MMO II

7:56 – Breakfast: “Dad, which monster is stronger, the skeletons or the zombies?”

9:37 – Call from home: “Dad, I bought all five levels of the the mage guild, but my hero can’t cast any of the spells.”

12:45 – Lunch: “Dad, today John got the unicorns and they are strong. He killed a whole bunch of elves!”

5:21 – Just walked in the door – “Dad, did you know on Heroes…”

My 6 year old son is learning about a computer game called Heroes of Might and Magic IV, and he can’t stop talking about it. I’ve had to set up rules when he is allowed to talk about the topic or we would discuss nothing else in our home. If we don’t schedule times to play, he asked me every five minutes if we can play ‘tonight’. My response is, “Check the calendar, when does it say we are playing next.” I’ve also given him the manual so that when he asks about a particular aspect of the game, I can tell him to look it up.

There is an excitement in learning; discovering something new. It seems like our first impulse is to share it. Maybe talking about a new found piece of knowledge helps to solidify it in our minds. Or maybe we hope for feedback or a second opinion.

The other night the topic of a new television show came up in a conversation I had with by brother and sister-in-law. The show is called House. “Did you know,” I said, “That the main character is actually British? He got his start on Black Adder, which is a great show, along with another fellow called Steven Fry. They started a show called ‘a bit of Fry and Laurie’, and then played the characters Jeeves and Wooster on PBS, did you see that? No? Have you seen Black Adder? No? Have you seen Stewart little? Yes? The dad on that show is the main character in this new show, House.”

I stopped.

Then I apologized. “That was probably the most boring thing I’ve said all week.”

Having loved Black Adder, and enjoying Jeeves and Wooster, and then realizing that Hugh Laurie was the lead character, and had to learn an American accent, I found the whole thing utterly fascinating. I was bubbling over with all of my new found facts. I wanted to share, and in my excitement, I didn’t stop to think that nobody really much cared for the topic.

MMO provides an interesting learning experience. There is a 160 page manual, (text book?) that comes with the game, but few people care to spend so much time pouring over it. Users buy a game to play, not study. Many game publishers realize this and provide a ‘quick start’ section in their manual, usually not more than 2-3 pages that tell the user how to start up the game. Or many games teach the game by having an in-game tutorial, so the manual is not even needed. d Most of the learning takes place in the game, not by studing the manual.

In a MMO, we have thousands of players scouring the virtual world. They are information gatherers. And as they discover new skills, their first impulse is to share it. When our 7150 group got online to play, I was very excited to share information I had learned. And if you were to ask me why I was excited to share it, I can honestly say that I don’t know for sure. It certainly wasn’t to appear more intelligent than my peers, and I don’t like the spotlight, so I wasn’t doing it to take the center stage. I think part of it was that I was with a group of learners, and if I helped them, maybe as they learn something new they would turn around a share it with me. In fact on Friday night Mark went to great lengths to show us all how to make skeleton boots. Or maybe it’s because I don’t want my fellow students, whom I count as my friends, to have to wander around for 30 minutes to discover something that I spent 30 minutes trying to figure out, and is in fact quite simple.

But a large part of it is simply the thrill of discovery. As I begin to notice certain patterns, or figure something out, there is an excitement in verbalizing my knowledge, explaining my hypothesis, and allowing others to verify or disprove my ideas.

And because there are literally thousands of players online, when I ask a question, there is a good change that somebody in the game has just discovered the answer to the question I’m posing, and will be anxious to share the answer. Some will find the question so simple they don’t want to bother with it. They will recognize me as a newbie, and rightly conclude that I can probably not help them. Others will not even understand the question, let alone the answer. But those on the same learning level as I am will be interested in the question, and offer any information that may help to answer it.

An example of information coming in small packets came in one of my earliest sessions. I was playing and saw a character running away from a dwarven miner. By this time I had enough experience to recognize a player in over their head (I had spent several hours myself perfecting the art of an ‘organized retreat’), so I notched an arrow to my bow, and ‘assisted’ in the kill.

“Don’t”, was all he said before he left. Another player was in the area, and had observed what I had just done.

“Is is poor form to help another person kill a creature?” I asked, hoping they would know.

“I think so,” they replied, “because they don’t get all the gold or experience.”

