I have more than a passing interest in the educational value of role-playing and video games, particularly for teaching literature. The fourth chapter of Literature and the Web (shameless plug–now over 300 copies sold!) discusses one game–Thoughtcrime–based on George Orwell’s 1984. I’ve been receiving quite a few emails lately from teachers interested in playing this game. So many emails, in fact, that I am diving back into the code and reworking some of its rules, making it easier for teachers to setup and play the game.

On a related note, this item from the Chronicle caught my attention. The professor, David Wiley, decided to run his class as a role-playing game. The article doesn’t say which one, or whether Wiley built the game itself, but it sounds pretty interesting.

December 1, 2008
Professor Turns His Online Course Into a Role-Playing Game

David Wiley says that teachers can learn a lot from online video games — the kind where players pretend to be orcs and wizards and work together in teams to slay dragons. So Mr. Wiley, an associate professor of instructional psychology and technology at Brigham Young University, has decided to turn an online course he’s teaching next semester into an online role-playing game.

That’s right, Mr. Wiley will invite students who sign up for his spring course (which is about online teaching methods) to be an artisan, a bard, a merchant, or a monk and go on learning “quests” together.

Although he’s using a game metaphor, Mr. Wiley says that dividing students up into teams and asking them to work on group projects are time-tested teaching techniques — ones that the best video games happen to make use of. “If you reverse-engineer a popular multiplayer game, they’ve somehow encoded all these things about what good learning ought to look like,” he argues. “Instead of just learning how to kill orcs, we can use these really effective techniques for honest-to-goodness educational content.”

Complete article

I’m seeing more and more of this sort of thing (here, a NY Times piece), and I hope the exploration continues. There is even some pretty major funding for experimentation with video games and education (the MacArthur Foundation has a 50 milliion dollar initiative). Makes me think that the NEH should have funded my 2006 grant to turn the largely text-based Thoughtcrime into a more sophisticated virtual world inside of Second Life. Ah well.