Monday, July 17, 2006

MMORPG: Aldrich's critique

I'm not much of a game player (mental block) so I'm trying to organise an interview with some young World of Warcraft experts to get some idea of what they are learning from it.

In preparing for the interview I came across Clark Aldrich's reasons for deciding to develop a single player educational simulation, rather than a multi-player.
Multi-player simulations have all of the problems of role playing:
  • Role-playing environments are highly public. Most participants do not have the confidence or desire to try new behaviour that might be more successful. Instead they resort to the risk-adverse patterns where they are most comfortable.
  • People in a role play don't act "normally." People typically won't act petty, or territorial, or power hungry, when acting in front of a group...
  • The logistics of getting people to meet at the same time is hugely expensive and time-consuming... Training has to be flexible because the real world is not.
  • Groups of people act differently from one another. Some groups take it seriously, others joke around. ...
  • There is no repeatability... Human participants become exhausted and frustrated and bored. Computer characters (bots) never do ...
  • Real people act erratically ... the point of a simulation is to focus on key relationships, not on the entire range of human behaviour ...
These are all educational reasons for not opting for a multi-player simulation. Having said all of that, there are many non-educational reasons, including competition, buzz and sheer fun, that a fair number of educational simulation designers will choose to create experiences with multi-player components.
- Simulations and the Future of Learning by Clark Aldrich, p 101
Is Aldrich right? I'm not sure but feel he has made some strong points.

4 comments:

Clark Aldrich said...

Good morning. I just wanted to add a few more points. Quite a few instructors and gamers think that if you put a group of people in a multiplayer environment, give then a few high level challenges, then voila! Learning happens. If it were that easy, then teachers could just round up kids and put them in a gymnasium, and walk away for the day.

Second, the interface is a huge part of the learning, as it facilitates transfer of content. This does not preclude MMORPGs, but it ups the ante.

Tony Forster said...

With World of Warcraft, "teachers could just round up kids and put them in a gymnasium, and walk away for the day". But they don't need to. Kids can do this at home. They are learning skills like resume writing (yes, to join your guild of choice you may need to submit a written resume) management skills, strategic thinking etc. You don't use MMORPGs like WoW FOR teaching, the game IS the learning. If you are trying to use a MMORPG to "transfer content", you have missed the point.

You could lock the kids in the gym with a game authoring environment like Gamemaker and they would be learning number,cartesian coordinates, variables and boolean logic. The bigger the group the better, peer tutoring seems to increase with the square of the class size.

Schools should realise that the internet and games have opened up powerful ways of learning. They should support the learning that is happening and compliment that learning with those things which arent being learnt

Bill Kerr said...

I think the point Clark is making is that the educator / game designer is more in control of achieving prescribed learning outcomes by using a single player game rather than a MMORPG

In both scenarios there is a rich learning environment with lots of higher order thinking / Big Skills, as listed in Clark's SimWords glossary occurring but with a MMORPG the learning is less predictable due to the factors listed - erratic human behaviour, no repeatability, logistic hassles (getting everyone together), less risk taking in front of others

In my experience of teaching logo, game maker, chess most students need some sort of teacher scaffolding, be it obtrusive or unobtrusive or built into the software, to advance to higher order type thinking. Logo, chess, game maker are not automatically "weeties for the brain" except for a tiny minority. I would be most happy to just leave them to their own devices and learn but that only works with the occasional self motivated student. It could be that our typical school environments are creating this passive dependency, that's a worry. But how do we redesign the aircraft in mid-air, as Pat Thomson used to say? I think Clark's approach of keeping some measurable control over learning outcomes is more likely to succeed in the practice of transformation.

Tony Forster said...

Bill says:

Logo, chess, game maker are not automatically "weeties for the brain" except for a tiny minority. I would be most happy to just leave them to their own devices and learn but that only works with the occasional self motivated student.

Thats where we disagree. Thats where Kirschner et al http://projects.ict.usc.edu/itw/gel/Constructivism_Kirschner_Sweller_Clark1.pdf
also get involved. If you can only motivate the minority, you should go back to explicit instruction, they will hate it whatever you do.

I believe that those who can self-motivate are a sizable minority approaching 50%, maybe even 100% if you can find a relevant and authentic project, computers are not everybody's cup of tea. I believe this holds true for state schools as well as private schools. It may be less true in secondary schools where the innate love of learning has been successfully controlled by the system