My feral druid needed a larger bag and heard she could get one at Darkmoon Faire – and she did. The Faire, like many other places in World of Warcraft* (WoW), is a riot of color, here in lurid tones of purple, green, and orangish red. The gate beckons with a wicked wink. “Dangerous fun ahead,” it seems to say. To get there, a toon enters a portal in the Elwynn Forest, then winds down a well-marked path to the entrance gate. My students will see this gate next week – a screenshot of it, that is – when most students will have followed the quest path leading to the achievement Phier Recruit. The gate and tents behind it represent Philand’s orientation area.
Philand is a realm in another dimension whose citizens partner with chosen Earthlings who excel at problem solving. The Phiers, always in search of wisdom, are dedicated to exploring social and political issues. But two factions have developed among them. While both factions believe in balancing individual freedom with communal good, their views on how best to maintain this balance have come into conflict and a fight for power has ensued. Phier recruits – most of whom are Earthlings, all of whom have an interest in community crafting, and each of whom has unique special abilities/powers – will soon align themselves with one of these factions, but first they must discover what the conflict is all about and the particular values and beliefs each faction holds.
The game is SuperPhi, the course is Social and Political Philosophy, and the Phier recruits are college freshmen and sophomores. This game is my first attempt to design a course around game-based learning. In it I call myself Mage Lotus, a practitioner and teacher of magic used to empower the forces of good – or, more specifically in Jane McGonigal’s words, “to improve the quality of life, to prevent suffering, and to create real, widespread happiness” by learning how to “reorganize society in better ways” (10). Yes, one of our texts is McGonigal’s Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World (2011), a book* I previewed in my previous post.
World of Warcraft*, the immersive role-playing game I know best, serves as my organizational model. Course content is presented as missions (themed content), quests (tasks within a mission), and professions (individualized discoveries and applications* of the material). Group discussions and class activities include raiding, i.e., “building and maintaining a team, a close-knit group of players who progress together” (McGonigal 58, quoting from WoWWiki). Our two major group projects are called dungeons (grappling with major issues, taking on the Boss). For example, we’re just getting into “Mission 2: Gaming Happiness,” with quests that ask students to choose philosophers (“giants,” members of the Ancient Sages) who have thought deeply and written about happiness/ flourishing; students’ choice of giants “unlocks” the required readings, about which they prepare an artifact to submit for quest-completion consideration. I’ve received blogs, webcam videos on YouTube, a PowerPoint, and the more traditional documented essays.
We’ve already had two raids: One involved deciding how best to use their Magic Turkey Feather (I happened to have a few :^) to increase happiness in our larger community, à la Aristotle and/or Mencius. Another was the Grouchy-Head Toss in which a stress ball with a grimacing face was randomly tossed around; whoever received the ball had to give Grouchy-Head happiness advice that one of the philosophers might give (I took notes on the board so we could see the sum of advice and evaluate it). Meanwhile, students are developing their avatars, submitting reflections on Reality Is Broken for the required Explorer Profession, consulting with me about their self-chosen secondary professions, and earning achievements (e.g., one student’s YouTube explanation of Aristotle’s concept of happiness earned her an Innovative Scholarship badge).
Assessment is based on experience points (XP) that students receive for the completion of quests, profession entries, raids, and dungeons. Students start at zero and level up by earning XP. They already know that the top level, Grand Phier, is reached at 3200 XP (out of required assignments that equal 3500 XP; there are, however, additional ways to earn XP). Each level has a final course grade equivalent with “C” starting at 2500. It’s important to note that students cannot partially complete a quest, but they can resubmit as many times as it takes. In other words, this method is a form of mastery learning. And it’s very important that students receive feedback as soon as possible; as such, I have to check both my campus email and course management dropbox (D2L) often and reply with tips for a resubmission or comments on what I found intriguing about an entry, which may include correcting misunderstandings while still deeming the quest complete given their level of understanding at this point. Fortunately for my “pilot,” this is a very small class of seven, so I’m able to give each student a lot of individual mentoring. (I was hoping for twelve to fifteen, but it’s working well so far with this good group.)
SuperPhi is just beginning; our class meets every Wednesday afternoon, and we’ve only met twice. I plan to blog more about it as the semester progresses. Stay tuned :^)
I exuberantly thank the team that conducted the Virtual Worlds, Games and Education Tour (P2PU MOOC) and the Games MOOC for leading me into World of Warcraft and giving me so many resources and guidance on game-based learning. I am also most appreciative of the mentoring and insights I’m continually getting from my WoW guild of educators, Cognitive Dissonance. Woot!!!
[*Once again I’m trying to eliminate advertisers’ links – perhaps a futile effort; each time I eliminate a few, others pop up. I need to learn how to stop this intrusive practice – later.]