Things I Accidentally Learned While Saving the World

Friday, February 15, 2008
In the context of a friend's references to Digital Natives in her blog, I got to thinking about the recreational pursuits of members of that generation. Online gaming is a big part of the digital revolution. I think there is little argument over the pervasive influence that MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft have had on the recreational landscape. Certainly, there has been much press over their purported detrimental influences on people of all ages. While I cannot entirely dismiss some of the claims, it does seem that many of the positive effects have been either overlooked or given little notice.

I'm not a World of Warcraft player myself. I find City of Heroes a more interesting premise, but to each their own. So, my points here will be based here on my experiences with that game, but I don't believe I'm too far off the mark in reference to many of the others.
  • Mathematics: both simple and intermediate. How many experience points do I need to make it to the next level? If I add this enhancement, by what percentage does it increase my powers over this one?

  • Economics: supply and demand, buying and selling of goods and services. The addition of the auction and consignment system for buying and selling items provides a tangible insight into real-world economic forces.

  • Logic and Strategic Thinking: These enemies have these kinds of powers. If I attack them this way, what will happen? If I use these other powers, what will happen? What's the best way to deploy my team members? Should we split up or stay as a group?

  • Teamwork: City of Heroes in particular is structured in such a way that you will succeed more quickly--and be more likely to succeed on challenging missions--if you work as part of a larger team. Part of the challenge can also be finding the optimal combination of characters and powers to achieve your objective. (Refer back to Logic and Strategic Thinking.)

  • Social Skills: Unless you participate in these games as a solo player--which is possible, but seems to me would greatly diminish the overall enjoyment of the game--you constantly interact with other players, both in and out of character. As such, most of the social forces you encounter outside also come into the play. The chief difference is that it's a whole lot easier to walk away from people who don't like.

  • Creativity: The basis of these games involves creating a character with a particular appearance and attributes. The level to which this can be expanded is usually limited only by the player's imagination. The games also provide tools that give players a virtual playground of options. City of Heroes, for example, has an absolutely amazing design center for characters, including not only basic body appearance, but costume elements as well. For those drawn by visual design, many, many hours can be lost in playing "dress up" with your characters. For those of us with less visual talents, it's possible to create complex stories for your characters, stories that can often be played out and expanded within the game.
I offer these chiefly as points of discussion and items for further thought. And, I guess, a note to parents that your kids just might be learning something useful during all those hours online.