WoW…I’m Not Sure About Playing Games in the Classroom, Especially World of Warcraft.

Video games have been a major part of my life experience ever since I was able to hold a controller and barely move and jump in Super Mario Brothers or swing a sword in The Legend Of Zelda for the NES.

 

super-mario-bros-start-screen.jpglegend of zelda start screen

Sources: Rebubble and Nitwitty

My experience with gaming has evolved over the years from home consoles to handheld devices to PC gaming. I have spent around 7 of the last 10 years of my experience with gaming has evolved over the years from home consoles to handheld devices to PC gaming. I have spent around 7 of the last 10 years of World of Warcraft’s (WoW) existence playing the game as well as playing League of Legends, Hearthstone, and other multiplayer games and I would love nothing more than to find a way to incorporate video games or game design concepts into the classroom on some scale. From digging into writings by pieces by Bogost, Alberti, and Gee on what we can learn from gaming, game design, and gaming concepts, I was sure that introducing these kinds of concepts into the classroom could be wildly successful.  I was all ready to pop the champagne and celebrate, but then…

I really wanted to write an entirely positive article, but I guess I am too enticed by challenging academics at their assertions because once I started reading the Colbys’ article I slammed on the proverbial brakes and turned that celebration car around, faster than you could say “LEEEEEEEEEEEEEROY JEEEEEEEENKINS!

And on that day, a meme was born.

“A Pedagogy of Play: Integrating Computer Games into the Writing Classroom” by Rebekah Shultz Colby and Richard Colby weaves an idyllic world where they could advertise a class in which the entire class would spend the semester playing Blizzard Entertainment’s wildly successful and still very popular game, WoW, and I am here to try to (probably unsuccessfully) tactfully explain why this would be a terrible idea that would not work outside of isolated cases. Maybe this type of class is not supposed to be adopted in any significant way in a school system. I find that kind of exclusivity to be a bit reprehensible, which is why I am so incensed at the notion of WoW or any high-intensity computer game, being used as the core aspect of a classroom.

If my work at community colleges and life as a student has been any indication, many students would not have the resources to be able to take the opportunity offered by this class. Sure, at Denver University, a private college where tuition currently sits at around 15,096 dollars a semester, students might be able to afford a computer with the capabilities necessary to run WoW well enough to play the game. However, if implemented where I live, go to school, and work, I do not believe this would be the case. While many students have laptops, most of them are basic machines that are built with only the bare essentials to utilize programs like Microsoft Office, Facebook (maybe casual games on said website), and content streaming services.

freebies2deals-best-buy-tech.png

Given these choices, many would take the HP. Credit: Freebies2deals

Predominantly, these are the kinds of computers that are advertised to students by stores like Best Buy: non-gaming computers with no dedicated graphics processor that would barely run the game if at all. One would need to buy a laptop that  costs around $700 to run the game in a way that is playable.  Further, WoW requires its own monetary subscription of $15 a month after you buy the game, which, at this current moment, involves spending at around $40 to purchase the game and the most recent expansion. I would fear that students would not be totally clear on what they would need when signing up for a class like this and then have to drop, leaving them sans an important class for their GE. None of the financial aspects of this endeavor are examined in the paper; the authors only made the point that “WoW has relatively low system requirements.” Send a message to any PC gamer and ask them if playing on the lowest settings makes a game fun to play. The answer you will probably get is:

This class concept is not feasible or accessible to the larger student population of an American college campus, especially community colleges.

I would also question a student’s time dedication to be able to participate in this class. Unless you are already an avid WoW player, which the paper identifies is not required, there is a huge amount of time that a player must commit to gain expertise in any aspect of the game without putting in a significant amount of research on other websites (and I would argue that both of these are required to be able to contribute to a wiki or make a guide on the game). For some students, playing the game might take far in excess of the expected time, and, even then, I would be concerned how much time would be required to play the game in addition to time spent doing the various class writing assignments. Leveling a character, finding and immersing oneself in a guild, leveling a profession, and learning how the mechanics of the game work take hours upon hours of play and research even in the current version of the game which is MUCH simpler than it was in 2008 when this article was published. Most active guilds will not look at you twice if you are not at or near max level and player interaction is minimal outside of a guild. In addition, you just do not learn enough about the game or its community at low levels.

 

 time played

This is my most recent character and I have not even gotten him to max level.

And I sort of know what I am doing half the time.

The Colbys only identify two cases of students in this experimental class environment, “Josh, an experienced WoW player” and Tiffany who had a roommate who played WoW often and took the class with her. I was disappointed by the lack of other representative experiences for this proposal of a WoW classroom if a student was not a WoW player. There was no real consideration of what to do if one or more of the students in the class decided that they did not like the game besides the result of dropping, which, again, really punishes the student.

I honestly do not know of a massively multiplayer online style game that would dodge both of these serious issues with this pedagogy. I want to love this idea. I REALLY want to. But just like any game community, even if one could find a way to make this work, I doubt its longevity. Semester to semester a teacher might have to find a new game or gaming community as games die and a new fad emerges. When this article was written WoW was the biggest PC game that had ever existed boasting around ten million subscribers, but now the game has less than half of that number and seems to still be declining.