I had just learned something. Later, when I was attacking with friends from 7150, I noticed that in fact you didn’t get nearly as much experience when you fought as a group, as you did when you fought alone. And often in a group I didn’t get any gold for my troubles. So this one brief encounter taught me something new to the game. I learned that you don’t help somebody else unless they ask for it.

In a MMO there is no teacher, there is no text (well, there is, but there are no reading assignments), there is not even a formal guided learner or facilitator. There is simply exploration and sharing. I did not have an experience like John or Mark where a person invested a large amount of time teaching me how to get around. What I did get was a lot of short, brief explanations, that together enlightened and guided me to a better understanding about the ‘rules’ of the new world.

I guess the million dollar question is why can’t we capture this type of learning in the real world, that is even more exciting/interesting/amazing than the Lands of Aden?

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8 Responses to MMO II

  1. John W. Roe says:

    Marion I loved your article. I, like your 6 year old son, have had a particularly difficult time pulling myself away from the game. I have spent hours into the night trying to get to a certain level. Like you a major reason was to get on with the group and help where I could. I wanted to be at a high level and know a few things so I could feel that I was sharing something. However, I have realized that not everyone has become as interested in the game as I have. Great post.

  2. JoseGomez says:

    “But a large part of it is simply the thrill of discovery. As I begin to notice certain patterns, or figure something out, there is an excitement in verbalizing my knowledge, explaining my hypothesis, and allowing others to verify or disprove my ideas.”

    I completely agree. Great post.

  3. Dorothy says:

    I guess the million dollar question is why can’t we capture this type of learning in the real world, that is even more exciting/interesting/amazing than the Lands of Aden?

    Yep, that’s the million dollar question.
    Bet your sons will be key people to help the world answer it.
    Thanks for a great post.

  4. UnPhiltered says:

    Maybe the key factor to your son’s learning in Heroes of Might and Magic IV isn’t the game. I’d venture that it is the mediating impact of a father that spends time discussing, guiding, setting boundaries, and demonstrating a genuine interest in his son’s activities.

  5. Matthew Buckley says:

    In this case I have, but in the case of Pokemon, I’ve shown very little interest. Open contempt is probably a more apt description. And yet he spends hours pouring over his pokemon book to determin which pocket monster can beat up other pocket monsters…

  6. David says:

    “And because there are literally thousands of players online, when I ask a question, there is a good change that somebody in the game has just discovered the answer to the question I’m posing, and will be anxious to share the answer.”

    So the problem of critical mass raises its head again. HOw do we get from 0 users to 1000s in environments like MIT/OCW or OLS?

  7. Matthew Buckley says:

    Good question. How did slashdot meet their critical mass? How does wikipedia meet their critical mass needs? I think in it’s simplest form, they do it by producing a product that others find beneficial enough to outweigh the costs in both coming there, and participating.

    If MIT courseware is ‘boring’, it doesn’t mean that we need to make it fun. Rather there needs to be some benefit derived that will overcome the cost of reading material that is not relevant.

    You are correct, if a village is starving, and USU offers a free course on irrigation, that course will be utilized if made available because there is an obvious benefit.

    So MIT/OCW/OCE has to provide a benefit. To some just learning the material will be benefit enough, and they will be able to do it without help from others. Some will want to learn, but be unable to do it by themselves. So unless they receive help from others, the cost of learning will be too high. For many, there will need to be still further benefit than just the information. What that benefit might be, I don’t know. I think that alternative certification/credit is the most promising. If I take a graphic design class through MIT/OCW, and they (meaning the online community) have some way of evaluating, or declaring that I’ve ‘learned’ the material as well as somebody who took the class, then it’s easier for businesses to offer incentives for employees to go through the material (businesses can take the money they would have spent on training, and give it directly to the employee). Or maybe colleges recognize the certification. High school students who are good at math could go and get ‘certified’, and be able to obtain credit at their university for work done in the OCW.

    The trick with alternative certification is that it would have to be community driven. It would be much easier to determine knowledge in an area with the ‘hard’ sciences, but even Slashdot and wikipedia have ways of acknowledging competence in a given area using kudos or other measurements. And it would need to be consistently demonstrated that a person who receives this certification, is as prepared as their graduating counterparts. I think that this would be one important step to obtain that critical mass. By adding benefits to those who come to MIT/OCW, you will have more people come, which would result in the establishing of a community, which would then provide even more benefit to those who come and participate.

  8. free mmorpg says:

    nice post

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