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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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:

 

 

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A Liberatory Literacy

While Ohman’s article Literacy, Technology, and Monopoly Capital argues that technological literacy, or new media literacy, will simply promote the idea of “monopoly capitalism,” Yancey’s work Made Not Only in Words, Composition in a New Key, contends that this new literacy will help negotiate a more positive type of economy that is “driven by use value” (Yancey 301). Although Ohman and Yancey are writing in different eras which naturally is illustrated from rather disconnected economic contexts, they both categorize new media literacy in social terms from an economic perspective.

 

By utilizing Ohman’s article as a precedence that Yancey responds to through her discussion of literacy and the economy, we can see the development of new media literacy from a social and historical perspective. Because Ohman is writing near the advent of the personal computer, he is rather skeptical and believes that “the computer and its software are an intended and developing technology, carrying forward the deskilling and control of labor,” and draws parallels to F.W. Taylor’s work on assembly lines, which all contribute to Ohman’s idea of monopoly capitalism (Ohman 708).  Ohman extends this idea to the classroom, claiming that the attempt to utilize technology in school settings will not transform education, but will simply contribute to the increasing politicization of the educational system. New media and technology are a way for businesses to stimulate and direct educational processes, so do not have “liberatory potential” (710). Yancey is similarly concerned with the economy’s role in evolving literacies by claiming that the expanding writing public has contributed to globalization, which has led to a loss of jobs. This speaks to Ohman’s references to Taylor and the dehumanization of the creation process, but Yancey further explores this type of labor development in more positive terms of globalization leading to new forms of cooperation and communication among previously disparate social realms. While Ohman does not address these more positive societal developments, his definition of literacy is inseparable from social constructs so does support Yancey’s socially-charged claims.

 

Ohman argues that literacy is a social exchange that will always contain unresolvable political conflict. Although he claims that new media and technology cannot advance the educational system, he also demonstrates that this technology can’t be separated from his socially affected and continually developing definition of literacy. His resistance to new media’s place in the classroom is very clearly delineated, but he is unable to argue against its place in the evolution of literacy. He concludes with the statement, “It’s worth trying to reconstitute literacy as a process of liberation– but also to remember that work for literacy is not in itself intrinsically liberating” (Ohman 713). This remark illustrates that although Ohman claims to not believe that technology can radically change writing, he has incredible foresight which allows his argument to carry validity in the current debates about how to utilize technology in the classroom.

Yancey then expands on and complicates this idea of “literacy as a process of liberation” by demonstrating that screen literacy, or new media literacy, will not only aid students in their education but will also prepare them for our economy’s increasing globalization by providing them with competitive skills. Where Ohman believes that computer literacy is not applicable to or diminishes the skills necessary to succeed beyond education, Yancey argues that the educational system, particularly composition, can help students engage with new media and then act as a gateway to the real world where they will be able to effectively “become members of the writing public” (Yancey 306). Yancey also agrees with Ohman’s assessment that literacy is not inherently liberatory, but situates her view of this in terms of the student/professor relationship. She contends that if literacy is a social process, “Shouldn’t the system of circulation– the paths that the writing takes– extend beyond and around the single path from student to teacher?” (Yancey 311). This argument can stem from the ongoing debate of how to utilize technology in the classroom in a way that expands and, as Ohman would term it, liberates students from the traditional and more restrictive model of students writing only for their professor. So how can schools and universities utilize new media in a liberatory way that allows students to participate in the increasing globalization of society? Neither Yancey nor Ohman provide a concrete solution to the issue of new literacies that attempt to engage with more global views, but they both establish that these concerns are worth addressing and have no ready solutions.

