Passionate players

At the start of this week and the start of this course, I was in a school in Scarborough, working with a fascinating Network Manager. He’d studied theology at uni, taught RE in schools and then began to get more involved in network management. He now does that and teaches IT too. He’s also a minister.

We were chatting over lunch and I mentioned that I was starting on this course and that a key element would be playing and thinking about World of Warcraft. And that’s when he really lit up. He’d been a passionate gamer for ten years (before his daughter was born) and he loved WoW. He talked about spending 12 hours preparing for a raid, about the relationships and skills which were developed through play. Mentoring was key – bringing on the younger and more inexperienced players, and he believed that his management skills were honed In WoW too. He spoke about the relationships which had been formed in WoW and which had extended into RL: he’s still in touch with many of the gamers he used to play with. One anecdote he told me related to Eve. A fellow player was terminally ill and, when he could no longer participate in RL, he could still ‘live’ and ‘function’ in the game. When he died, a memorial service was held in the game and a stone placed in his memory which was engraved with his avatar name. I found this moving and fascinating, particularly the notion of ‘living in the game’. Ideas which were explored in IDEL about the self and where ‘it’ ‘is’ when we are online/gaming/playing/reading began to re-emerge. When I mentioned this encounter in the Introductions forum, Hamish provided this link. What it has to say about experiential learning is fascinating:

Gaming tends to be regarded as a harmless diversion at best, a vile corruptor of youth at worst. But the usual critiques fail to recognize its potential for experiential learning. Unlike education acquired through textbooks, lectures, and classroom instruction, what takes place in massively multiplayer online games is what we call accidental learning. It’s learning to be – a natural byproduct of adjusting to a new culture – as opposed to learning about.


‘Learning to be’ – experiential learning – is a core notion to explore in relation to gaming and particularly to gaming technologies such as VR and AR. The article also has something interesting to say about failure, one of my ‘chosen’ themes:

Where traditional learning is based on the execution of carefully graded challenges, accidental learning relies on failure. Virtual environments are safe platforms for trial and error. The chance of failure is high, but the cost is low and the lessons learned are immediate.

Games provide a safe, no/low risk environment in which to fail. The consequences of failure have no (or little) RL implications or consequences and therefore risk-taking is, paradoxically, pretty much risk-free.

In terms of the focus of this course, this is another key observation from the article:

Once the experience is explicitly educational, it becomes about developing compartmentalized skills and loses its power to permeate the player’s behavior patterns and worldview.

Does accidental learning, rather than explicit education, ultimately have more impact? When thinking about using games/developing games for education, should the focus be on providing immersive, wide-ranging social experiences in a range of virtual contexts?

Like my game-playing, my blogging is rusty, so there’s no neat conclusion to be arrived at just yet. Just lots of questions to consider as the course progresses.