In one of Appleton Tower’s finest computer labs, students and academics alike met to enter World of Warcraft (a Massively Multiplayer Online Game). The challenge, set by Louise Connelly and Clara O’Shea, was to get a handle on the social value of online game-based learning, and its potential for understanding how we learn.
World of Warcraft is built around community, with different ‘classes’ gifted with different skills and characters of all levels banding together for common goals. Though our group was made up of experts and novices, the focus was on supporting the weakest and those with most experience were eager to help us newbies achieve a sense of the game’s richness.
As a novice, immersion in the game is bewildering and death becomes a tangible fear. There are certainly elements of culture shock. But, as Clara pointed out, “death does not mean failure, it just means you have to work on your strategy!” As we progressed through intrepid quests, we were gradually bound up in the flow of the story and problem-solving became a more organic process.
As we battled together against the encroaching hoard, a definite community was taking shape. Knowledge was shared freely for our collective good, the weakest were defended and we split the loot. Not only was this a social experience, but a mentally focussed one also as we came to identify with the story and strove to overcome the world’s obstacles.
As we left, a strong awareness of the public perception of online gaming and the apparent absurdity of booking out a state-of-the-art computer lab to play World of Warcraft was voiced. However, the value of online gaming communities is equally clear to those studying how we form identities and how we learn simply by being in the world.