Twitter is just another bloody MMORPG

*update – A video I’ve made that is going out as part of Massively Productive Education keynote. Relates to the stuff below.

Gaming has an enviable problem. It provides too much flow and satisfaction missing in real life. Their predictive sense of achievement wired into instant feedback loops is an almost certain guarantee of engagement and it’s spilling over into Twitter.

While education seeks to use technology to engage students in meaningful online work, games such as World of Warcraft actually attempt to deter people by rewarding players for not killing monsters and having rest time – not working.

Players use this time to stock up on potions, get food, repair their weapons, visit the bank and of course buy and sell items won in the auction house. They don’t even need to be logged in to do this – there’s an iphone app for that too. This doesn’t mean they spend less time tuned into the game environment (which extends well outside of Azeroth), but varies the kind of ‘work’ that they do and helps promote discussion and development of game-resources in the numerous wikis and forums so vital to documenting how to play better.

Is this what you do with your rest time? For many teachers, rest-time is used to explore technology – and without it, little innovation would take place in the classroom quite frankly.

Chris Betcher recently blogged about this, how when he went to a teacher-meeting, he already ‘knew’ most of the people who attended, not least though the OZ/NZ Teachers network started by Simon and Sue a few years ago – one of the oldest and long running teacher networks.

Over time, I’ve come to see the thinning of the walls between rest-time and work-time – but a thickening of connection as Chris discusses.

Twitter isn’t just about building your Personal Learning Network (PLN) it’s rest-time turned into fun work. The kind of work being done, is not that different from what Warcraft players are doing. The big difference is that Warcraft players do it  from the age of 5 – so imagine how good they are at it by the age of 12.

I see Twitter as a game of sorts. Searching for #edchat or whatever #conference is on today is questing. Choosing to Tweet is not that different from choosing to chase down honour points in Warsong Gulch. Sharing resources and bookmarking what you find is a version of the ‘need’ or ‘greed’ mechanic Warcraft uses to get players to make critical choices.

Twitter demands making meaning from intangible collections of digital artifacts that someway allows others to better understand personal identity and abilities. Warcraft has a much more defined set of variables, common to sets of players (faction, race, class, talents, gear, professions, reputation, experience) – but unlike Twitter, it allows other players to make very accurate assessment of themselves in relation to others. So while I love Twitter – it is really hard to know the people you are dealing with – as there is no Warcraft like attributable profiling.

Those with little concern about their practice see technology generally as related to work (place) and social media as fairly pointless. By not participating – they are finding an exploit. At the macro level – systems ban it or seek to devalue it in an effort break the connectedness, that Chris was talking about.

The best PD, the best experience, the best of people – come from inside these networks, not external to them. Sure there are online spats and disagreements but the social-rules correct undesirable behaviors and generally all players are seeking the same goal. The social rules are determined by sets – not by the technology, and change between the infinite intersections people make in who they interact with.

The world is forever changed around education. No matter how turbulent the surface of educational debate and activity is online (systems talk it up too) – deep below on the ocean floor, non-participation allows life to carry on unchanged. All games are essentially about overcoming avoidable obstacles. And let’s face it, teachers don’t need to be on Twitter.

Twitter is Tetris in that it presents an unattainable victory. The problem Tweeple playing are trying to solve is to improve education (the reward). Twitter gives digital rewards for playing such as greater declarative knowledge, new schemas and digital objects that make you a better player – as long as you are in the network. You can’t leave, you have to come back to play, so any argument leveled at Warcraft, is also true of Twitter.

It is haughty to look down on games such as Warcraft or non-game worlds such as Second Life, and not to understand their rich history. From Multi-User (text) Dungeons to the beauty of Warcraft and Rift, game-designers have mastered that which education hasn’t.


10 thoughts on “Twitter is just another bloody MMORPG

  1. Damn it Dean, this is a beautiful post. You analogy is really, really nice.
    Is the moral of the story ‘no rest for the wicked’?
    I wonder though, how do these reconcile:
    ‘The best PD, the best experience, the best of people – come from inside these networks, not external to them.’ and
    ‘non-participation allows life to carry on unchanged…let’s face it, teachers don’t need to be on Twitter.’

    Perhaps: To be the best you’ve got to quest (?)

    • Yes, ppl do talk about Knowles “self-directed learner”; but games have simply (for me) created massive new internal schemas for young people, who are not born digital as such, but are born to quest. It’s back to the Farmville scenario. It makes no sense to only play that game – there has to be something more around it – friends, relationships and identity. We are used to the un-ending reality of life and often powerless to do much about it, but un-ending virtual reality – we can in someway offset and be productive and happier. I don’t think kids draw the line between the 2 that adults feel they need to.

      So yes, if you quest – you become better and in terms of digital-identity, the rewards follow. If you look at the advertising industry, in less than a decade – it wasn’t enough to be a graphic designer, and use a Mac, you now have specialised talents and new problems that they allow you to solve.

      Ultimately, this to me is about retention of face to face teachers – who are more than willing and able to jump into virtual space and do more amazing things than they can now. I am not convinced that attempting to get those who have little concern will be in this position in a decade. We need to retain good teachers in physical space – for those students who need it. For another set – they simply won’t need cells and bells – provided we allow it.

  2. Wow – and I don’t mean WOW. Well put together. It is time to level up and start. Great post.

  3. This post strikes a resounding chord with me. I wonder how many of my gaming habits have carried over to Twitter (playing the good guy, abandoning the main quest, collecting a lot of outfits).

    I think that games are helping us articulate behaviors and mechanics that those of us with leisure time have been building into our lives for quite some time.

    What kind of Cataclysm do you think the edu-world needs to experience to re-engage the level-capped educators of the world, Dean?

    All the best,

    • It has happened in my view. What we see in classrooms is really a protracted ‘packing up’ of education. Resources, Intellect, skills have all become personal infrastructure. This will it can set up and work anywhere in the world at any time – and can dive into learning and teaching using mobiles and networks. There are billions that can now be taught, that once had to come to classrooms. What we’re seeing is a exodus of belief and digital object out of what we call ‘school systems’. It won’t be replaced by at the system level but by a maturation of the organisational abillity of the networks – that currently are are random and skittish. They won’t always be like that. But they won’t return to work either. For example, you and I could teach a class right now. We could bring five people each to it and form a faculty – they bring 5 more each and we have a school. It’s that easy.

      Schools will, in my view provide places for accreditation – rather than learning. Mass education is over – massively productive, life long social learning is the only viable solution – and we’re already saying that qualifications are increasingly poor indicators of ability, we know outcomes get worse, as the quality of teaching gets worse – or rather fails to engage a generation. Its significant that 12 million Warcraft players have spent 6 billion hours playing – that is a tight network.

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