We play games every day, and it is a wonder how closely our imagined games mimic the games in the minds of the people around us.
We’re doing it wrong
I have been spending a lot of time as of late thinking about the connections between students, careers, and college. Many of the education technology solutions out there right now take one of two routes:
- Tell students that they need to go to college and focus on getting them in to college;
- Tell students that they need to pick a career and then work toward that career.
Take, for example, a recent tweet by a random high-schooler, @alisucks.
literally sitting on my computer on naviance searching possible careers to find out what college i should go to
This is, traditionally, how schools, counselors, parents, and ed tech companies approach the question of “what’s next.” And it doesn’t work.
High school cannot be thought of as independent from college or career. Neither can college or career be treated as individual silos with little to no connection between them. Students, educators, and service providers are not connecting the dots for students in a way they can understand.
Who in their right mind thought that this video would help get women interested in the sciences? As the description states, “This is kind of like putting a croissant next to a circuit board in an attempt to get more French people into electrical engineering.”
When people look to flashy lights and stereotypes instead of to proven methods of engagement like gamification I can’t help but…
Let’s guide students to live more interesting lives
My favorite fiction author is Neal Stephenson. And while I have enjoyed almost every book he has ever written, one stands out as my hands-down favorite: The Diamond Age, or A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer.
It is science fiction in the vein of a Dickensian novel, following the life of a street urchin, Nell, who is taken under the wing of various members of the upper crust of society. Nell is also one of three girls, all of different backgrounds and upbringings, who is given a book, the titular Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. This book, built with nanotechnology, is an interactive and adaptive learning system: the platonic ideal of an individual learning plan and comprehensive curriculum.
The Primer, even in an age of advanced technology, is cutting-edge. More importantly, it was commissioned with a specific goal in mind: intellectually steer its reader toward living a more interesting life.
A more interesting life.
This always stands out to me when I reread The Diamond Age. The thought comes from a grandfather who has seen his own children reach adulthood as well-adjusted and successful individuals, but lacking that je ne sais quoi that separates the good from the great.
The method of assembling and leading teams of individuals with specific talents has seen success in corporate and business settings. I wonder if there is a way to adapt it for the classroom.
One of the most popular kinds of video game currently on the market is what is known as an MMORPG – that is, a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. As the name implies, it involves having hundreds or even thousands of players playing and interacting together on a single game server, playing in a world that exists whether they are logged in or not. They can go through the world singly, or they can go through with others – maybe just a buddy, but often there are areas that require 4, 5, or more players to group together.
The current leader in the MMORPG market is World of Warcraft, which currently has between 10 and 12 million players. It is by far the largest, but there are certainly others – Star Wars: The Old Republic, EVE Online, City of Heroes, and dozens more. Some require a monthly subscription fee, while others are free – though players can spend real money to gain in-game items and benefits.
These details, however, aren’t really pertinent to the ideas I have going around in my head; what interests me is the group dynamic that many of these games use. As the leader in the field, I’ll use World of Warcraft for my examples. In World of Warcraft, one of the features they include are dungeons that, ideally, can only be completed with a group of characters. There are dungeons that require groups of five characters, and then raids – larger dungeons – that require 10 or 25 players at a time.
Not only do these dungeons require groups of players, they also require specific composition of those groups. Each player’s character is a member of a class – a warrior, paladin, rogue, shaman, priest, wizard, and more. Each of these classes can play one (or more) of several roles. Each of these roles plays a part in a group, and if they aren’t all present, and they don’t work together, they are likely to fail.
In World of Warcraft, there are three primary roles and one secondary. The first primary role is commonly referred to as a tank. Characters with this role are expected to be out in front of the group, and it is their job to make sure any monsters the group faces focus their attention on the tank. To this end, the tank typically wears heavy armor or has some other means of acquiring a high degree of protection, and also the ability to force computer opponents to focus their attacks on him. Some tanks work best against single targets, while others are more adept with groups, but however many enemies they face, it is their job to make sure the other members of the group take as little damage as possible. The tank’s role is not to deal damage – just to make sure that he (or she) keeps the monster’s attention.
The next primary role is that of the healer. As the name implies, the healer’s job in the group is to heal. The healer makes sure that any damage the other group members take – often primarily the tank – is healed or prevented, and they also frequently have some means of increasing the abilities of the other group members. The healer has to watch out for the other members of the group, keep a constant eye on how healthy each group member is, and make sure that his healing is not so excessive that it attracts the attention of the monsters the tank is fighting. While the healer will occasionally have time to attack the group’s foes, much of a healer’s attention should always be on his fellow group members.
The third primary role is that of the damage dealer, colloquially known as DPS (damage per second, a measurement of how much damage a character can inflict). For a character in the DPS role, it often seems to be the simplest of the three primary roles – attack often, hit hard, and kill enemies as quickly as possible. While it sounds simple – and, of the three roles, the DPS players generally comprise 3 of the 5 members of a 5-man dungeon group – the role of damage dealer often involves knowing which monsters to hit with which abilities, where to stand to avoid being hit by area attacks, and often having only a certain amount of time in which to do their jobs.
There is a secondary role, one that is often, but not always, included in groups, because it can be done by a player also fulfilling one of the primary roles, and that is the role of crowd controller. A crowd controller’s job, when present, is to control the enemies the group faces. This is different from the tank’s job because a crowd controller, instead of getting enemies to focus on him, instead uses abilities that stun, daze, or disorient opponents, making them unable to attack for some period of time. Many classes have abilities that can do things like this, but it takes a skilled player with good timing to use these abilities to their fullest.
A standard 5-player group will ideally have one tank, one healer, and three DPS players. Without all three roles adequately covered, the group will have little chance of success; without a tank, the other players will take too much damage to survive; without a healer, the damage the players take will be more than they can sustain; and without those in the DPS role, they won’t be able to kill their opponents fast enough.
Working together, this group will have a good chance of success; with one player leading the group – choosing which targets to attack first, and which strategies to use – it will be hard to fail. This is the basic group dynamic of World of Warcraft; for the larger groups, they simply increase the number of players taking each role.
While this method of assembling and leading groups has some success in a more corporate or business-oriented setting, I wonder if there is a way to adapt it for the classroom.
Can school classes be divided up into groups, with each member of a group being given a job to fulfill?
Where each member of the group has to rely on his or her fellow group members to do their job in order to accomplish the greater task at hand?
Can the group dynamic of MMORPGs be made useful for educational purposes?
I’m not sure, but it seems to me like an idea worth looking into.
While thinking about the idea of gamification and education, I’ve had a lot of odd ideas go through my head. Many of them are pretty pie-in-the-sky (which shouldn’t be a surprise at all to anyone who knows me), but Andrew, in a discussion with me, had noted that I had some gaming experiences that he didn’t have as much knowledge of – that of pen-and-paper, also known as tabletop, gaming.
Mostly, this comes in the form of roleplaying games, or RPGs for short, and the most prominent of all of these, the biggest name in the field, is Dungeons & Dragons.
Dungeons & Dragons seems to be (even to me) an odd thing to look at as a possible tool for education. Or at least that’s what I thought until I started to look at it.