Using AU (Alternative Universes) in GBL

Although this won’t be news to gamers, the Alternative Universe phenomenon (AU) surrounding games is impressively vast and active. There is plenty of it on Reddit and Tumblr – all places less travelled by teachers — even those using Minecraft.

In addition, there are also plenty of high-school students teaming up to play Overwatch games out of school, some are competing in tournaments and of course some kids are dropping high school to focus on being pro-players. Overwatch is of course not the only game – Rocket League, FIFA and other games are increasingly being seen as worthy ways to engage students in extra-curricular activities.

These things stand outside the AU culture. Below is an image of teachers in “Overwatch High School” where the game-hero takes on a rather more mundane persona.

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Here’s an example of some fanfiction inspired by Overwatch from another site which once again shows how remediation can work into traditional (non-game) teaching worlds.

The History teacher introduces himself as Reinhardt. Not Mr. Reinhardt, just Reinhardt. He explains that the name comes from what his fellow soldiers called him ‘back in the day’. Oh boy. Hana notes his strange accent. Some kind of European? Once Reinhardt finishes a 15 minute speech about his distaste for teaching only American History, Hana decides that she likes this class.

Arguably, schools are the AU when it comes to studying or remediating texts.  There is plenty of scope for creating an array of media around kid’s interest in Overwatch (or Fornite or …) but the key for teachers not to appear n00bish – and by that I mean to not really understand the meme-culture, streamers and players that are part and parcel of the game. Here’s an example of asking the wrong question in the wrong place.

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The costs of playing a 6-up team are not insignificant. PCs are great, but expensive and whole consoles are cheap these days, they lack that ‘flex’ value that IT Managers want. Then there are Xbox Live accounts (or Sony) which are annual subscriptions. Add monitors and headset’s and the cost rises. Realistically, a decent set up will be $600-$700 to play a game. Then there’s the issue of how Overwatch matchmaking, which currently makes 6-stack players play with people who rank above them.

So let’s say that it costs $4000 to set up an Overwatch space at the school. Sounds a lot, until you start to think how much it costs to get an edu-consultant to come and tell you about games (or anything) for a day or two. If we then think what we can do with space which can play FIFA, Rocket League, Overwatch, Fortnite … even Minecraft – it starts to look quite cheap. Then add on all the stuff we can do around ‘social’ factors to help kids learn to actually get along in games, take turns speaking and articulating what they are doing … $4,000 is quite cheap.

The output and possibilities are clearly un-tapped – but as I’ve set out, there is movement in the idea of high-schools organising games and certainly a rich and established culture for AU … so why is placing blocks the dominant ‘innovation’?

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