, My Life as a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of Warcraft, Bonnie A. Nardi explains what it is like to actually play wow and how the game inspires deep collaboration. “World of Warcraft is an exemplar of a new means of forming and sustaining human relationships and collaborations through digital technology” (5). Via online discussion forums WOW players create a collective learning experience.
World of Warcraft also requires players to engage in experiential learning, of which educational Philosopher John Dewey was a major advocate. Experiential learning is essentially the process of learning through experience. As Nardi states, The notion that one’s “character” can be shaped and refined through deliberate activity is a powerful motivational field in which cultures, or subcultures, may organize themselves (13). In other words, we can use these practices of deliberate action and experiential learning in other areas. Many of the skills required in an MMORPG such as WOW translate particularly well to education strategies.
Nardi discusses the concept of “Theorycrafting” which is the discovery of rules that cannot be determined through play. “WoW came with almost no documentation, and while Blizzard employees sometimes answered questions on official forums, in general the absence of documentation left many juicy problems for theorycrafters to solve” (137). This is where the high-order thinking comes in. Players who engage in theorycrafting, “conducted analyses in which they coordinated multiple results, used theory pragmatically, reasoned through uncertainty, and coordinated theory and data (142). Anyone who has used any kind of online discussion forum probably understands how this process works, but this is how Nardi explains the process of theorycrafting on online forums, “the first poster invited others to help him conceptualize the problem and collect data. Subsequent posters responded, validating that the first poster had raised an interesting issue, then expanding his formulation by enumerating further necessary variables. All agreed to collect and share data” (139). We see in this process a great effort at problem solving by using collaborative thinking and the formation of a collective experience via gaming and online discussion.
One game app that I spend some time with is Dragon Mania Legends, obviously because it allows me to breed dragons, which is not likely something I will ever be able to do in real life. I bring this up because Dragon Mania legends incorporates discussion forums into the extra features of the game. I search through the discussions to find the best dragon combinations to breed a specialized dragon. I never post on the forum myself, but I certainly reap the benefits of others devoted problem solving and in this way I do engage in a collective gaming experience. The game is admittedly very simple, and truly doesn’t require any skill, but I find it interesting that even this simple app utilizes some of the features that make WOW such a collective experience.
I think further examination of the complex learning skills MMORPGs can develop in players may help our culture move past the stereotypical imagining of the gamer as a 40 year old man-boy living in his mom’s basement.
Nardi, B. A. (2009). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?cc=toi;c=toi;idno=8008655.0001.001;rgn=full%20text;view=toc;xc=1;g=dculture