WAM, WoW, Education, and Creativity

One of the wonderful things about getting to work here at TAO HQ, is WAM.

That's Wendy Adams Mendenhall - WAM, founder of The Arts Organization.

Wendy is constantly challenging us to rethink our assumptions about education and the world. We’ve been having a fascinating discussion about learning and creativity...

...and World of Warcraft (WoW)!

I thought I'd invite you all to join in. So read on and join us in the comment section!

It starts with Wendy’s son who is apparently really good at WoW, and this Video:

The ideas here are exciting and clearly revolutionary. I’m especially interested in the methods of “post-raid” evaluations - I’m a huge believer in the power of honest thorough evaluation for the purpose of improvement. This is something that appears to happen infrequently and poorly throughout the business and non-profit world.

So are there ways to bring the lessons from the gamer’s world to real-world problems? Certainly. foldit is an example of gamers solving puzzles, collaboratively for science.

But how would this work for a corporation or an organization? How does this creativity and cooperation translate into products and services that are delivered to and sustain real people in the real world? Should I be worried that the future of creativity involves raiding bands of fantastical marauders? 

And... how would this work for the gamer that Dr. Brown hires?

“If I ain’t learning it ain’t fun,” he says. I agree with him this far: learning is fun. But, I’ve been in jobs where I ain’t been learning, and it ain’t been fun.

Does WoW prepare you for that? Something you don't see even in foldit is the tedium of working in a lab. My brother has been doing medical research for years in various labs from the Mayo Clinic, to BYU, Duke, and the University of Utah, and let me assure you most days are a bit on the slow side. Lots of careful squirting of liquids into various glass wares, squinting at readouts on monitors of all shapes and sizes (the squinting may be his fault though since he doesn't always wear his glasses, and he's studying ophthalmology for crying out loud). He insists it's interesting, but I bet he'd say it's slightly less exciting than... say storming a castle.

These questions remind me of a provocative lecture from one of the most feared professors at my alma mater (a great guy btw), where he argued that of all the things one gains from a liberal arts education the only one that will help you land and keep a job is being able to meet and exceed expectations on schedule. Or in other words, the ability to get to the office on time and get your work done.

So, he argues, the best thing he has to offer as an educator is not his scintillating lectures, but his Draconian homework and exam policies. Because they force students to develop the discipline that will actually prepare them to succeed. 

Now you could argue that the “office” is becoming increasingly obsolete, and you’d be right.

I’m working from home right now, and it’s more like college than ever.

Juggling deadlines, not getting paid to occupy a cubicle from nine to five, and wholly failing or succeeding on the quality and timeliness of the work that I deliver. I'm not paid to occupy a chair from 9 to 5. I'm paid to deliver.

That’s a lot like college, good old fashioned college.

Even now, with my fantastic colleagues, and fascinating project portfolio, sometimes I ain’t learning and it ain’t fun. For me the fun is in the discovery, fixing the problem, finding the solution, gaining capacity, learning new things - that is the thrilling hunt for me. Once I’ve figured it out, the thrill is gone then it's the training both from my undergrad, and from the construction work that paid for that undergrad, that enables me to keep going and deliver the product on time.

The weakness I see in a “ World of Warcraft education” is twofold. First, WoW is designed to be endlessly interesting and engaging. That’s the job of the people creating the environment, that’s not the job of the company you’re trying to work at, or of your clients, or of the university you’re trying to study at. Even if you spend your days curing AIDS or cancer there will be drudgery. And second, that there is no real life consequence to giving up. If the product that is needed in WoW is no longer something that motivates me I'm out. Or in my case... well I was never in. In other words, how will a WoW-esque education model develop the discipline that my feared-professor friend is so proud of? Can it?

At the same time conventional education is clearly under serving vast swaths of our world's socioeconomic and psycho-social tapestry. How do we include them?

My question is how do we modify education to include the collaborative creativity of WoW and the discipline of more traditional education and work. Alone neither is sufficient.


Arthur Morris is principal at tenlitrea consulting firm in Salt Lake City, Utah. His experience with "gaming" is limited to a brief fling with Metal Gear Solid on his brother's Play Station during Christmas break during his junior year of high-school, and sleeping through dorm-room Starcraft benders, so his understanding of World of Warcraft is wholly theoretical.




Very interesting post. I found myself fluctuating betwixt 'yeah right' and 'you're right!'

I played a bit of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) pre-PC and found that creative and in many, many cases collaborative solutions were the ONLY ones that worked. Often we pushed the bounds of the DM's (Dungeon Master) rules and constructs, but even within those limits there was large amounts of bandwidth for both ad-hoc gameplay. I spent much more time in the world of S&T though. In the gamer's world of historical wars (or hypothetical, future wars), as built by Avalon Hill (the old AH, not the current, more commercial incarnation) , Strategy & Tactics, SPI, the rules are copious, multi-dimensional, and rarely open for interpretation and ad-libbing. In these games, the joy of playing is not in the melee round but rather in the execution of a grand strategy. 

Extrapolating to the reality of working in a lab (as I did for years), the joy was definitely not in the day-to-day experiments, but rather in the whole of completing a successful study. There is a very linear, intellectual beauty in that S&T type approach. My more current work in the world of non-profits and small businesses is much closer to the frenetic, creative whirlwind of the D&D melee round. However, as fun as the melee round is, we need to keep in mind that the point of D&D is not endless nano battles, but rather to reach a more prosaic journey's end.

Tactics with out strategy is endless war, strategy without tactics is empty exercise.

I appreciate your comparison between D & D and the lab, and your idea about strategy and tactics. This is exactly what I'm getting at!

The creative possibilities of the WoW model can supplement and enrich but not replace the discipline that we hope is part of what conventional education is developing. However, there is an argument that kids who are not connecting with education need to get pulled in to learning and WoW model may have something to offer in this area where conventional education is clearly failing large sections of the population. 

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WAM, WoW, Education, and Creativity | TAO • The Arts Organization


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