I don't really have first hand experience on MMOGs. My knowledge of it as a learning environment comes from reading the dissertations of Constance Steinkuehler (2005) and Marko Siitonen (2007). And reading "The Noob" online comics by Gianna Masetti.
Recently my 7 year old nephew taught me how to play an online MMOG called Adventure Quest Worlds (AQW). He wanted me to help him with bosses so he could unlock other areas to explore.
AQW is a 2D Flash MMOG. My initial impression of it is that it's a child's game because of the anime like graphics. I realized later on as I played the game that it did have some of the characteristics of MMORPGs and probably have learning potential.
Going back to our game play. I started with a healer character and simply followed my nephew around, taking instructions from him on what to click here and there. He certainly knew his way around. I also served as an oral reader for the big words in the quest's text.
Economy of Clicks
What I liked about AQW is its simplicity. It's easy to train characters, you go out and do your thing. There is no need to train in chopping wood, or doing crafts ... It's interface is pretty basic, an hp and xp bar. And a set of icons for special moves or powers. But more importantly is that there is what I call an economy of clicks in the interface. A few clicks of the mouse and you're character moves here and there. The distances of findable items in a room is very small. This efficiency of interaction is the same with LMS course pages, wherein the findable items are on a compressed list of text.
In 3D Virtual Worlds finding items require more clicks or involvement on the part of the player. You have to press your arrow keys for so long just to go from here to there. Virtual Worlds inherit the geographical characteristics of the real world. Very few items in RL is just a click away, except for the tv, boom box ....wait...where did I put that remote again?
I noticed some differences in how I and my nephew play. He was basically an explorer and role player. He was currently into knights theme and he was role playing as a knight. I turned out to be a collector. While my nephew was interested in getting the right look on his character regardless of enhancements or item levels, I wanted better weapons and armor. He wanted form, I wanted functionality. He was interested in aesthetics, I was interested in increasing my hp,xp, and reputation level. In my case it means having to finish quest or grinding in bosses rooms to secure a prized drop. Which usually means killing the mob 20 times or so. We ended up playing in different areas of the MMOG and only occasionally summoning each other for help.
Another difference is that the child doesn't know strategy. He can't manage his mana, e.g. healing only when his hp reaches 75% to conserve mana. He doesn't know how to optimize the sequence of his special moves so that he will continue to strike while the other powers are charging. He would not withdraw from the boss room and rest outside while I keep the boss occupied. He would just stand his ground, hack...hack...until his character or the boss is defeated. There are bosses with pets (not always looking like an animal) that are needed to be defeated first before the boss will lose some of its hp. The pets regenerate so there is a need to assign some players to simply defeating the pets and not attacking the boss. Some players would have to take damage from the boss during this stage as well. But the child and including a lot of the players just attack the boss, ending in defeat for the entire crew. These weaknesses have the potential of being teacheable moments.
Strategic thinking is one possible learning experience from AQW. I gradually gravitated towards PVP when my character is rank 10, level 25. It's interesting to observe and learn from the other players in the chat allowed areas (where the big kids probably are; my nephew was left in the canned-chat areas). They taught me how to sequence attacks (hit the restorers first). One group taught me how to steal a win when the opponents are ahead i.e. attack the other team when they're in the captains room and their hp is weakest. Of course this only works when the point difference is small. Another player taught me how to hide behind the captain or bosses to prevent the opponent from double clicking my character. Unfortunately I learned this only through observation as the setup of the PVP room doesn't allow for strategic conference. After spawning in the room you are already allowed to rush out and kill mobs. I don't know if holding the combatants in the safe zone for let's say a minute before allowing them to come out will encourage discussions on strategy. It's really difficult to chat and brawl at the same time. Most of the chats are single words, yes, nooo, kk, brb and the occasional wtf?
Winning in the PVP area is more of luck though. Since players are not allowed to select teams, the win will depend on when you're assigned to a more experienced team. Imho that's about 50%.
Socialization is not a big draw for AQW. The groups are temporary and you're not allowed to form clans or guilds (at least for free players, I don't know about member players).
Finally, I think AQW can be used to teach micro-economics :-). Players work to acquire gold, rank, reputation; and unlock items. The gold has value because it can be exchanged with digital items offered by the game, such as armor, helmet, potions etc. The rank raises hp and ability to enhace some digital items. Reputation unlock shops. The game makes some item more precious by making it cost more, or scarce (because you can't buy it, it has to be dropped by a powerful monster). AQW does not seem to allow exchange, selling, or giving inventory items to each other. But still this could be a hook (prior knowledge) that economics teachers can use.
What I've learned from this experience is that I've confirmed some of what Steinkuehler is saying about MMOG as a learning environment. I also feel that adults (parents in particular) should play with their children and use that opportunity as learning moments. It's also a good way to connect and use the game as a conversation piece of sorts.
Masetti, G. The Noob. Available at http://www.clichequest.com/index.php.
Siitonen, M. (2007). Social interaction in online multiplayer communities. Doctoral dissertation, University of Jyväskylä, Finland. Available at https://jyx.jyu.fi/dspace/bitstream/handle/123456789/13444/9789513929312.pdf?sequence=1; Also at http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-951-39-2931-2.
Steinkuehler, C.A. (2005). Cognition and learning in massively multiplayer online games: A critical approach. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Available at http://website.education.wisc.edu/steinkuehler/thesis.html.
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