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Game Review from an educator perspective

When I first began playing World of Warcraft, I was trying to imagine how I might use this in a classroom. I started out, as I imagine everyone does, with a weak character and no knowledge of my surroundings. Unfortunately, I immediately forgot why I was playing and set out to improve my character and learn about the world I now inhabited. I believe this is the challenge we face as educators. If these games are this immersive and engaging, how exactly to we either steal that attention, or borrow it for our own purposes.
Fortunately, when the headphones came off, I began to think about how engaged I had been, and began running through the various cognitive skills I had been using during the game. I began to think back and I remembered, that since I was trying to experience as much as I could as fast as I could I ran off and got myself killed very quickly. After that, I began thinking a little more strategically. Which monsters can I beat easily, and which ones will provide me with the greatest risk-benefit ratio. Soon I was challenging my character to the limits, but shying away from battles that I knew I could not win. Instead of dying quickly, I now found myself leveling up, and gathering loot. This found me in my next dilemma, as my carrying capacity was soon used up, and I needed to sell to make some space. I found my way to a village and began selling what I had. I soon found that some of the loot I had collected was very valuable, and some of it was virtually worthless. This knowledge would later help me strategically collect the best items on my quests, in order to be able to carry as much as possible.

While in the village, I found my first quest and set out. Along the way, I encountered increasingly powerful creatures wanting to kill me. While I was not interested in socializing during this gaming research, I did find that a limited amount of cooperation with the people around me was demonstrably helpful. A few shared combat experiences, and I was feeling more and more a part of a greater community. Given a stronger desire to befriend those around me, I might have communicated more, or even been a more effective quester.
Finishing the quest, I left the game behind, and put back on my educator’s helmet for a while. What had I learned from the experience? As a professional adult educator, I had learned lessons in cost-benefit ratios, strategic thinking, economics, and social dynamics. Many of these same lessons, I have already learned in real life, but many students have never had the opportunity. I began to see areas toward which I could direct students. I began to think of ways to bring groups together for guided team building, and strategic planning. I started to image a chance to excite students productively with something that already excites them.

Gee (2003) points out that video games tend to focus on building toward mastery at each level, only to have that mastery taken away or challenged at the next level. I realized that, except for my initial foray into excessive violence, the game had presented me with a world that became increasingly difficult as I progressed. With each level I gained, there were new stronger monsters that challenged my new strength, but also offered greater rewards. Traditional schooling on the other hand appears to be moving in exactly the opposite direction. Classroom under incredible pressure to produce test scores at any cost, are more often teaching to the middle creating mastery for none.
In my final reflections, I find that World of Warcraft is a dangerously engaging game. With immersive 3D graphics, and exciting game play, I truly forgot my mission as an educator. Trying to compete against that level of interactive fun seems a lost cause. Finding ways to borrow some of the built in engagement that students already have, and tap into that excitement with games like World of Warcraft appears to be a necessity, not an option.

References
Gee, J. P. (2003, May). High Score Education. Retrieved April 2011, from Wired.com: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.05/view.html?pg=1

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