Wednesday, March 19, 2008

be the learning you wish to see

Well, I can't argue much with someone who is pushing for learning to be more imaginative, interactive, embodied, situated, contextualized, and-- let's just admit it-- FUN.

I was reminded of James Paul Gee more than a few times (even when they weren't referring to him affectionately as "Jim"), as the writers pointed to the layers of meaning and relevance that students can gain by taking on the characters themselves. Actually, this was more like Jimmy G (that was for you Shawn) on crack. Going far beyond conceptual differences between traditional "learning about" and "learning to be," Thomas and Brown offer highly detailed differences among MUDs, RPGs, and MMOGs for example, proving that they are true gamers (or at least more advanced gamers than Gee).

I appreciate that they were up-front about the following admission: that they aren't so much interested in exploring how games "teach," but rather in "asking how MMOGs invoke the imagination and what the implications of such vivid, imaginative thinking may be" (155). Somehow, this in-the-mind approach allows my own mind to let go of the pesky "OK, but how the hell would I teach WOW in English 101" question and instead consider the possibilities it allows for imagination expansion in my students and myself.

Another gem that stood out to me is the connection such games provide regarding lessons in rhetorical awareness. As Thomas and Brown state, the quests involved in MMOGS demand "a high level of situational awareness" (157). They go on to say that "The more aware one is of one’s environment, the more likely she is to find the tools needed to complete the quest" (157). Audience, purpose, logos... they're all there. Sounds like a little Rhetoric 101 to me.

The place where I'm still stuck is in figuring out exactly how to incorporate writing into the mix of all this good stuff. I mean, if we're teaching a writing-intensive course, how could WOW work into the curriculum? I can agree that it exposes students to blended meanings and rich opportunities for imagination expansion, but doesn't pen ultimately have to hit paper at some point? How much time do we allow students to be Amelior the troll versus Amy the student, or is it a constant convergence of role-playing? Lastly, how do we engage students who don't identify as gamers, and are altogether resistant to such play?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Amelior the Troll

Well, it took me a good three tries to download the game, but once I did, I jumped right in as an uneducated troll in a deadly war. Seriously, I read NOTHING about my special powers or character traits before hitting "play" because, well, by the time I got the blasted thing downloaded I was practically ready to declare war for real.

So, with no knowledge of my options and a vast land of creatures and caverns ahead of me, I decided to make like Forrest Gump and just run, run, run. Maybe I was living vicariously through Amelior since Amy can't seem to get her bum to the gym lately, but for whatever reason I was really enjoying my jog through the land of trials (I think that's what it's called). Then I found Gorek in the Den, who gave me the quest of killing 10 boars. "Eeeewww," I thought. "I'm no killer."

Next thing I knew, I was stabbing a boar to its death. "I'm stopping after one," I thought. Twenty minutes later and nine more boars down, I called it quits for that round.

How could it be that I, a sensitive sissy with the world's weakest stomach, am capable of slaughtering 10 poor ol' boars? I'm a vegetarian, for God's sake!

But was that really me or my Evil Amelior Avatar? (Cue spoooooky music). After all, Amelior looks like death itself, which was one of my criticisms. Since she's Rogue, I wanted her to have the appearance of lightness and quirkiness, but then (in true Rogue fashion) lash out with some sick warrior skillz when her opponents least expected it. Instead, she was a bloodshot-eyed mummy with an alarmingly gruff, masculine voice. The only redeeming quality, as far as her apprearance goes, was her Cyndi Lauper style high pony. Hell yes.

My biggest challenge was that I couldn't get her to talk. This proved to be quite awkward whenever she'd encounter Gorek and others who said things like, "What are your wishes?" or even worse, "WHY ARE YOU TOUCHING ME!" So, yeah, I could use some help in the vocalizing area.

In sum, I guess I'm a little more intrigued than I thought I'd be, but I'm also incredibly resistant to this additional/other world. Even after an hour of playtime I felt like I hadn't contributed a thing to myself (my brain) or the world (the real world), and I wonder if one gets over that guilt/dread or if some people never experience it in the first place...?