The Poverty Is Not a Game (PING) Game 1

I spent an hour or so this morning searching the web for anything that connected “World of Warcraft” with “poverty” or “working poor” and came up with several interesting links – to a guild called “Poverty,” for example, and to a blog that lists video games as one of the “40 Reasons We’re Doomed.” Actually I was looking for clues on how poverty is portrayed, if at all, in the game itself. Nothing emerged. If I want an analysis of signs of poverty in WoW, it looks as if I’ll have to do it myself. Someday, perhaps – all I can think of now are the Goblin Slums in Ogrimmar. My search, however, did result in one positive WoW-poverty connection:  this past summer, gamer Athene, famous for being the first to reach level 85 in WoW’s Cataclysm, raised a million dollars in 100 days for Save the Children’s fund to alleviate the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa. Congrats, Athene!

Lotoa on her flying cloud over the village of Dawn’s Blossom*

PING (Poverty Is Not a Game) is the name I’ve given our last unit in my social and political philosophy course, a game-based learning course about which I’ve previously blogged. Our focus is on the working poor and children in poverty in the United States. Among other things, we’re reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (2001); gathering data; and examining beliefs, attitudes, ideologies, and policies that swirl around the issue of poverty. All of this is serious business accomplished through game mechanics like quests, but we do include the essential game ingredient: play. Below I offer two examples of PING’s rule-based play: a Thanksgiving Bonus Quest and an in-class “raid” on wealth redistribution.

Lotoa in shadowform looking for a school of fish

Thanksgiving Bonus Quest. Students like having bonus quests (BQs) pop-up in their inbox every week. Each BQ offers students the opportunity to be creative – as they were, for instance, a while back when developing a worst-case, global scenario for the “Dark Imagination” BQ. For our Thanksgiving week BQ, however, my imagination was not so much dark as weak. I had a theme – Thanksgiving and the Working Poor – and nothing more. So here’s what I came up with:


! Bonus Quest: Design Your Own Quest

You have activated a bonus quest worth up to 80 XP. The first part is due by 8 AM, Wednesday, 21 November; the second and third parts are due by 1 PM on Wednesday, 21 November. See details below.

Background: It’s Monday afternoon and I haven’t prepared a BQ. What to do? <A lightbulb flashes over my head.> Why not give each Phier trainee the opportunity to design this week’s BQ on the themes of  The Working Poor and Thanksgiving? Make it so.


Part 1: Design your own Bonus Quest on the theme of The Working Poor and Thanksgiving. Send it to the other Phier Trainees, as well as to Mage Lotus, by 8 AM, Wednesday the 21st. 15 XP

Part 2: If one other Phier Trainee completes your quest and submits it by 1 PM on Wednesday the 21st, you’ll receive an additional 10 XP; if two complete it, you’ll receive 25 XP, for a total of 40.

Part 3: For each of two BQs designed by another Phier that you complete, you’ll receive 20 XP. So there’s the possibility of earning a total of 80 XP.

An achievement is unlocked for receiving 25 XP and another for earning 80 XP.


This BQ was a huge success, despite a little in-class bickering about a classmate who designed a quest but didn’t do anyone else’s. Student quest designs included the following (my summaries): (1) find or use your own ideas for cheap but delightful Thanksgiving decorations and dinners; (2) list 10 things you are thankful for having that the poor may not have, say why you are thankful, and calculate how many hours someone would have to work at minimum wage to buy each one; and (3) make a video about working retail on Black Friday rather than spending the day with family (this one also prompted a discussion on consumerism and the growing phenomenon of retail stores staying open on all or part of Thanksgiving Day).

Lotoa finally reached Exalted in the Order of the Cloud Serpent

Raid: Distribute the Wealth. For us, a raid is an in-class group activity that takes collaborative effort to solve a problem. The problem this week concerned the growing gap between the very rich and everybody else. The idea for this raid came from the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility, specifically its lesson plan “Wealth & Taxes: What’s Fair?,” which includes a group activity called “Redistribute Our Wealth” that I modified. As Morningside suggests, I placed five sheets of paper on a table, each a different color and each representing 20 percent of the population in terms of income, from top to bottom. Then I gave the group 50 quarters, each representing 2 units of wealth to divvy up among the five percentiles. First they had to estimate the actual distribution of U.S. wealth – agreement came quickly. Next they had to decide what would be a fair distribution – disagreements immediately arose as to what was fair and why. Then, prior to discussion, we looked at a graph that had the actual distribution of U.S. wealth and the estimated and ideal distributions that 5000 Americans, overall, arrived at in an academic study. My students’ results were very close to those in the study: they considerably underestimated how much wealth the top 20 percentile control (over 80%), which, of course, skewed their estimates on the rest; and they had a much more equitable and balanced distribution as their ideal, including the student who espouses a hard-line, free-market philosophy. If you are interested or involved in “social & emotional learning,” as the Morningside Center puts it, and/or offer lessons on current events, I highly recommend looking over the Morningside website.

Sunset at the finish line for the Cloud Serpent Race


*The screenshots were all taken in World of Warcraft’s Pandaria. Although the images have nothing to do with this blog’s content, I include them because I much enjoy WoW’s graphics and sharing my shots. In this post, I’m using narrow-cropped images as an experiment.


About Lotus Greene

I started the blog called "Educating Lotus" in 2011, shortly after I began exploring the virtual world Second Life. With friends I met there, I migrated my virtual life to World of Warcraft (WoW) and joined an educators' guild. Lotus Greene is my gamer name, one I kept when I started another blog in 2015 called "Not Quite Ignored," which originally focused on the lighter side of news and now also includes political news and opinions.
This entry was posted in Game-Based Learning, Social Justice & Environment, World of Warcraft and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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