Feb 10, 2012

Posted by in United We Stand | 1 Comment

United We Stand: Stand Back, We’re Learning

Dear Parents, don’t worry. Your kids are going to be alright even if they are spending a ton of time playing Star Wars: The Old Republic. It’s not antisocial, it’s not useless, and it’s not a waste of time. It’s learning, and according to James Paul Gee’s book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, they are doing a better job than our schools are. “They operate withthat is, they build into their designs and encouragegood principles of learning, principles that are better than those in many of our skill-and-drill, back-to-basics, test-them-until-they-drop schools.” (Gee, 205)

Check out that handsome book cover.

And he is absolutely right. In this book, he highlights thirty-six learning principles identified by learning and literacy studies and talks about how they are used in modern game design. An excellent example that he uses is the pattern teaching strategy that first person shooters use. They teach you have to move, how to shoot, and how to not die then they throw enemies at you. When fighting, you develop strategies and learn tactics that are effective against your enemies. Then, as the game progresses to more difficult enemies, the game forces you to use everything you have learned in new and different ways. Then, as the final boss nears, the game tears these strategies’ away from you and makes you look for solutions outside of the box, drawing on all the experiences you have had throughout the game.

This is the Probe, Hypothesize, Reprobe, Rethink Cycle. You must first probe  the game, or figure out what’s going on and what you can do. From there, you form a hypothesis about what something might do or how you might be able to take advantage of it. You then reprobe the world using that hypothesis and see what kind of results you get. Using feedback from this experiment, you rethink what you know using what you learned from this cycle.

Consider the Soa the Infernal One fight in the Eternity Vault. First, you probe the boss with the strategy that you have researched (discovered using this same method), then form a hypothesis about how to do it better and best apply it to your group. What is more important to kill, balls, mind traps, or Soa while he is stunned? Should we be spread out or stacked? Revive the healer, or revive a crucial DPS? Then try the fight again and reprobe the boss with your new hypothesis. If it doesn’t work, rethink and go back to your hypothesis. That’s how raiding works, drawing on the very principles of learning that Gee describes.

What this means is a lot. Most importantly of all though, is that it means that good video games like Star Wars: The Old Republic have the potential to teach us valuable processes and patterns that can be applied to anything that we happen to experience. This is exactly the goal of traditional schooling. They aren’t teaching you the quadratic equation because you’re going to need to use it every day, but because of the patterns and strategies of logic and reasoning that you learn while learning how to use the quadratic equation. Games can do the same thing, and even better because it’s something we actually care about. It means that those who have spent a lot of time playing good video games, particularly at a young age, can learn better while doing something that they love.

The moral of the story is this: Worry less about how much time one is spending playing video games, and worry more about how they are playing their games. In a game like this one, be worried if they are never trying new things, never forming new hypothesizes, and never rethinking old ones. This is a social game: be worried if they are always playing alone and never in groups, never striving for better gear and better play, never willing to help out others, and never kind to those that have helped them in turn. If you never doing these things, then you are wasting your time because you aren’t learning and you aren’t building a better self. That’s against the rules.

TwinHits is an officer for the guild Unity on the server Dreshdae Cantina. Leave comments or tweet @TwinHits with your thoughts, ideas, and stories about guilds, communities, and leadership in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

  1. I have to disagree with the “don’t worry about how much they’re playing” statement. As with anything spending an inordinate amount of time in one thing can have a negative effect. Sometimes stepping away from the game can be just as beneficial.

    But I do agree with the potential video games have in positively influencing learning.

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