The media tends to love a story of some Cheeto-dusted, Mountain Dew-chugging troglodyte landing in rehab because Everquest or World of Warcraft more or less encompassed every millisecond of their lives and they, like, totally thought they were a Blood Elf mage in real life or something. Except MMORPGs, or massively multiplayer online role-playing games, actually benefit society when applied to certain situations, but nobody ever talks about it. Academics have seized upon these games in order to better illustrate classroom lessons, build necessary character skills, and other lovely things you’ll find out if you keep reading.
Rather than relying on a pre-existing MMO, sixth-grade teacher and gamer Ben Bertoli developed his very own for classroom use, building off his students’ predilection for the medium. Known as ClassRealm, it turns to the leveling system inherent to most role-players and involves competitions for pizza parties, extended recess, and ice cream, and winning teams must learn how to band together, learn, and answer questions. Bertoli never required his students to take part in the achievement-hoarding process, but discovered they enthusiastically embraced the system and even went so far as to complete additional schoolwork for the rewards!
- Moonbase Alpha:
NASA’s Moonbase Alpha is actually available to play solo or in multiplayer mode, but either way the game-backslash-simulation provides a fully-realized, engaging environment where students soak up lunar lessons. While futuristic in scope, the experience involves very real science, featuring challenges wrapped around colonizing Earth’s beloved satellite. Best of all, it does not require a classroom to play – kids can download for home, and parents love that NASA charges nothing for this educational (and occasionally collaborative) offering.
- Language acquisition:
An experiment conducted by State University of New York’s Edd Schneider and game designer Kai Zheng paired up SUNY Potsdam graduate student volunteers with middle school kids in China. Through Blizzard’s smash hit World of Warcraft, the guild structure involved the adults tutoring their more youthful pupils in English. While completing their assigned quests, ESL students received illustrated instructions helping them learn and retain essential vocabulary words. Participating youngsters absolutely loved the uniquely immersive language lessons, and both Zheng and Schneider were pleased when the Chinese children expressed that gaming with American master’s and Ph.D. candidates proved their favorite, most effective, course.
- Save the world:
Pontifica Universidad Catolica de Chile researchers developed the Classroom Multiplayer Presential Role Playing Game with the hope of exploring the MMO design’s potential in an educational environment. One of the more creative applications involved its incorporation into ecology curricula. Participating students faced down various quests involving real-life issues such as the introduction of new species, viral epidemics, population explosions, and more, with the solutions paralleling how actual ecologists would approach them. First-hand “experience” resonates much further than worksheets modeling hypotheticals.
Part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Microsoft initiative known as The Education Arcade, Revolution serves as an immersive history lesson for classrooms aimed at teaching American kids about their nation’s past. The MMO takes place in 1775, where residents of Williamsburg, Virginia teeter on the brink of exploding against British imperialists. Students take on one of seven different societal positions and analyze the positive and negative consequences of participating in the revolt. There are no “right” or “wrong” decisions, but every decision they make requires and reflects a deep consideration of the complex interplay between then-current overarching culture, economy, and politics.
- Behavior management:
At first, the WoW in School program, created by former biology teacher Lucas Gillespie, reached out to at-risk youth in New York and North Carolina. But it wasn’t long before the after school initiative meant to teach kids the finer points of teamwork and well-researched debates swelled into its very own class. Through MMOs and social media, participating students added literary journeys through Joseph Campbell’s outlines, heightened communication skills, and other necessary reading abilities to their academic arsenals. In response, Gillespie established a wiki so educators around the world could discuss the use of World of Warcraft to close achievement gaps stemming from disruptive behavior.
- Kick shyness:
World of Warcraft also enhances the full capabilities in students who aren’t at risk of living in correctional facilities. Peggy Sheehy, a participant in Gillespie’s WoW in School initiative, applied the after school program’s main motives to helping shy and socially anxious kids develop better people skills. Because the MMO requires considerable collaboration in order to successfully complete raids, group quests, and PVP competitions, the avatars force them to interact with their peers. But the presence of customizable avatars provides a layer of protection to assist them in emerging from inside themselves beyond the computer screen.
- Virtual Peace:
Look, we’ll just say what everyone’s thinking — people seriously suck at feeling and expressing empathy and compassion these days. Virtual Peace addresses this serious social lack through an MMO developed by the Duke-UNC Rotary Center for International Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution. Students and teachers alike enter the game and find themselves faced with the fallout from Hurricane Mitch. They must work together in order to rescue and provide emergency healthcare and resources for the Nicaraguans and Hondurans suffering as a result of the natural disaster. Failure means even more sickness, death, and starvation. So it requires the mind of a not-Patrick Bateman to successfully navigate and accomplish the objectives at hand.
- For science:
University of Wisconsin’s Constance Steinkuehler and Sean Duncan conducted research on the relationship between regular playing World of Warcraft and scientific literacy, revealing that a staggering 85% of conversations between players reflected a solid knowledge of science. Everyone was actually pretty stunned by this news. Because the leveling process requires in-depth research about the mechanisms of the game itself, the critical thinking skills of all those orcs and gnomes and Russian space aliens wound up sharpened in the real world. So all those teachers asking their students to roll with an assassination rogue or shadow priest are actually onto something other than wasting taxpayer money on screwing around with the Night Elf female dance.
- Collaboration! Teamwork!:
Surprised? Because that’s kinda sorta been a recurring theme through many of these MMO classroom applications, because it’s built right there in the format. But even offline, the structure works.
Did your mind totally just make a record scratch noise right there? Because ours did.
Avid gamer, designer, and co-director of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s program in video game development breaks his classroom down into guilds assigned different achievements in order to level up. Everyone starts off with an F and must complete solo and group quests (also known as “normal classwork like quizzes and presentations”) to move up and earn that coveted A. And it works. Otherwise we wouldn’t have bothered mentioning it.