Anyone who has watched a 12 year old playing World of Warcraft will know that they are learning a great deal more than any 12 year old generally learns in a classroom. For one thing notice how even the most ADD child can sit still while playing World of Warcraft! Amazing! Ritalin? Clearly not!
My 12 year old mainly plays Runescape, which is another massive online role play game. I have to say that he took good care of me when he shepherded me through my first experience of the game. He had prepared some clothes and equipment for me, and explained exactly what I needed to do to work through the initial tutorials. Amongst his achievements, quite apart from all the quests and so on that he has performed, has been the organizing of LAN parties in which he clothes, equips and leads his friends on raids. Not only, to my mind, does this display a very encouraging explosion of social understanding and learning, but I have no doubt that he has learned a great deal more about co-operative behaviour and collaboration, about leadership and social skills than he ever would have learned in a Life Orientation classroom! From a vague feeling that he might be goofing off by playing online role play games, I have become a convert to the learning generated by online games.
I run a Mind Sports Club at my son’s school, and my experience of this also convinces me of the importance of gaming in education generally, and in role play games in particular, both online and in the old-fashioned face-to-face format. I’m not sure if one could ever pretend to teach Maths or Science in a role play game, although any reading of Wikis or forums created by users, based on role-play games, written by youngsters, will convince one that a great deal of self-directed learning occurs around role-play gaming. There certainly is a parallel curriculum going on, and teachers need to be aware of this and need to find ways of tapping into this rich vein.