Imagining Future Worlds
Are MMO platforms only suited for games? As these virtual worlds become more complex, more realistic, and more pervasive, what might they become? This article explores non-game uses of MMO environments that are plausible and make sense.
MMORPGs are designed with game mechanics that purposely encourage time investment as well as some level of emotional and social investment. Some MMORPG players are comfortable claiming that MMORPGs are inherently addictive. Currently, the reward cycles in the games shape the players to pursue arbitrary goals of camping and killing mobs, but what if we created goals with educational value? Can we not harness the game mechanics of MMORPGs to create pedagogical tools?
When I was attending Haverford College, a Quaker School (middle school) in the neighborhood used what is called a "Story Path Curriculum". The curriculum of a typical semester is embedded in an ongoing story-line set in a historically interesting period. For example, the students in the class are each assigned a character-role in a hypothetical late 19th-century iron-forging village in England. From baker to tax collector, from blacksmith to local pastor, they have a good variety of roles covered. For English class, they may be asked to write a creative piece of "a day in the life of …". For History class, they may be asked to research the common social or seasonal problems an iron-forging village faced. For Math class, they may be asked to determine the optimal proportion of crops to plant or to calculate the most profitable trade routes. For Art class, they may be asked to create a small-scale model of the village. For Social Studies, the students may have to decide how to deal with a local epidemic of scarlet fever.
Thus, instead of having disparate subjects that students may not find relevant in their lives, the point of a Story Path Curriculum is to create a fun and interesting hook to draw the students in and then embedding the traditional subjects in a relevant and memorable way. And of course, the Story Path Curriculum makes sense in a grander scale in an MMO environment where students from different schools and states or countries have their own village in a larger virtual country – each having influence on their microcosm while being part of an interconnected macrocosm. Elements of discovery and collaboration can be built into the environment to encourage different forms of collaboration. For example, perhaps a new technology or crop variety can be found but requires multiple villages to pool their resources together. Students from different schools may have to coordinate and share their research in order to achieve these goals.
Learning should be fun and engaging, and an MMO paradigm can make sense. It provides an environment where different teachers can follow their own schedules and pedagogical goals. It also puts a twist on addiction. What do we say when our kids are addicted to learning?
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