Friday, October 3, 2008

Can Warcraft Educate?

The headline reads, "World of Warcraft Video Game Succeeds in School." Really?

If you're not familiar with World of Warcraft (WoW), it's an online fantasy role-playing game that currently has around 10 million subscribers.

The article cites a study that suggest WoW helped a group of children gain interest in reading and writing, as well as improving their reasoning and math skills. The article observes that research "suggests playing a video game set in a virtual online world can encourage students to learn valuable real-world skills" (and gain numerous virtual-world kills, I would add).

However, the article omits technological and philosophical discernment as aspects of evaluating WoW or other games, as apparently does the research taking place into WoW and education.

For instance, there is no mention of possible detriments of online games. Neither is there any mention of understanding ethical aspects of these games or, for that matter, the underlying philosophies of fantasy games that have a tendency to gravitate away from anything distinctly resembling a theistic worldview into areas of pantheism, dualism, atheism, polytheism, the occult, etc.

This is not to say that some children won't learn some useful educational concepts from such games. There are, for instance, elements of mathematics, resource management, logical understanding of how characters can progress and advance, etc.

But what else might children learn from such games? WoW does not exist in a vacuum, but like any media it contains worldview elements -- ideas, philosophies, ethics, etc. But aspects of discernment are often omitted when looking at games. "It's just a game," we hear.

Here's a relevant quote from a 1984 book by John Weldon and James Bjornstad, primarily about fantasy-role playing games as they used to be played -- on paper:

Fantasy, in its essence, is an imaginative departure from the world and the created order of things as we know it. It plays an important part in our lives ... Fantasy is actually a part of God's creation in the sense that God created man with imagination and the ability to fantasize ... But fantasy is not justified in itself. Just because fantasy in general is part of God's creation, no specific fantasy is necessarily right or good. As with many other things in God's creation, there are good and bad uses. Unfortunately, even "good" fantasy can be corrupted by overindulgence (e.g., when a person enters a fantasy world to escape from responsibilities in the everyday world). There is also a distorted and destructive use ... (Playing with Fire, pp. 46-47)

Yet the research taking place in reference to WoW and education is primarily pragmatic. "It has worked ridiculously well," said the researcher in charge of the studies. Maybe it has, but what else are children learning along the way?

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