“This is a gamer on the verge of something called an ‘epic win’…”

– Jane McGonigal

I’m a World of Warcraft, or WoW, player. I live, breathe, eat, drink, and exist in the world of Azeroth (and, by extension, Outland) on a daily basis. From the ruins of the Exodar to the magnificence of Dalaran, it is a world that I love, and will continue to love. When she says gamers spend 3 billion hours a week playing online games, that’s me. Well maybe not just me. Add in another 11.5 million players, each playing 22 hours a week, that’s 253 million hours. And that’s just World of Warcraft. By this point, you’re probably wondering why I’m so enthusiastic about a video game. I’ll tell you why.

Ms. McGonigal refers to something called the “I’m not good at life” mentality, and that is something all gamers identify with. Why else would we delve into worlds where we can do things unheard of in our own lives? And it doesn’t matter what type of gamer you are, we all feel it. Whether you play Farmville on Facebook or Madden 2010 or WoW, it doesn’t matter, you are still doing something that you might never get to do in real life. More to the point, you can get perfect scores in all of those games. The scores have a lot to do with how we feel and why we play. The ‘epic win’ mentioned above is an example of this. It is, like she says, “an outcome that is so extraordinarily positive you had no idea it was possible until you achieved it; it was almost beyond the threshold of imagination.”

I have been fortunate enough to experience this, to achieve something so incredible that I never thought I’d be able to do it. It is an amazing feeling. You almost can’t imagine it if you’ve never experienced it. With the introduction of the Achievement system in WoW, this became possible for everyone. Not only could you track which achievements you’d gotten already, but you could search for ones you wanted to strive for. So in a way, you always know what your goals are, even if you don’t know how to get there, you always know where you’re headed. (Achievement systems exist now on other consoles as well, such as the Trophy system on the Playstation 3 and the Achievement system on the XBOX 360.)

Now suppose you find an achievement that looks cool and you want it, how do you achieve it? Well that’s where the teachers come in, but not in a conventional sense. In Warcraft, there are no formal “instructors” to show you what to do. Instead, you rely on your peers to help you find your way. Don’t know how to get to a particular territory? Just ask in chat. Someone is always willing to answer. ALWAYS. It is this collaborative and peer-mentoring attitude which makes the game so appealing. Total strangers will offer to help in many situations, even if that means going out of their way to do so. What I would like to know is how can we get our students to do the same thing? Imagine if we could instill in our learners the desire and willingness to help strangers anywhere they go. That by helping, they are exercising a knowledge of which they are proud to share. How cool would that be?

One fact mentioned in the video that I did not know was how large the WoW wiki really is. This is strange to me, because I rely very heavily on the information found within its walls. WoWwiki is massive resource, if you need information your player class, it’s there. If you need information on a boss encounter, it’s there. If you need information on some random non-player character (NPC) that you saw in a city, it’s there. And for each of these, there is a story. Blizzard (the company behind WoW) invests millions of dollars in its canons. The lore, another term for stories, is never-ending, and it is constantly being re-written. By whom, you might ask? By the players of course! Very rarely are there aspects of Warcraft that aren’t tied to the grand adventure which runs the entire enterprise.

WoW’s lore is so rich that it has overflowed beyond the computer to books and manga. The most recent release is Richard A. Knaak’s Stormrage, a book which tells the story of one of Warcraft’s most important heroes. Before that was Christie Golden’s Arthas: Rise of the Lich King. And before that were the books on the Dragon Aspects. Also recently released was Dan Jolley’s Deathknight manga. So you see, the lore has become so incredibly rich and deep and vast that it has crossed from the realm of gamers, to the realm of readers. Take a moment and let that sink in, gamers have driven the release of literature. Actual books! Now imagine if we could harness that focus on reading and direct it at our students. Imagine if, as a way of being a part of Azeroth without needing a computer, students would read. Willingly. Just imagine that…

I could probably go on for pages and pages more, but I think you get the picture. It’s time we stopped looking at games as these evil constructions and started using them to our advantage. Games are a technology that kids are already using, why not harness that technology?