Taking advantage of tools and bewaring of false promises

In “Blinded by the Letter Why Are We Using Literacy as a Metaphor for Everything Else!” Anne Frances Wysocki and Johndan Johnson-Eilola address two myths that are associated with discussions of “literacy,” one, that literacy is always a tool of liberation for oppressed peoples, and two, that literacy will improve an individual’s sense of self and moral character. I have often had a bad taste in my mouth when reading academic discussions of literacy in the sense that academic efforts to offer literacy to oppressed peoples are like wealthy philanthropy—rich people donate money because it makes them feel good, but more often than not, not because it will really create substantial change. I’m not saying that efforts to share literacies are not worthwhile and effective, but I don’t think teaching someone to read and write is the panacea that will dissolve class inequity. Literacy is just a piece of the puzzle. The Wysocki and Johnson-Eiolola article was refreshing to me. This quote from Ruth Finnegan words it well, “So, when people might want, for example, houses or jobs or economic reform, they arc instead given literacy programs. (41)” 

The second myth taken up by Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola is that the book, and the book alone, offers people the necessary self-reflection to become more self realized and moral individuals. A book or literacy for that matter does not by default make you a moral person. I hear this in the tone of people’s voices when they react to discovering that another individual has never read a book or only plays video games. Yes, reading does open you up to considering moral ideas, but it does not inherently make you moral. The cultural expectation to read can be oppressive. This Portlandia sketch sums up this myth pretty well to me.

Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola continue their argument by applying their discussion of literacy myths to computers, urging readers to consider the use of the term “literacy” when applying it to computers—for fear that we might apply the same assumptions and myths to computer literacy. Efforts by the Clinton administration to put a computer in every classroom seem to be tangential to this idea of applying the same myths of literacy to computers. Computers in every classroom did not save students, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt them either.  

The second assumed promise of literacy that the authors warn us to consider carefully is this idea of improving the self, the bildungsroman of literacy. A bildungsroman is a literary term for a coming of age story. Computers are very much tied to self-improvement and authoritative self-identity. We can see these myths embodied in rags to riches stories like that of Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates, all wunderkinds whose abilities and destinies were unleashed because of computers.

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We cannot assume that people are missing out on the good life if they don’t know how to work an iPod.

But to completely dismiss computers and computer literacy because it brings along some myths of overzealous promise is unwise.

Computers can be powerful tools for discovering identities and understanding how power is negotiated. InColin Lankshear and Michele Knobel’s article, “’New’ Literacies: Research and Social Practice,” the authors analyze “‘new’ literacies” (which at the time of the article’s publication are new but today are more broadly accepted as commonplace)

in the form of blogs, online fan fiction and “synchronous online communities (this appears to be a precursor to things like World of Warcraft).

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It took me awhile to wrap my head around the idea that each online community represents a separate discourse community, thereby offering an individual the ability to become literate within that discourse community.

Each community: fan fiction fans, synchronous online community members, and bloggers, all three of these discourses offered community members avenues for re-imagining their identities and expressing themselves in ways that conventional media and reading and writing outlets had not.

Lankshear and Knobel classify communication through fan fiction and online synchronous communities as “relationship technology” rather than “information technology” (while blogs seem to stand in both categories), and they argue that awareness of these literacies can be applied in the classroom. I would rephrase this suggestion as “know your population. ”

Framing curriculum in formats that are personally compelling for students is beneficial in terms of engagement for the students. Students can have “authority” over their school assignments in ways that traditional research papers may not allow, capitalizing on the “relationship technology” that youth are so adept at navigating.

An article in A New Literacies Sampler continues along similar lines as Lankshear and Knobel. In “Popular Websites in Adolescents’ Out-of-School Lives: Critical Lessons on Literacy” by Jennifer Stone, Stone explores how popular websites used by teenagers support literacy practices encouraged in schools (a la Robert Brooke’s “Underlife and Writing Instruction” wherein the transgressive activities of students in class actually reinforce classroom goals). In Stone’s research she observes youth using the rhetorical skills that complement classroom practices. Stone suggests that schools can help students to “begin addressing the convergence of genres, modalities, and inter-textuality to promote consumption” (61) that is inherent in many popular websites.

In conclusion, it may be beneficial to use technological literacy in the classroom as a tool for empowerment and self-realization, but it is necessary not to overstate what our claim of “literacy” offers students. We are offering them tools, but we are not necessarily offering liberation or morality. It is also important to note that the tools benefit not just the students, but also, us, as teachers in our ability to engage our students.