 

WoW Subscriber numbers 001 jim younkin_b.png

Now down to around 5.5 million subs.

A multiplayer online battle arena (moba) like League of Legends would be the WoW of today, but who know how long that game would last (Nor would I ever subject my students to that game’s community. I have been called every slur, profanity and disgusting use of language imaginable when I am playing badly in that game. It is the YouTube comments section of video games. Only click this if you want an example. It is not safe for work because of the intense language.)

Gaming is definitely a New Media Literacy that, as time passes, more and more students will be playing in some fashion. Involving games, game design, and gaming rhetoric in the classroom is worth studying. Programs like Classcraft are already paving the way for creating augmented reality games in the classroom environment. To me, this is the most exciting use of the excursions composition academics have been making, in addition to using video games as a way of studying rhetoric and genre in the classroom.

I think it is about time to end this rant and hope that this even fits the bill for this blog. I leave you again with an OC remix of the week. This is Legend of Zelda: ALttP ‘Come to the Dark Side, It’s a Funky Place’ by Nostalvania:

 

 

Adventures in Interdisciplinary Composition

In part two of Richard Miller’s “This is How We Dream,” he asks, “What would it mean to build a building that united the best of the humanities and the best of the sciences?”  He even has a 3-D architectural model, one that takes out the parking lot in order to add a science wing onto his current humanities building.  I love this idea.  And not just because it gets rid of a parking lot.  Especially because I teach composition, it’s becoming easier, or maybe just more necessary (even obvious?) to see the broadening definition of what it means to compose.  With Miller’s idea for (the best of) English and (the best of) science together under one roof, it seems only necessary to adopt Brian Morrison’s definition of composing: “the thoughtful gathering, construction, or reconstruction of a literate act in any given media” (Yancey 2004, p. 315). And with this changing definition, it’s exciting to dream of the excellent interdisciplinary adventures that could ensue.

But I’m wondering if, first, it’s beneficial to imagine what a composition would begin to look like if several branches of the humanities (say, historians, linguists, and trustworthy philosophers) built a series of courses together. Or maybe it makes more sense to look at a more specific branch of humanities, like English studies. With partnerships between film & media, communication, and cultural studies alone, students could take classes that build their composition skills. That is, courses that build upon what they already know about producing, consuming, and critiquing texts–print or digital or whatever we conceive them to be. When I think about what English courses often do (gatekeep) versus what they could do, I feel a simultaneous jolt of excitement and sad resignation.  What should English do, except help students more successfully tell stories, understand  voices–their own and those of others, study the world, and critique all of these things, all with an end goal of helping students to navigate life, doing more than nudging them toward a predetermined social place. And if life is becoming more multimodal, more intertextual, then classrooms can play a crucial role in helping students to not only develop these types of digital literacy skills, but also critically engage with digital texts and cultures.

Yet, according to Yancey, “we have already committed to a theory of communication that is both/and: print and digital” (p. 307).  This simplistic acknowledgment, of course, isn’t enough, and I’m glad that Yancey questions the ready availability of technology in the composition (or any) classroom. She argues that “students will not compose and create” or, I’d like to add, make use of their ability to push the boundaries of language, persuasion, design, collaboration, and presentation, if their interaction is simply to “complete someone else’s software package” (p. 320). This seems to lead back to a question that Kory asked during one of our first classes: do students need to learn code in order to be able to truly understand and produce an online composition? (or something to that effect.)  The answer to this question may mean that the interdisciplinary work of English studies that  I envision won’t be enough. We may need to build English (or composition or humanities or…) courses with help from the best of the sciences (whatever Miller means by that). Maybe we do need to bring them over to the HUM building. Who’s good at writing grants?

Ethanol, Swine Flu and The New Literacies

Our culture has taught us to be inherently skeptical. Whether it has been killer bees, the electric car, Avian Flu, H1N1 or the promises of ethanol, we are trained that big issues come and go. We watch things cycle in and out of public consciousness (what is the top news story for several weeks straight might not get even a mention in a month’s time) and are trained to jump on the bandwagon of what promises to be the next big thing only to find out later that the hype was nothing more than misplaced optimism and over-speculation as to the future trajectory of whatever phenomenon we were chasing. How is hype over New Literacies be any different? Particularly when placed in direct comparison (or even opposition to) the conventional written essay? If our culture has taught us anything it should be that we should step into the “new” cautiously. You would think that part of our identity as Americans would be that of savvy hype critics. Instead it seems, as Buckingham Points out in Introducing Identity, that what we consider to be advancements in our culture “are contributing to a sense of fragmentation and uncertainty, in which the traditional resources for identity formation are no longer straightforward or so easily available.” In a sense we are becoming fence-sitters and fickle as who we are depends on the context of where we are – whether it is in a face to face social environment or “hanging out” on facebook. This fragmentation, it seems, is taking away from our ability to see things clearly. If we jump on the New Literacy bandwagon and completely refocus composition classrooms in favor of teaching visual compositions might that, decades from now, seem as quaint and ridiculous as Hall’s 1906 suggestion of a cold bath as a remedy for being horny?

Continue reading