Students interact with you and classmates via an online system called Desire2Learn. Can you tell us a little about how that works?
D2L is a course management system and is the platform we use to deliver all of our online classes.
Students log into D2L and can interact with fellow students and the instructor. The instructor posts the readings, the assignments and other important course information inside D2L for students to access. Some instructors use quizzes (I don't), but D2L can accommodate that too.
I used D2L in this course for two purposes. First, for the readings and assignments. Second, for the discussions. Each week, students would have to participate in discussions about the activities in the game and the interactions/observations they had related to the assignments.
Can you share some of weekly online reading selections you required students to study?
Here are a couple of the resources I used. These are just a few. There are many more, but these give you an idea of the range of options I used.
- The Sopranos Meets Everquest: Social Networking in Massively Multiplayer Online Game
- The Daedelus Project
- WoW Lingo
- Oxhorn's ROFLMAO
The final projects ended up being all written. Here are some of the topics students explored:
- Horde vs. Alliance What are the culture differences? What type of real-life player plays one or the other?
- Gold farming What are the cultural implications for these players and this activity? How are they treated? How do they interact with other players?
- Sex trade in Goldshire Who participates? What are the cultural implications? What is the gender of the people behind the avatars?
- History of WoW
- Economics of the game How do the economics play out in the real world (character buying, gold buying, item buying, etc)? How can one learn to master the economics of the game (vendor vs. trade channel vs. AH)?
- Teaching literature with WoW Given the rich storylines and questing, can a person teach English Literature to students using WoW? Relating literary components (characters, setting, story, etc.) in WoW with those in the real world (Shakespeare, Chaucer, etc.).
There were three types of activities students would participate in: observation, simulation and roleplay. Each major subject area (culture, gender and identity) had three weeks of coverage. In one week they would do an observation, in another they would do a simulation, and in the third they would do a roleplay.
Observations would include watching the trade/general channels for what people said and how they said it. It would also include watching behaviors of other players in guild chat vs. in general chat. Were there differences in how a person interacted with others given the group they were with?
Simulations were participating in real game activities and seeing what happened. For instance, one week I would asked the students to ask questions in general chat in perfect English, in WoWspeak, and in broken, hard-to-read English. What happened? How were they treated? How did they feel? Did this relate to trying to ask a question in a culture/language you do not understand well?
Roleplays were class activities. The students would group up with classmates and play out a situation. In one activity I asked the students to think about negative stereotypes of the opposite gender and then play out those characteristics in group/game. In another roleplay, I asked students to have a debate with one another on a highly sensitive topic (i.e. immigration, religion, etc). Each student had to play out a role that wasn't necessarily their own viewpoint. Some students played an ignorant person and others played someone very knowledgeable. The debates turned out really well.
What in-game activities did you find turned out to be the most fruitful?
I think the activities in general were well received. Probably the most popular one was when students did gender reversal roleplays. One group of students decided to take the exercise to a different level by carrying out the roleplay in general chat in Stormwind (the assignment was just to carry it out in party chat). One person played the role of a ditzy blonde girl (remember, the assignment was to play out negative stereotypes). The student was on a bridge in SW and fell in the water a bunch of times and said funny things in general. It was amazing how many other players offered to help or become her girlfriend. They learned a lot from that one.
Were there aspects of the course you felt were interesting but didn't turn out to be as productive as you had anticipated?
There were a few things I would change. First, I didn't require students to play on the Blackwater Raiders server if they had a main elsewhere. They had to participate on the BwR server during the roleplays, but otherwise they were free to do other activities on their own server. Next time, I will require some play time on the same server and more group activities, to build the bond that can be built in some guilds.
Second, I would make the course an accelerated course and have it end in 8-10 weeks instead of 16. Many people started to fade towards the end (they finished, but were wearing down), and if I put more in the course in a shorter time, I think it would turn out well.
I would probably adjust some of the activities to be more group-oriented.
Otherwise, the course went well. I asked all the students to tell me what they would like to change. Seventy-five percent said "don't change anything." The others largely indicated that they would like more guild development.
Do you follow the work of other academics who use WoW in their research or teaching?
I follow them and talk with them at various conferences. There is some good work coming out of UW-Madison and a few other schools. In Minnesota, there are just a handful of instructors doing this sort of thing, and we chat every now and then. I have to say though that most instructors I come across that use games in instruction don't use WoW; they use other games (Second Life, which really isn't a game; Civilization, Quest Atlantis, etc).
Will you be offering this class again in the future?
One hundred percent of the students in the class said I should. I plan to offer it in Spring 2010 because it was so popular and I know some students already who are looking for it. Given our registration rules at Inver, any student from around the world could take the course.
If you are interested in taking the course "Warcraft: Culture, Gender and Identity" online in future semesters, e-mail Dr. Pirius for more information.
"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- neither did we, until we talked with these players. From an Oscar-winning 3-D effects director to a custom action figure artist, catch it on 15 Minutes of Fame.