For the time I have been writing this column, I have written about the social aspects of MMOs and World of Warcraft in particular several times. Equally, I have also written about the benefits of gaming for reality. These two issues continue to linger in my mind - as I find myself having to defend myself from various critics when they hear about my love of WoW.
This morning, after a very long couple of days, I logged on - just to escape things for a bit. I noticed a player sign in, one whom I had not seen in quite some time. I sent her a message to pry for memory. Asked her if she remembered a character named Abbysomeone. She did. And we spent about 30 minutes just rehashing old days.
It had been two years since we played or really spoke. Before that, she was a random player who had helped me quite a bit when I was leveling Abbysomeone. This was a while ago, before we had the dungeon queue system, and she was bored and had a level 80 paladin who could tank. So, she helped me put groups together and ran several dungeons with me to make leveling that much easier.
I don't know, maybe she liked having a personal healer for a spell to build up reputation points in dungeons.
Really, I think she just enjoyed helping people.
But, we always kept in some contact. Nothing serious, just a hello here and there. A laugh. Recent news and developments in real life. She is a mother of two now - and, as such, she must have a good sense of compassion as all mother's should have. Perhaps that is why she helped me back then, her mother instincts kicked in when she saw this pathetic old fart wanting some help - due to his on sense of impatience with leveling up.
This sense of helping others is not foreign to many MMO's. I know, there are a good number of schmucks out there who could care less about other random players; but, in MMO's, many of us are willing and often eager to help others out. In reality, when we see someone pulled over, on the side of the road, our first instinct is not to stop and help anymore. Rather, we say, "She has a cell phone and can call for help. I don't want to help her, screw up, and get sued." Then we continue on our merry way.
Virtual reality takes much of that away. Many of us don't shy away when we see a player in need of help. Like my old friend, we take some time out to help. Maybe run them through a dungeon for some gear or experience points to help make their leveling life a bit easier.
Earlier this week I read Everything Bad is Good for You, by Steven Johnson. I highly recommend that you all read it. It is a short book and very insightful - regarding popular culture and how it is actually helping kids today to prepare for the world. While Johnson's argument is multi-faceted, the central point is that the world is changing. It is changing in such a way that, in order to succeed, our skills will rely on quick access to information, the capacity to follow multiple threads of information, multi-tasking, and the like. Skills that we can get from gaming.
He uses very little anecdotal data to support his claims, rather, he relies on scientific research to demonstrate that gaming is actually good for the mind. He discusses the idea that in order to make it through a game, a player must use various aspects of cognition: logic, critical thinking, creative thinking, and others. Equally, in older to make it through the entire progression of a game, it takes patience and determination, along with a sense of keeping one's eye on the final goal - and understanding the many steps needed in order to achieve that goal.
While it is true that American students do not score nearly as well as their international peers on standardized tests and the SAT and ACT average scores are lower than they once were, what these tests do not include are the skills and types of knowledge required to survive in today's economy. Johnson demonstrates that gamers have IQ's that are increasing when tested in a manner that is not reliant on asking the students to sit down and fill in bubbles for four hours. No moving. No talking. No thinking. When they are tested on spatial reasoning, critical thinking, creative problem solving, pattern-recognition skills, then we see their scores shooting through the roof, if you will.
But, we do not test students in any such manner. Instead, we test their knowledge based on an antiquated, industrial based mentality. This is a world that no longer exists for them.
Let's just take a second and look at what happens in Azeroth for the average player. Many of us are what I call lore-whores, in that we want to see how each quest fits into the overarching story. Part of Johnson's argument lies here: Naysayers often criticize gamers based on the argument, "Gamers don't like to read." However, Johnson reminds his readers that for every game, there are walkthroughs to help the player. Often, these books are several hundred pages long - and, let's face it, many of us have needed one every now and again. We read them from cover to cover.
For WoW, while a walkthrough may not be needed (I use thottbot.com when I am lost) - but the story is still engaging. When Cataclysm was released, I revisited the lore to see how Deathwing fit into the whole scheme. I assume many others did to. The whole of the lore is a thrilling tale and worth reading, as it will bring greater understanding and pleasure to your experience in Azeroth.
What Johnson does not note in his argument, however, is the impact of developing social skills. Being able to work collaboratively is essential in any aspect of our economy. Schools do a somewhat decent job there, but fall very short. As a teacher in a high school, I see this all the time - and try as I might, I can't find the perfect tool for teaching students how to work productively in a team setting. What I have noticed, is that the students I have who play MMO's are often the ones that excel in a collaborative environment.
Collaboration is essential in any MMO. Players learn quickly that if they are not pulling their end, they can and will be dumped. Equally, if they do well, they are rewarded immediately.
But, we learn the value of collaboration in Azeroth and other MMO's. We learn that there are many tasks that require participation from others in order to progress. In doing so, we communicate and execute a strategy for success. When one fails, though, often the whole group fails, too. But, we learn quickly what to do and what not to do.
Beyond all lessons and understandings from gaming, perhaps the social aspect is one of the more important ones. When I spoke with my friend this morning, she reminded me of what is good out there. We shared news of what was going on and how things had improved in our lives over the last couple of years.
I think about the player I ran into this morning. Have I ever met her, her husband, her kids in reality? No, I have not and I doubt that I ever will. But, is she a friend? Like so many other people I have met in Azeroth, yes, I consider her a friend.
What about you? What are some lessons you take from gaming into reality?
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