MMOs and teaching lessons

Massively OP has an interesting Overthinking piece where the writers discuss the topic of “What important lessons are MMORPGs failing to impart?”. The writer contributions are well worth a read. I happen to be a bit of an education-junkie, I’ve been in part-time education for most of my adult life: learning new languages or taking on more formal higher qualifications. So the identified theme of fun as educational does sit well with me.

It seems true enough that we spend a lot of our time when playing MMORPGs learning stuff, or at least revising it. Take this week with patch 8.0 in World of Warcraft, the whole playerbase is currently re-learning their class rotations due to the extensive changes made. Certainly, I find learning new things fun, so my predilection to try new MMORPGs has obvious roots – when I finish leveling in these games there tends to be a sudden drop off of learning, what remains is very narrowly focused encounter-based things like ‘dances’ for bosses. The bigger things from my perspective: new story arcs, entire new zones or new class abilities are de-empahsized in favour of repetitive group content at the ‘end-game’.

The article also covers another major topic for MMORPG discussions, that of community. There are plenty of lessons that can be learned through MMORPG in theory, though as someone who has worked for many years in different company offices I can’t remember learning anything in a game that I hadn’t already faced in ‘real life’ – e.g. dealing diplomatically with awkward situations, avoiding or confronting ‘politics’ among a group, negotiating priorities where goals conflict, etc. I see a lot of parallels, mind, between social gaming and office work social issues. Playing MMORPGs can help you get better with certain social skills, potentially, and with fewer career or finance-related consequences.

Sadly, as some others comment in the linked article, I fear developers aren’t concerned with social teaching for the most part. Games are made to make profit and the industry seems to be, mostly, focused on whatever mechanisms will maximise or shortcut profit-making. That’s understandable, but for it to be prioritised at the expense of the genre’s potential for social teaching is a shame. Very few games re-enforce good grouping behaviours – about the only example I can think of is Final Fantasy 14 with the ‘best player’ award system.  There are plenty of threats of punishment for bad behaviour, for example temporary bans or even permanent exclusion from the game, but just how effective are these?

With the current vogue for PVE-light PVP-heavy sandbox gaming for the new games on the horizon, I do not see this improving. Competition and aggression towards others are not something I’m looking for in my gaming time, I can just read the news if I want a dose of either.

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