If you have any gamers at all in your classes, you may not have seen much of them this week. Tuesday, the latest World of Warcraft expansion, Mists of Pandaria went live. The WoW forums were rampant with both kids and adults exclaiming that they were taking off for the next day, some the entire week, just to be the first to level up their new Pandaren characters or “toons.” Pandaria has an oriental theme and the latest class is the monk (think Disney’s Kung Fu Panda, though the original Warcraft pandas predate Disney’s by years). The buildup to the release has been months in the making, including the cinematic trailer to wet the appetites of players and non-players alike.
I didn’t jump in the first night of the release (as I understand it, it was pandamonium–pun intended), but Wednesday night after the #Gamemooc Tweetchat, I was prompted to try out the new Pandaren starter area. Speirling, the Pandaren mage, was born. And, after a few hours, I have to admit–I got choked up by the cinematics and storyline–I was that immersed.
Now, educators might be asking why in the world this is important to their courses. Well, gaming is an everyday part of many students’ lifestyles. It helps to know what’s happening in the gaming community to spark those students’ interests and get them more actively involved in class. (Once you get a gamer talking about his/her favorite game, trust me, they are passionate–the key is to plug into this passion and bridge it into the classroom.)
There’s something else involved here that can be useful to educators, particularly those working with social issues and topics such as multiculturalism. World of Warcraft tends to rely on real world cultural themes to build it’s various races. The Pandaren areas are, as I said, oriental in design. Other races in-game have Celtic, Germanic, African, Caribbean Islander, and Native American as their guiding themes (I’m probably missing a few). It would be interesting (I think) to get students talking about these themes and if they border on being too stereotypical. Do any of the areas make them uncomfortable? If so, why? Or does the immersion, buy-in factor, and in-game mythology/storyline dissolve these issues as the gamer becomes the character? Other questions might include why the gamer chose the race that he/she did or the faction (Alliance vs. Horde). The discussion could then be connected to how we feel and deal with race and cultural issues in the real world and how we identify ourselves. Might be an interesting discussion that prompts many many more.